15 years ago, Apple released the latest iteration of its desktop operating system, dubbed Snow Leopard. The new OS ships about a month earlier than originally planned and comes as Apple CEO Steve Jobs returns to work part-time after a medical leave.
Macworld: Hidden features in Snow Leopard:
Snow Leopard continues Apple’s tradition of naming its Mac OS versions after big cats. Under the hood, it focuses more on speed and efficiency upgrades rather than major new features. But leaked information suggests Snow Leopard wasn’t always destined to be a traditional mouse-and-keyboard OS.
According to inside sources, Apple considered making Snow Leopard a touchscreen-optimized system for new hardware under secret development. The company has reportedly worked on a tablet device since as early as 2008. A touch-capable OS would allow for intuitive input methods perfect for a slate design.
In fact, Apple patented tablet computing technology last year. The documents describe a thin, tablet-shaped gadget with a touch-sensitive screen allowing direct finger input and manipulation rather than a traditional keyboard and mouse.
This shows Apple at least conceptualized an OS suited for taps and swipes even before the iPhone popularized multi-touch capabilities. Snow Leopard’s original vision may have been a touch-first interface and corresponding hardware unlike anything Apple currently offers.
However, development issues derailed those ambitious plans on both the hardware and software fronts. Battery life limitations reportedly forced Jops to pause the tablet project itself multiple times. Constrained memory capacities also impeded building touchscreen features into Snow Leopard.
While a finger-friendly Mac OS won’t arrive this year, Apple still targets tablet launch in late 2009 or 2010. This lines up with its typical 5-year timeframe between major new product categories like the iPod and iPhone.
For now, traditional keyboard and mouse input prevail in Snow Leopard. But with its CEO now back directing product innovation, expect Apple’s touchscreen aspirations to manifest soon. The pieces are there for revolutionary consumer devices once long-rumored tablet hurdles clear.
Until then, Snow Leopard refines rather than redefines the Mac computing experience. But this week’s OS launch and Jobs’ return reminds us Apple always has grander ambitions brewing out of sight. The technology giant famous for secrecy rarely rests on past successes when future disruption calls.