Last year, Apple said it was going to stick with an annual release cadence for OS X, following the path trod by Mountain Lion, which launched a year after Lion. But even a several-month delay would not significantly disturb that tempo, analysts have argued.
A later debut for OS X 10.9 won't matter in the long run, echoed Ezra Gottheil, analyst with Technology Business Research, in a Thursday interview.
"There's really no need to maintain a rapid release schedule," Gottheil said of Apple. "They've said they would, and they would like to for all kinds of reasons, including staying current, staying in the news, but a delay wouldn't affect Mac sales."
The Mac, like PCs overall, is battling larger issues than the lack of a new operating system, said Gottheil.
Personal computer sales dropped by historic levels in the first quarter, falling 14% year-over-year, according to research firm IDC, which blamed a "perfect storm" of factors, including longer stretches between computer purchases by consumers, a saturation in developed countries like the U.S. and -- most importantly -- a shift in dollars from computers, including Macs, to tablets and smartphones.
And if Apple needs engineers to wrap up iOS 7 on time, shifting resources from OS X is absolutely the right move. "iOS is far more important to Apple than OS X," Gottheil said. "By any kind of measure, whether it's attention from the stock market or revenue, you name it, iOS is the place for Apple to put their efforts. It's more important that they get that right than OS X out on time."
Even many Mac owners may care less about the availability of OS X 10.9 than whether Apple decides to continue support of the 2011 edition, Snow Leopard.
Under its previous unwritten and unspoken policy of patching only "N" and "N-1," where N was the newest edition, Apple should have halted support for Snow Leopard last summer when Mountain Lion debuted. Instead, the Cupertino, Calif. company has continued to issue updates for OS X 10.7, most recently in mid-March.
Come this fall, or whenever Apple ships OS X 10.9, Apple may be forced to keep patching Snow Leopard -- at that point it would be N-3 -- because it will still account for approximately 22% of all Macs in October, and 21% in November, according to projections based on usage data published by Net Applications this week.