Blog Post

Why Apple shifted coders to iPhone

Anyone looking for proof of the strategic importance of iPhone to Apple doesn’t have to look beyond Apple’s press release page — the company is delaying the next version of its Operating System, code-named Leopard, by four months, and instead shifting resources to iPhone, now slated for late June 2007 release.

The press release issued by Apple points to a weak link in Steve Jobs’ grand design for global digital domination: not enough minions.

However, iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned.

The future of Apple is devices. Non-computing consumer electronic type devices are much less powerful than traditional computers, and need programmers who are thrifty in their code and skillful enough to squeeze the very last pico-hertz of performance out of lower-power embedded processors.

It is even more important in the mobile phone world, where poorly written code could simply negate the best efforts of hardware engineers. Apple doesn’t want to do that — it has a beautiful device, with an elegant user interface. However, lethargic applications and poor battery life could destroy user experience and chill the demand for even the hottest phone on the market. Apple historically has been home to coders who squeezed every drop out of those low-powered Motorola chips.

Typically, OS upgrades have provided a financial boost to the company’s profit margins, but this shuffle indicated that Apple is glad to forego those profits and instead opt for its next big cash cow – iPhone.

Now we can smirk, and point to the fact, Apple did drop Computer from its name after all.

PS: This delay should stop those Vista-delay jokes, because those who live in glass houses don’t throw stones.

Photo by Niall Kennedy via Flickr.

23 Responses to “Why Apple shifted coders to iPhone”

  1. desktop school is merely poor substrate for embedded programmers, and everybody in this industry knows that adding pregnant women doesn’t make labor closer in time, so I wonder why Apple so lame in excuses, and why you actually call it not-a-Vista-joke, huh?

  2. William Woody

    When OS X “Leopard” slips to January of 2010, then I’ll stop making Vista slip jokes.

    (Granted Microsoft never technically “slipped” because, well, they never promised anything to anyone at all–even right up to the end–it was pretty clear that Microsoft was hinting that Longhorn would be ready for a 2004 release way back in 2003. Further, when Gartner publically said in 2004 that Microsoft’s Longhorn (later Vista) release wouldn’t happen until 2007, Microsoft bitch-slapped Gartner pretty hard. So while technically no release date was officially announced, it was pretty clear that Microsoft intended to get Vista out the door no later than 2005–then slipped somewhere between two and three years.)

  3. I should apologize, I didn’t mean to say that OS X was being delayed by 6 months. I meant to say that it’s ship date was now almost 6 months out, rather than one month out. Even that was wrong though (I was thinking WWDC was in May). The ship date was almost 2 months out, now it’s almost 6 months out.

  4. The rabid apple fans who are taking so much umbrage at Om’s last sentence should be reminded that first, Vista wasn’t postponed by 5 years, it came out 5 years after XP. More importantly, it didn’t slip all at once.

    I do find this all very intriguing though. The next version of OSX was supposed to ship in about a month. Realocating engineers to iPhone for two months now appearantly means that it’s going to be delayed almost 6 months, which seems to be quite a disparity.

    It seems to me that they are using the iPhone to cover for other delays in the project. I also wonder about the relative sizes of the engineering teams devoted to the two projects, and of course there are general software engineering productivity issues too.

    The reallocated engineers will have to wrap up existing projects so they can come back to them in a few months, then they’ll have to ramp up on their new iPhone projects. Once those are done, they have to ramp back up on their OS X work. In between there are summer vacations to deal with. And of course you have mythical-man-month issues from throwing new bodies at a late stage project.

  5. “…PS: This delay should stop those Vista-delay jokes, because those who live in glass houses don’t throw stones.”

    Vista was delayed for years ( plural ) and it’s still awful.

    At least when Apple has a delay of a few months its for a publicly stated reason.

  6. funTomas

    Whether the attention shift is true or not, one thing is real: the next cash cow grazes on mobile field. That requires also a completely different business model, based on SoD which takes time to setup. From this June on, the Leopard will become a second-class citizen. Ask at Mountain View.

  7. I don’t understand how Om’s musings pass for insightful, at least with regards to Apple.

    How does one compare a 4 month delay to a 5+ year postponement? You’re in danger of sounding like Chicken Little running around warning everyone the sky is falling because you got hit on the head with an acorn.

    When Apple announces that Leopard is delayed until 2009, then we can begin the comparisons. But until then, it’s just Chicken Little talk.

    Secondly, this is not the first time Apple has diverted resources to finish a project. The same happened after Aperture 1.0 was released. Apple essentially pulled the talent from the FCP team to literally rewrite Aperture, and the result was a vastly improved 1.5 within a few months time. So I’m not sure what Om is trying to point out about diverting resources.

    We even had similar hyper-ventilation when Apple TV was delayed by 2 weeks, with the same snide “insightful” observations about Apple being like Microsoft. Well, turns out a 2 week delay was nothing more than a mere 14 days, and when it shipped, Apple TV worked as advertised.

    The only thing worse than the blind arrogance of Apple fanboys is the deaf and blind arrogance of the Apple haters or the passive agressive snidery of jealous detractors.

  8. Yuvamani

    @Vijay: ROTFL

    Throwing more engineers has always been a recipe for disaster … But expertise can help speed things up… Also we are talking about integration of OSX and the iPhone, some resources should have been diverted there. Also considering how hard the iPhone engineers must have been driven … some R&R is definitely due :)

    If apple tv is any indication – some anti hacking tips will also help.

    And Om what no Vista delay jokes. They are so entertaining…. There goes half the entertainment of Steves WWDC keynote.

  9. Well, its hardly fair to compare a 4 month delay to the years that Microsoft fanboys had to wait for Vista.
    And Apple isn’t pulling coders off Leopard to fix Tiger, as happened when MS released XP SP2.
    While the house may be glass, it does have a large open window through which Apple can hurl projectiles MS’s way.

  10. Without a doubt, this is a strategic marketing decision – why dilute the focus on the iPhone and at the same time garner more consumers to upgrade to Leopard, they will have to dish out extra cash for the new operating system.

  11. I seriously doubt this delay has anything to do with iPhone. Did anyone try the latest Leopard developer seeds? It’s not even close to being released yet.

    I don’t understand why this is being compared to the Vista delays? Microsoft delayed Vista for 3 years… Apple gets in the same category when they delay their release for 3 months? Come on.

  12. The analysis of Apple strategic move are head on. And even with the shift of resources, they will deserve big kudos if they succeed in shipping the iPhone on time. It is an amazingly complicated piece of software. And at the iPhone event many of the screens shown were mock ups (calender is one example). Not to mentioned that debugging this piece of software – killing the last few hundred bugs – is the hardest part of shipping. Bottom line – glad to see Apple realizing where the money is moving and shifting engineers accordingly. It takes guts to do it – but thats something Jobs has plenty of.

  13. I agree with the excuse theory. When Jobs showcased iPhone in January, he showed almost all the great features. I am sure he wouldn’t have dared to showcase a buggy/under performing/slow(on software) phone on a world stage. At that time, at least I thought, Apple needs time to muscle out large scale production facilities and tune the supply chain to meet an expected huge customer demand. Did the phone lack software or features? or was it slow in performance? I doubt it. This is more of a Leopard problem.

  14. Maybe. Or, they could simply be making up stories (excuses) about why Leopard will be late. A couple months ago, Leo Laporte said that Leopard’s not nearly ready to be released. Remember, its software. Release dates can slip regardless of whether you’re diverting resources or not.