Does This OS Lack Claws?

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It appears that after the initial burst after its release, installs of Apple's (NAS: AAPL) Mac OS X Lion have slowed to a crawl. Having used Lion for a couple of months now, I can't say that I'm surprised.

In with a roar
At the beginning of October, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the company had sold 6 million copies of Lion since its release in July. Although this number is rather small compared with the average 20 million copies a month of Windows 7 Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) sold in 2010, it was enough to make Lion the fastest-selling Mac OS ever.

However, a new report based on visitor tracking from the analytics firm Chitika says the number of its visitors using Lion has stalled at 16%, increasing only 2% since the end of September. What's more, even though it's now 5 years old, Leopard still accounts for more traffic.

Not better, just different
There are plenty of explanations for the drop-off. A lot of existing Macs don't meet Lion's minimum requirements -- which is why I didn't upgrade until my battle-worn iMac died -- and a lot of casual users couldn't be bothered with the task of backing up their hard drives and upgrading.

The real problem, though, is that unless you're a card-carrying member of the Cult of Mac who absolutely must have the latest Apple product at all times, there's no reason to upgrade. Launch Pad -- the iOS-inspired application launcher -- is cool, but it's more cumbersome than setting favorite apps on the dock and using spotlight searches or Finder for the rest. Power users might appreciate combining Expose and Spaces into Mission Control, but it's not a must-upgrade feature.

What's worse is that many of the tweaks and changes are either silly or flat-out annoying.

  • iCal now looks like a leather-bound desk calendar, and Photo Booth features wood paneling.
  • The default settings for Dashboard render some of my favorite programs almost useless.
  • Inverting the direction of my scroll wheel was just plain mean.

To Lion's credit, you can go into system preferences to turn off some of the more annoying features, but that means the return for your $30 is a couple of hours of hassle and an OS that isn't substantively better than the old one. It's no wonder many Mac users are waiting for their next computer purchase, or until they can't live without iCloud, to upgrade.

Does it matter?
While Apple was more than happy to brag about Lion's early install numbers, I'm not sure the goal was ever to get all Mac users to upgrade. I think the company wanted enough people to upgrade through the App Store as way of proving that disk drives are less necessary than consumers think.

I also believe the features I promptly turned off were aimed squarely at people who own an iPhone and maybe an iPad but still find Mac OS X too foreign to switch. Adding elements of iOS also helps create a greater feeling of cohesion across the company's product lines.

Although Apple seems invincible now, it can't afford to be sloppy for long. Streaming services that work across platforms like Spotify, Hulu, and Netflix could help render Apple's lock-in strategy less relevant. This would remove a key advantage at a time when the competition is getting tougher. Google (NAS: GOOG) Android's share of the smartphone market continues to grow, and the first batch of Windows Phone Mango handsets has arrived. Meanwhile, Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) , with the Kindle Fire, and Barnes & Noble (NYS: BKS) look as if they'll finally convince holiday shoppers that the tablet world is bigger than just the iPad. Finally, between Windows 8, Xbox Live, and Windows Phone Mango, Microsoft could possibly produce a more cohesive ecosystem than Apple.

If Apple wants to stay on top, it's going to have to keep its costumers so in love with its iToys that they don't bother looking elsewhere -- and Lion doesn't live up to that standard.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, Apple, and Google.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Netflix, Microsoft, Google, and Apple and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.Fool contributor Patrick Martin will probably always own at least one Apple product, and he owns shares of Netflix. You can follow him on Twitter, where he goes by @TMFpcmart03. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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