Apple sets OS X Mountain Lion release for July

Apple said today that it would ship OS X 10.8, or Mountain Lion, next month, for $19.99, a 33% price cut from last year’s upgrade to Lion.

The company broke the expected news during the opening keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which kicked off on Monday in San Francisco.

Craig Federighi, the company’s top OS X executive, spelled out some of the more than 200 new features in Mountain Lion, ranging from several new applications, including Notes and Reminders, both borrowed from iOS, to Power Nap, which allows some notebooks to conduct backups and receive software updates while in sleep mode.

Apple will launch the upgrade some time next month, said Federighi, although he did not specify a date.

But the company may be on the same schedule it used last year for OS X 10.7, or Lion.

As it did for that 2011 upgrade, Apple today issued a fourth developer preview for Mountain Lion, and Federighi said it was in “nearly finished” shape.

Last year Apple delivered a fourth and final preview of Lion to developers at WWDC on June 6, saying the same day that it would ship the operating system the next month, then met that deadline by releasing the final code on July 20, 2011.

Assuming that the past is a clue to the present, Apple will ship Mountain Lion on July 25.

As with Lion, Mountain Lion will be available only from Apple’s Mac App Store, and also like its predecessor, a single purchase lets a user upgrade all personally-owned eligible machines.

Mountain Lion can be installed on Intel-powered Mac notebooks and desktops currently running either OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or Lion. Other system requirements include 2GB of memory and 8GB or more of free hard-disk drive or solid-state disk (SSD) storage space. Not all such Macs, however, will run Mountain Lion.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, downplayed the price cut, saying that the drop in revenue would be miniscule in relation to Apple’s billions in revenue each quarter, and questioning whether the $10 off would prompt more people to upgrade than would have otherwise.

“I think [the price cut] changes almost nothing,” Gottheil said. “It’s not going to make a lot of difference in how many upgrade. Last year’s [$30 for] Lion wasn’t any large barrier to adoption.”

In fact, Apple’s Federighi touted the quick climb in Lion’s share of the Mac installed base, repeating a past claim by Apple that it was adopted faster by OS X users than Windows 7 has been by Microsoft’s customers.

According to Web measurement firm Net Applications, Lion accounted for about 44% of all copies of OS X that powered Macs which were online last month. Since the beginning of 2012, Lion’s share has climbed 12 percentage points.

Because of the impending release of Mountain Lion, it’s quite possible that Lion will peak this month. If Lion gains share at the average tempo of the last six months, it will climb to just over 46% of all Macs by the end of June, then begin a gradual slide as users migrate to Mountain Lion.

Lion’s share line will probably begin to resemble the one seen here for Snow Leopard, the OS X that has slipped since 10.7’s debut in July 2011. (Data: Net Applications.)

Along with Snow Leopard, which last month had a 40% share of all OS X systems, the vast bulk of Macs in use — 84% — may be eligible for the upgrade to Mountain Lion.

Apple accelerated the abandonment of OS X 10.5, or Leopard, in April when it began handing out free upgrades to Snow Leopard to users of who were still on the older OS. In April and May, Leopard use dropped from 13.6% of all Macs to 12.3%.

Although those free upgrades were intended primarily to prepare Macs for the June 30 disappearance of MobileMe — that deadline is when the newer iCloud online sync and backup service becomes Apple’s sole cloud offering — it also made some of the machines able to qualify for the Mountain Lion upgrade.

Many of the features that Federighi demonstrated today were ones that have been leaked since the February 2012 release of the first Mountain Lion developer preview, but scores of others had not been widely discussed, including system-wide sharing of photos, videos and other files; future integration with Facebook; an OS X version of Game Center, Apple’s under-utilized multi-player gaming portal; and voice-to-text dictation from within any application that accepts text input.

Mountain Lion will also come with a new edition of Apple’s Safari browser, version 5.2, that will a single address bar-search field similar to Google Chrome’s, an offline reading list tool, and “iCloud Tabs,” which synchronizes open tabs in the browser across multiple devices, including the iPad, iPhone and other Macs.

Safari 5.2 will also support the “Do Not Track” privacy option that lets users signal to websites and online advertisers that they don’t want their movements on the Web monitored.

Also on Monday, Apple confirmed that it will again provide free upgrades to Mountain Lion to customers who buy a new Mac with Lion pre-installed. That program, called “Up-To-Date” by Apple, goes into effect today and continues as long as either Apple or its authorized resellers sell Lion-powered machines.

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