"What differentiates Apple in the space is not necessarily hardware innovation, but the value and benefit to consumers of the entire ecosystem," said Husson. "Software and services are ways to differentiate. They're the glue that creates customer loyalty."
Competitors, said Husson, are only now starting to think along similar lines. He cited Samsung, Apple's biggest smartphone rival, which he said relies strictly on its hardware to sell, well, the hardware. "One [Apple] has made the shift, but for the other [Samsung], it's not part of the company's DNA. They're really very different approaches."
Some observers wondered if Mavericks' free deal was more than a jab at rival Microsoft, a move that could actually pose some kind of threat to Windows. But analysts like Gottheil downplayed the talk. "I don't think so," he said when asked. "I don't see Apple gaining significant increases in market share [from this], not like it did several years ago."
And while Microsoft does charge for Windows upgrades, those from Windows 7, say, to Windows 8, it not only mimicked Apple's faster release tempo this year, but beat Apple to free with Windows 8.1, a major update that launched last week, a year after Windows 8. (The stretch between Mountain Lion and Mavericks was longer at 15 months.)
OS X Mavericks tips the virtual scale at 5.3GB -— an enormous download for customers with slower or aggressively-metered Internet connections — and can be downloaded by choosing "Software Update" from the Apple menu at the far left of a Mac's menu bar.
Apple has published a list of the Macs compatible with Mavericks. It includes iMacs as old as mid-2007, MacBook Pro notebooks from late 2007 on, and MacBook Air ultra-light laptops from late 2008 going forward.
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