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Commentary: Will consumers hear Tiger's roar?

Apple's fan base is paying close attention to the arrival of Mac OS X 10.4, but the bigger base of consumers might not notice.

Commentary: Will consumers hear Tiger's roar?
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
April 29, 2005, 12:08PM PDT

By Ted Schadler and Charles Golvin, analysts

The new Mac OS X 10.4 operating system, aka Tiger, puts Apple Computer 18 months ahead of Microsoft and its cohorts, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, in delivering a better computing experience for most mainstream activities.

Apple's improvements in the areas that matter most to consumers--safety, convenience, entertainment and simplicity--are facilitated by its use of open-source software. Alas, most consumers won't be wowed immediately by innovations like the Spotlight dynamic search or four-way video chat because they aren't driven to them from the outset. Next time, Apple should use movie-trailer-style promotions and interactive teaching tools to walk consumers through the benefits and features.


Latest version of
the Mac OS arrives
in stores Friday with
all the hype the
company can muster.

The human factor.
With Friday's release of Tiger, Apple offers its fifth operating system in four years, and it's introducing features that won't appear in Microsoft's Longhorn until the end of 2006. Forrester has been using the operating system for several weeks and met recently with Apple's Ken Bereskin, senior director of Macintosh OS X product marketing. Our take? Tiger extends Apple's franchise with improvements in:

This is a big issue for consumers online: 41 percent of online households say that fear of viruses decreases their use of e-mail attachments. Tiger improves a consumer's feeling of safety through improvements to the operating system security and with better and more intuitive parental controls over what a child can do. Security improvements include an upgrade to the firewall, a simpler home networking security configuration, and a strategy of turning off services and ports that give an attacker ways into the system.

It's a tremendous hassle to find the things you know you've got somewhere on the computer. With Tiger, the Spotlight feature makes finding things easy by building dynamic search and real-time indexing into the core of the operating system. Dynamic search works like iTunes search--type a few letters or words and immediately see every matching e-mail, document, song, photo or application on the computer, even if the word is buried inside a document. Dynamic search, which also will appear in Microsoft's Longhorn operating system, will change the way consumers find and organize things--by typing a few words rather than by pawing through endless folders, files and e-mails.

Consumers are adding entertainment activities such as music, photos, personal video and television to their computer's to-do lists. For example, 25 percent of households say they are interested in transferring video from a camcorder and editing it on their computers. Apple has enhanced video entertainment by upgrading its QuickTime player to use the new H.264 video standard, which can show high-definition video using the same bandwidth resources that standard-definition video used to consume.

Tiger presents elegant utilities, each performing a fundamental task, in an easily accessible Dashboard. Each task "widget" fulfills a basic need: Check the weather, look up a word definition or see what time it is in Tokyo. With Apple's trademark style, Dashboard utilities appear and disappear with the click of the mouse. A second simplifying feature is an RSS aggregator built into the Safari browser. This tool allows a consumer to pull together many RSS news or blog feeds and then filter the results to see the most relevant stories at a glance.

The open-source angle.
What few consumers know--or care about--is that Tiger is built on and uses dozens of open-source components, including the FreeBSD kernel, the HTML engine in the Safari browser, and the fetchmail e-mail utility. Every Apple engineer is able to participate in the open-source community for the software he or she works on. This strategy yields two important benefits because open-source software:

• Is designed for incremental innovation.
The open-source development process leads naturally to a component architecture. That means Apple's programmers can improve each part of the operating system independently--for example, to add H.264 high-definition video support or tap the power of a 64-bit G5 processor. It is this approach that has enabled Apple to produce five major operating system upgrades in four years, twice the pace of Microsoft.

• Frees Apple programmers to focus on usability and applications.
Because Apple has some solid, always-improving open-source elements, its developers can focus on innovative applications like the Spotlight dynamic search and three-person video iChat. This is perhaps the most important benefit of open-source software--the freedom to outsource commodity functionality to an open-source community, thus freeing resources to build unique and differentiated applications.

Images of Tiger

Where Apple fell short
While Tiger advances the state of the art in operating systems without disrupting consumers' lives too much, Apple missed a few things that would have made the launch more powerful--and converted more consumers from PCs to Macintoshes:

Few third-party applications utilize dynamic search or high-definition video.
Apple has upgraded its own applications to use its Spotlight search and high-definition video formats. But other applications--Microsoft Word and Adobe Premiere, for example--don't utilize the Spotlight search tools or the H.264 video formats. Apple is shipping a developer's toolkit so that application builders can incorporate dynamic search directly, but it will take time to upgrade the applications.

No out-of-box "aha" experience.
Alas, an operating system is not the most exciting consumer product to hit the retail shelves, and Tiger is no exception. Consumers will have to sit down and work with the new utilities and applications to appreciate them. This will be a challenge for Microsoft's Longhorn as well.

What Apple should do differently next time.
Any consumer product--movie, automobile or operating system--must be promoted to put the benefits front and center in consumers' minds. To pump up the virtues of its next operating system--and give consumers new reasons to buy a computer--Apple should (and Microsoft must):

• Use television spots and movie-trailer-style promotions to highlight the new benefits.
As Apple has learned with its iPod marketing, integrated marketing campaigns led by television spots can draw in large numbers of consumers. Apple should take this one step further with long-form or movie-trailer-style promotions that walk consumers through the key features and benefits.

• Build interactive teaching tools for each consumer scenario.
Once the operating system is fired up, consumers must also be led by the hand through its features. Apple should build interactive, high-definition and, probably, animated video tools to teach consumers how to use dynamic search or set up a four-way video chat or configure the computer so children will be protected online. Dedicate some of that video processing power to turning the computer into a self-help teaching tool.

© 2005, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.