Analyst: Apple making smart moves with next OS, Snow Leopard

But a low-key release this year may not drive revenue like Leopard did, says expert

Apple has delivered another pre-release build of Snow Leopard, its next operating system, that includes developer tools to mimic the iPhone's location-sensing skills and boost the multi-touch function of the company's laptops, according to reports on the Web.

Both moves would be smart for Apple if they are part of the OS when it is rolled out, an expert said Friday.

According to AppleInsider, developers now have Mac OS X 10.6 build 10A261, which includes a development framework, dubbed "CoreLocation," for triangulating location, as well as access to new APIs (application programming interfaces) for making use of the multi-touch features in the newest MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks.

CoreLocation debuted in the first-generation iPhone as part of a January 2008 firmware update, which lacks any GPS hardware, and instead uses cellular signal towers to determine an approximate location. According to AppleInsider's sources, Snow Leopard includes support for the feature.

"Apple clearly wants to leverage the portability [features] of its smaller devices, like the iPhone, on its other hardware," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

He was also bullish on the idea that Snow Leopard may include more support for multi-touch, the finger gestures available in limited form on Apple's laptop trackpads. The design, which debuted early last year on the MacBook Air and then on the updated MacBook Pro line, was extended to the less expensive MacBooks in Apple's October laptop revamp. Multi-touch, like geo-location, was first found on the iPhone.

"Apple might be able to get more out of the multi-touch touchpads," said Gottheil. He pointed to the four-finger swipe that calls up Leopard's "Expose" screen feature. "Before [multi-touch], I just never used Expose on an Apple laptop ... it was just too hard to do the Function-F9 keypresses."

With Snow Leopard, third-party software developers will be able to call on the operating system's gestures within their own applications, AppleInsider reported.

Last June, Apple confirmed that it was working on Snow Leopard, and at the time said it would ship the update to Mac OS X 10.5, aka Leopard, in about a year. It also stressed both then and later, that Snow Leopard would focus on performance and stability improvements, and lack the kind of flashy interface or feature changes that users have come to expect from the company's operating systems upgrades. Apple's current online marketing materials for Snow Leopard, for example, claim that the OS is "taking a break from adding new features."

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

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