Gottheil also said that the more Macs Apple tied to iCloud, the more that run Mountain Lion -- which is borrowing more applications and components from iOS than did its predecessor -- the more iPhones and iPads the company would sell, as the cloud service is crucial to Apple's syncing strategy and overall ecosystem. The familiarity with, say Notifications and Reminders in OS X 10.8 could drive some Mac users to buy an Apple phone or tablet, which also sport the same functionality.
An Apple filing with the SEC last summer may hint that the company can offer a free upgrade to some, if not all, users.
"The Company has indicated it may from time-to-time provide future unspecified software upgrades and features free of charge to customers," read the Form 10-Q Apple submitted to the SEC on July 20, 2011.
To account for those upgrades and new features, Apple for the first time said it would from that point defer some Mac revenue.
Apple deferred $22 from the sale of each Mac equipped with OS X Lion to cover two potential scenarios, including "the embedded right ... to receive on a when-and-if-available basis, future unspecified software upgrades and features relating to the product's essential software," as well as "the online services to be provided to qualifying versions of iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac."
An upgrade to Mountain Lion might fit the definition of the first, while iCloud enhancements would be a natural for the second.
Using Apple's sales figures for the fourth quarter of 2011 -- approximately 5.2 million Macs sold -- the company would have set aside nearly $114.4 million.
Follow-up 10-Q filings in October 2011 and January 2012 cited the same language, but added that starting in July 2011, Apple would also defer "all revenue from the sale of upgrades to the Mac OS and Mac versions of iLife," and account for the money on its balance sheet over a 36-month period.
The reason for that deferral, Apple again said, was to "include when-and-if-available upgrade rights" for the software.
Such language would seem to signal that Apple could offer a free upgrade to Mountain Lion, at least to those users who either own a Mac equipped with Lion, or have upgraded an older machine to the operating system.
Apple could deliver a free upgrade via the Mac App Store, which has been the primary distribution method for OS X Lion, and will be the sole channel through which it offers or sells Mountain Lion.
Although Gottheil admitted that the SEC filings made free upgrades "a possibility," he gave it long odds, noting that accounting practices encourage companies to defer revenue for software maintenance and upgrades even if they don't call it out explicitly in their 10-Q submissions, as did Apple.