Report: Apple could launch Snow Leopard in two weeks

'Why not ship earlier if you can?' says analyst of possible OS debut this month

Apple has wrapped up work on Snow Leopard, the Mac OS X operating system upgrade, and may release it earlier than expected, according to numerous reports on the Web.

John Gruber, who writes the Daring Fireball blog, and has accurately pegged other Apple moves in the past, said that his sources have put the release of Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, as Aug. 28, just over two weeks away.

One prominent analyst was dubious about an August release. "Early September would be early," countered Gene Munster, an analyst for Piper Jaffray who covers Apple.

Another analyst, however, was willing to bet on an early launch. "Why not ship early if you can? It feels good and looks good [for Apple]," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research. "And, unlike the old days, you don't have to wait for the ink in the manuals to dry." In June, Apple announced it would ship Snow Leopard in September, and unveiled lower-than-usual prices of $US29 for a single license and $US49 for a five-license "family pack." Snow Leopard pre-orders on Amazon.com grabbed that online retailer's top two software bestseller spots two weeks ago. As of early Thursday, the $US29 edition retained the No. 1 place on the list, while the $US49 Family Pack held down the No. 3 spot.

Apple has not yet revealed Snow Leopard's on-sale date.

Earlier this week, several Apple-oriented Web sites reported that the company had completed development of Snow Leopard, and Apple engineers had signed off on the actual release build, dubbed "golden master" in Apple-speak. U.S.-based MacRumors, for example, said it had confirmed that Apple tagged build 10A432 as the likely release candidate, following a similar report by the French site Mac4Ever ( Google Translate translation).

Analysts who have created projections for Snow Leopard sales say that the upgrade will boost Apple's software revenues, but because of the low prices -- Apple has traditionally priced a single-license upgrade at $US129 -- the impact will be minor.

"I am conservatively assuming three million copies to be sold at $29 in the September 2009 quarter," said Brian Marshall of Broadpoint AmTech, who pointed out that Apple sold two million copies of Mac OS X 10.5, aka Leopard, in the first weekend of sales in October 2007. "Now the installed base is much larger and the [average sales price] is down significantly," he added.

Andrew Murphy, another Piper Jaffray analyst, agreed that the Snow Leopard "bump" would be much less significant than Leopard's. "We are modeling for Apple's total software sales of $615 million in the September 2009 quarter, when Snow Leopard launches, compared to $628 million in the December 2007 quarter, when Leopard launched," he said.

Gottheil said Apple should sell about 2.5 million copies of Snow Leopard in September, generating an additional US$171 million for Apple.

Snow Leopard requires an Intel-based Mac and Mac OS X 10.5; users running Mac OS X 10.4, known as Tiger, must instead purchase the more expensive "Mac Box Set," which Amazon is also currently selling as a pre-order. A single-license box set is priced at US$169, and includes Snow Leopard, iLife and iWork -- the last being Apple's productivity suite. A five-license box set retails for US$229.

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Gregg Keizer

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