Quality Doesn’t Always Have Sex Appeal: How Much Should Apple Charge for Snow Leopard?

by James R. Stoup Jun 16, 2008

It appears the next version of OS X, a major update to Leopard, will be the aptly named Snow Leopard. What is so unique about this particular release is that, according to Jobs, this will be the first version of OS X to have no new features. Well, perhaps that is unfair. Maybe I should say, no new user visible features, though there will be quite a few upgrades under the hood that developers will no doubt take advantage of. This rather unusual release presents a problem for Apple, namely how much should they charge for it?

If history is any guide they will charge $129 and just tell people to get over it. However, I think even Apple will have a hard time convincing people to pay full price for an operating system with no new flashy features they can parade around. I'm not saying it will be impossible, just more difficult than their usual sell. 

Of course, they could just be jerking our collective chains around. It is quite likely that by the time Snow Leopard make it's debut at least one "wow" feature will be added. Or maybe it will be so fast, so smooth and so magically delicious that the enhanced performance will be the feature to tout. Of course, that begs the question, how fast could they possibly make it? Would you pay $129 to get your operating system to run 10% faster? How about 20%? What is the sweet spot to convince you to upgrade? Or is there even such a number? Personally, I think that Leopard, running on fairly new hardware will run fast enough for most people.

This situation could become eerily similar to that which Microsoft has been faced with in trying to get people to upgrade their systems from XP to Vista. Many people find XP to be acceptable and thus find no need to upgrade. I can easily foresee a similar thing happening to Apple as they strive to convince users that the under the hood enhancements are worth the price. It could become a hard sell.

Getting back to question at hand, I am still curious as to what most people think Apple should charge for this next release. Unlike the first upgrade (when they went to 10.1) this one will most definitely cost something. So assuming that Apple doesn't announce any major new features for Snow Leopard, how much do you think they should charge? Half price? Make it $65? Too low? Maybe an even $100? What would you pay? It may not be fair, but I have a feeling that Apple won't budge from their $129 price anytime soon.


  • I don’t see the XP to Vista analogy. Vista was a major code / drivers / human interface / operational shift.

    Snow Leopard is reputed to be a speed / stability / security - clean up the code base for the future - release.

    From a support cost perspective, this is worth significantly more than a new feature release, as the majority of the cost of managing desktop computers is NOT in the acquisition cost, but in the lifecycle support and maintenance.

    From an individual perspective, I don’t know what your time is worth, or whether you want to spend time tinkering with your computer (buy a Windows box - it is a lifelong tinkerers dream!), but personally, a computer is a tool to me, and anything that I can do to eliminate non-productive time spent screwing with what should have worked in the first place, is beneficial. Yeah, I love new features, but I would pay to get near-error-free computing. I want it to work like my car - turn the key and go, with some occasional scheduled maintenance, not an old Harley that needs constant fiddling to work.

    It sounds like the right analogy to Windows would be SP1, 2, 3, x, not XP to Vista. The SP stuff can be acquired free, but it is mostly bug fixes (and, hopefully, stability, security and speed hmmm

    It will be interesting to see what pricing does show up. My corporate hat say “I’ll pay”, but my home use says, “is there enough benefit over the minimal current problems to put out my money, as my time is not as quantifiable as IT support”????

    kirkrr had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 6
  • I do not see how the XP/Vista comparison is relevant.  If Snow Leopard makes improvements to my system and my everyday tasks, I will pay $129.  I am willing to invest in things that work, even if they cost more, because my time and lack of frustration is worth it to me.  That is why I purchase Apple products.
    My ten year old godson said to me that I always have the coolest and best stuff (referring to my Macs, iPhone, iPods, and such, and he is dying for a Mac), and his little sister agreed.  My response was why should I spend money if I am not getting what I want, or something that is functional and just works.  I work hard; I am worth whatever premium I pay on the front end.  It will always pay off over the long term.

    bluegirl had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 19
  • I meant “on” something that is functional, not “or.”

    bluegirl had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 19
  • I see what everyone is saying about quality, but I think some of you may be missing my point. Think about it this way. You buy a BMW whose top speed is 150 mph. Then, the next year BMW releases an update to that car which has a top speed of 180 mph. In fact, it accelerates faster, corners better and when driven to its limits performs better in every way. Would you trade in your car for the upgrade?

    Well, if you are a speed freak then the answer is probably “yes”. But if you just drive it around town and never go over 60 mph, why bother spending the money? If it goes at mach 5, who cares? You will never need that much speed.

    The same argument applies here. Is it worth it to your average consumer to upgrade their system when, in all likelihood, they won’t notice any difference in the speed in which they can surf the web. If it takes Word 9 seconds to open instead of 11, was it worth the money?

    Maybe to you it is worth it, but I don’t think that everyone will feel that way.

    James R. Stoup had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 122
  • $99 for a 40% or more improvement in speed.

    Khürt Williams had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 45
  • “The same argument applies here. Is it worth it to your average consumer to upgrade their system when, in all likelihood, they won’t notice any difference in the speed in which they can surf the web. If it takes Word 9 seconds to open instead of 11, was it worth the money?”

    For me, it’s more of the difference between that BMW starting every time and starting sometimes or stalling out while I’m driving.  If they promise that, I’ll pay the same as I paid for Leopard.  If it’s just a performance increase, I’d have to see it before I commit to any price.

    AlphaAnt had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 1
  • $99 tops for good quality since it will run on only ONE (Intel) of my 4 Macs.  The XP/Vista analogy is thought provoking; I like it.

    MacRand had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 7
  • $99 tops for good quality with no new feature sets, since it will run on only ONE (Intel) of my 4 Macs.  The XP/Vista analogy is thought provoking; I like it.

    MacRand had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 7
  • So what I’m reading here among the comments is that Leopard is such a slow, unstable pile of crap that you guys would be more than happy to shell out 130 bones just to fix it?  Am I reading that correctly?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • “Leopard slow…” - NO.
    Speed is relative to what you are trying to do on your Mac; high-end video editing needs speed, most of the rest of us do not.  So the amount of speed bump produced by OS software will be the ‘tell’.

    While I love my Intel MacBook Pro speed and dual platform capability, I still use my PowerMac tower with dual 1-GHz chips and speedy HDDs because it is all the Tower speed I need ...for a while.
    However, if Snow Leopard runs only as an Intel native OS X thereby stripping off Rosetta support for PowerPC chips and streamlining OS X by both shedding all the old junk and employing the latest and greatest code, the $$$ for a software OS speed bump may well be economically feasible and practicable. 
    Compare Snow Leopard stats (when published) to swapping out FireWire 7200 rpm drives for faster 15,000 rpm drives and similar hardware upgrades to accomplish speedier processing of data.  Only time will tell.
    Slow is OS 6 through OS 9. 
    Slow is a 1990 MacLC running at 16 MHz (Motorola 68030 chip) with 1 MB of RAM.
    Slow is Dial-Up internet access and an old FAX modem.

    MacRand had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 7
  • $40 for a 99% improvement in speed and stability

    Steve Consilvio had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 47
  • I am still running Tiger and I can’t find one feature in Leopard that is worth $129. I am running a G5 iMac so I am not even sure that Snow Leopard will even work with Power PC Macs.

    flyboy had this to say on Jun 16, 2008 Posts: 30
  • If I could squeeze in here…Oops! sorry ‘bout that. I couldn’t see your toes… wink

    Well, after the dust has settled from the WWDC hubnobs we can see where Apple is going with 10.6 Snow Bunny…ahem, Leopard.

    Yeah, we were told the painful truth - THAT THERE WON’T BE ANY EYE CANDIES - period. Get over it, James. 10.5 Leopard is so loaded with useful practical sugar coatings that - alas - Apple realized it is time to move on to bigger and better things - under the hood, as you mentioned.

    I still suspect there will be some incremental improvements that can be sold for $129 to the faithful BUT this release will be targeted towards the enterprise: 64bit kernel, OpenCL GPU assisted computations, multicore-aware Core API frameworks, 16TB of address space, and so on.

    Those are exactly what powers today’s massive Big Blue Z-series mainframes and then some. These exact features are exactly optional for “The Rest Of Us”. OSX Leopard will live beyond 10.5.9 my friends. Isn’t this sounding like our friend XP? Hmmm. Never mind.

    So, your question about pricing. My take here is that Apple, for all their kindness, will still charge $129 no more, no less to recoup development costs. Somebody has to pay those late-night, pizza-munching coders inside the Infinite Loop labyrinth and that would be you and me.

    Will it be worth it? That’s up to you to decide. Like BlueGirl said, if it improves what you currently do with Leopard or <gasp> Tiger then $130 bones is priceless for what you get in return. If Leopard is good enough, and I mean - GOOD ENOUGH - then sticking with it until 10.7 will not hurt a bit.

    Don’t worry about friends snickering behind your back for they won’t know the difference between Leopard and the Snow variety - HONEST. wink

    Robomac had this to say on Jun 18, 2008 Posts: 846
  • I have not yet upgraded to Leopard. It’s my policy to wait till somewhere around the 10.x.4 to 10.x.6 revision before upgrading, since Apple can’t get their shit straight any quicker than that (kind of like Microsoft and SP1 or, usually, SP2). Tiger’s doing everything I need right now, although the odd little App I use is now Leopard only, like Handbrake, for example.

    As far as I can tell, Snow Leopard is a Service Pack. It should be free.

    Also I’m waiting on confirmation from Apple that it’s Intel only. I have just finished paying off a two year loan to cover the fortune I paid for my Quad G5. I can’t believe it will be officially unsupported by OS X by summer ‘09. They were still selling them in summer ‘06! That said, if the upgrades are all optimisations for Intel only, Snow Leopard won’t break compatibility with Leopard, and Universal Leopard apps will be compatible with both. That gives my G5 till the end of 2010 as a useable modern machine. And at least CS4 is still PowerPC compatible (I’m running the betas now).

    Back to the point: FREE service pack upgrade—cost of disks and postage only.

    evilcat had this to say on Jun 18, 2008 Posts: 66
  • Official docs say Intel Only. But keep in mind that Tiger preview for developers was INTEL only as well, followed later by a more stable Intel/PPC edition. Then going public with PPC only to an Intel version.

    I’d be willing to bet it’s Intel/PPC and probably includes more of the OpenGL,CL,AL improvements to the core OS itself and a drive more in the direction of using SSE4 if equipped which means the high cost of the Mac Pro would be justified with pro-apps. Updating the Open Standards lately has required a complete re-work of the kernel and attachements. Speed increase, a personal estimate, would appear around the typical 20% 32->64bit move but when running intensive apps the new code standards taking advantage of the CPU’s latest additions would appear in the 2-3x’s FEEL.

    I worked with a linux distro on a Quad Core AMD lately with a rework and it seemed quicker (not the boot up, that was about the same) when working with large databases. Web servers launched and ran a lot faster but the real improvements came in 3D animation apps, it was HD Type smooth and quality.

    Again I could see Apple releasing this FREE to leopard owners, but stop selling Leopard entirely and sell this to Tiger Owners for $129.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Jun 18, 2008 Posts: 172
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