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Why Snow Leopard is the TiVo of Operating Systems

The last few weeks, I’ve been really mad at my cable remote. For some unknown reason, the DVR controls just stopped working. So, I can’t pause live TV (a real help when you have small children). As a result, I’ve had to call Cablevision twice to help troubleshoot. The first time their solution worked, the second time it didn’t. In five years of TiVo use, I never had to deal with this kind of frustration. But I recently ditched TiVo for a combo cable/DVR box because I didn’t want to pay the extra $12.95 per month. In a way, Apple’s OS is just like TiVo. In exchange for a more elegant user interface than Windows and rock-solid reliability, you have to pay a premium.

The problem for Apple is that most consumers are willing to put up with Windows’ headaches if it means paying less for the hardware. And the upcoming interface tweak of Windows 7—and its minimizing of annoying pop-ups—goes a long way toward addressing users frustrations with Vista. Meanwhile, Snow Leopard’s enhancements are mostly under-the-hood changes that result in a leaner and faster OS. That’s not enough to convince the Windows crowd to switch.

The difference between TiVo and Snow Leopard is that the latter is tied to exciting (if costly) hardware, such as Apple’s sleek MacBook Pro or the rumored tablet. Speaking of, if the price is right for the iPad, it will not only make touch computing mainstream, it could serve as a catalyst for vastly increasing Mac’s market share in the U.S. from an already respectable 9 plus percent points. The company needs an answer to netbooks, which are growing at twice the rate of larger laptops.

But adding Snow Leopard to a Tablet PC alone won’t cut it. Apple has its App Store, which will likely be supersized for the rumored iPad, and this vast developer community builds in a unique advantage for the iPad. In fact, integrating compelling touch apps could propel Snow Leopard past Windows 7, at least in terms of mind share. At a time Microsoft’s myriad partners are building their own touch interfaces, Apple’s line of iPads will likely share a single UI. Assuming consumers have a positive experience, they could very well make Snow Leopard their operating system of choice for all the mobile PCs they buy.

Today, I’m replacing my cable box DVR, likely with an updated version of the same box with the same crude interface and glitchy performance. Sorry, TiVo. However, I think the TiVo of operating systems stands a better chance of gaining momentum once Snow Leopard is able to flex its muscles on more affordable hardware.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on twitter.

Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.