Are Apple's hardware releases increasingly tied to software?

Are Apple's hardware releases increasingly tied to software?

We've known for a while now that iPhone 5 won't be coming out this month, as it has for the last four years, but this fall, when iOS 5 is also scheduled to ship. Whether one delayed the other, or factors such as Verizon contracts, component shortages, engineering hours, or some combination of factors we may never know, but now rumors suggest new Macs are similarly on hold, this time waiting on OS X Lion before they ship.

Steve Jobs has always stressed that Apple is a software company, and has several times quoted Alan Kay's "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware". They make beautiful boxes out of glass and aluminum and stainless steel and plastic, but as recently as WWDC 2011, Jobs called software their "soul".

iPhone has always been tied to major new releases of iOS (previously iPhone OS), the two launching together with precise regularity. (iPod touch has almost always coincided with an iOS x.1 release, and iPad launched with the unique-to-iPad iOS 3.2, and iPad 2 came with the more modest iOS 4.3).

New Macs, however, were seldom if ever tied to new OS X releases. Users who bought new Macs on or around OS X launches would get a free upgrade offer or a DVD in the box, or something... less than coordinated.

But MacBook Airs with ThunderBolt ports and Sandy Bridge processors might just be on hold for Lion now.

Apple hasn't always had luck with big, coordinated releases. They -- and their servers -- struggled under the same-day iPhone 3G, iOS 2, MobileMe, and App Store release back in 2008. But they have kept their mobile releases in a row.

There was little chance we'd see iPhone 5 announced with WWDC as shipping in June with iOS 4.3, upgradable to iOS 5 in the fall, and if rumors of Macs waiting on Lion pan out, could Apple be moving to an even more tightly integrated hardware/software model? Could we see a day where OS X and iOS releases are coordinated so features that bridge both, like iCloud, "just work" as desktop and mobile both come on line?

[Apple Insider]

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Are Apple's hardware releases increasingly tied to software?


Yes, I think so. If Apple didn't have iOS, the iPhone would be very plain with the spec'ed out Android phones out there nowadays. I'm a little scared to buy a new Mac right now, I'm going to buy one very soon, but since Lion is coming in July, I should be fine. I'm going to get an iMac, but those where just upgraded... so... lol, I'm just going to buy an iMac soon and hope for the best!

You are what you make your money on. Oracle is a software company. Microsoft is (mostly) a software company. Apple is (mostly) a hardware company. Jobs & company's passion may be for software, but their balance sheets revolve around sales of iPhones, iPads, Macs, and iPods, not sales of iOS, OSX, and iLife, and iWork.
Their software, however, is the #1 driver of their hardware sales, so it makes sense to sync the hardware and major software releases to translate some of that customer excitement/anticipation around new software into more hardware sales.

Apple has releases new Mac Book Pros and iMacs earlier this year which will carry similar specs to the MacBook Air. They are not holding it for Lion because there is no need. Apple staggers release to maintain production, market share, industry presence and so on. Delivering all hardware and software simultaneously would be idiocic. Yes some will go hand in hand when it makes sense.
Come on Rene.

Staggering releases is one thing, but the MacBook air going on nine months old and the MacBook being over a year old is beyond staggering for market share. There is obviously something else going on when Apple waits a year to release between releases of half of its computer product line.

Might as well just release the new iPhone and IPod touch at the same time with the iOs software. Do people line up for new iPod touches when they get refreshed?

I am not convinced the average consumer cares about the latest OS X release. Many people just use what comes on the Mac when they buy it and continue to do so until they get a new mac. People like us care, but the average buyer (the bread and butter of Apple profits) don't even know the difference. Windows releases are a big deal because Windows always needs major improvements and it's customers know it.
With that in mind it's not the best idea for Apple to tie up new computer releases to coincide with a new version of OS X especially with something like the Air (and possibly MacBook if that line lves in) that is almost s year old! Tte Mac App store will make it incredibly easy for users to upgrade tthe OS without even leaving their home. One thing Apple has to work on is keeping product fresh. Having a couple of one year old computers in the product lineup (half the lineup at that) is just wrong. Of course I have a vested interest I this since I am itching to buy a new MBA for my wife but I know it would be foolish to spend the money on one right now. C2D processors are just now cutting it now.