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By Carl Howe

When Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Leopard was recently delayed until October, the reason given was that the iPhone was taking up more time and resources than expected, but with the "borrowed engineers" from the Mac OS X team the iPhone would at least still make its June launch target. The press picked it up and ran with it like a well-trained dog, or perhaps more succinctly, an innocent but ignorant puppy.

As I noted in our previous post, Apple's most recent developers connection email announced the immediate availability of a series of Coding Headstart videos for Leopard. They want developers to be fully prepared and already familiar with Leopard when WWDC hits us next month, which is still more than three months before Leopard will actually hit the shelves. Why the rush?

That Leopard was delayed seemed like a logical and obvious thing to do to us at Blackfriars, even if the product was secretly on schedule to launch in June. Pitting Leopard against the iPhone and having the two products fight each other for media attention just didn't seem like something Jobs would do, certainly not after making "Business School 101" jokes in his Keynote presentations.

Yet, there could be more to it all, and the Coding Headstart announcement gives us some clues.

If the only reason Leopard was delayed was to give the iPhone its fair chance — after all, this is Apple's most significant product launch since the original Macintosh — there would be no reason to rush developers into learning how to code for Leopard. It would be the opposite, as it would give developers a good reason to breathe and relax a bit.

Thus, it's reasonable to believe that there is an ulterior motive. A good motive would be that developing apps for Leopard is going to be very different from developing apps for Tiger, and by "different" we really mean different in every sense of the word.

It's already known that Leopard will introduce a series of new APIs, many of which will replace existing ones to optimize performance, increase flexibility and generally just make the life of a developer much easier. There will also be several new APIs that have tremendous impact on application development – Core Animation is not just an API to add some sexy animations to your app, it's something that can easily revolutionize the way applications work and exist entirely.

In fact, Core Animation opens up the possibility of a brand new user interface. Time Machine is an example of an application that breaks a lot of conventions about window management, application windows and general user interfaces. Core Animation is what makes it all possible.

When you think about it, we've been using the traditional windows-based interface for over 20 years now. Apple made windowed interfaces mainstream with the Macintosh in 1984, it created a vastly simpler interface for music players in its iPod in 2001, and it appears it will reinvent mobile phone interfaces with the iPhone in 2007. Apple is a company that specializes in great user interfaces, so why shouldn't Leopard itself gain some of the experience gleaned from Apple's consumer electronics successes of the last seven years?

The trend we're identifying here has been underway for a while. Think about it: how many of Apple's new applications actually use traditional, overlapping windows for anything other than a frame around a unique interface? Garageband doesn't. iTunes barely does except for video. All the Pro Apps like Final Cut, Motion, Aperture, and the like all trend toward paned, not overlapping window, interfaces. And new products like the iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV don't use windows at all, relying instead on vastly simplified buttons and interfaces. Further, consumers are gaining experience with interfaces that rely on transparent panes instead of windows on new HD-DVD and Blu-ray movies. Between transparent overlays and Apple's Spaces feature to allow multiple virtual screens, Apple has eliminated many of the needs for overlapping windows cluttering up desktops. And just as Apple first recognized that computers no longer needed floppy disks any more, ridding consumers of overlapping windows may be the first step in a radical simplification of user experiences again.

Such a radical new "feature" in Leopard would more than justify Apple's efforts to rush developers into learning about the new APIs and preparing them to make some serious changes to their applications. For that, 3-4 months may not even be enough, but it will give them a pretty good head start. And the newly launched and readily available Coding Headstart resources allow developers to get a one-month jump on WWDC as well.

One more thing: doing away with overlapping windows in most of the OS would give Apple a marketing bludgeon to use against Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). In the marketplace of ideas, it would paint Microsoft's six-years-in-the-making Vista as a completely old school effort. It would take Microsoft's best-known and recognized brand -- Windows -- and make it appear as tired as DOS. It would be a marketing shot heard round the world -- and it would be one that would take Microsoft years to copy.

We might be looking for something that isn't there, and that Leopard was delayed for the purely innocuous reason that developers were needed on the iPhone. But when was the last time that something this significant happened at Apple for an innocuous reason?

Note: Article was co-written by Aric Winton.

Source: Apple's Leopard: End of the Desktop as We Know It?