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Apple's Real iOpening News: Leopard Finally Unleashed!

Tuesday, 16 Oct 2007 | 1:53 PM ET
Source: apple.com

Well, it's about time. That might be the familiar refrain coming from Apple investors as well as the Mac faithful who had to give up Leopard's place in the development line in favor of the company's new favorite flavor, the iPhone.

Remember? It was earlier this year that the company announced a delay in its next generation operating system because engineers and developers were needed to make sure iPhone met its release deadline. Of course, there were concerns that Apple would walk the same minefield as Microsoft, with ongoing and constant delays of such an important operating system. But alas, Apple said the delay would be about six months, and, STOP THE PRESSES (!), it really did end up being about six months.

Source: apple.com

Sure, investors would have liked to have seen the release a little earlier in the month, but late October is certainly better than late November.

Leopard's Oct. 26 release, at $129, comes at a critical time for Apple especially with so much euphoria over ongoing Mac strength. Leopard will come with 300 new features, and many surprises yet to be unveiled by the company.

Pay that no mind for the moment: We spend so much time on iPod and iPhone, but the real iOpening news is what Apple has been able to do with its line of Macintoshes. And Leopard only makes that part of the Apple story better.

There's every indication that when the company reports earnings next week that Apple could post its first 2 million Mac-sales quarter. The Street is looking for 1.98 million units, but the bulls are already out in force, anticipating a few hundred thousand more. Apple once again is walking that fine line between hope and hype when it comes to Mac sales. Leopard however can only help the company's cause as a kind of catalyst to juice sales even further. But that much?

Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray brings up the key historical data points that put into perspective just how significant a 2-million Mac quarter would be. If Apple meets the whisper number of 2.2 million Macs sold, it would represent a half-million unit sequential quarterly increase. The biggest the company has ever enjoyed was 350,000, and the average is 100,000 units.

"The Street is expecting big things from the Mac this quarter," he says. Uh, ya think?

A new Mac OS tends to lead to a nice pop in computer sales. Apple is already far outselling the rest of industry, and while its market share remains paltry, it's growing its market share three times faster than Dell and HP . People want Macs. Leopard looks pretty cool and will mean people will want Macs even more. But the expectations are daunting.

If Apple meets that Mac whisper number, and we're heading into the key holiday shopping quarter with a new Mac OS, I can't wait to see what the company's guidance is come Monday when Apple reports its numbers. The Consumer Electronics Association has already found that new PCs top this year's holiday shopping wish lists.

I'll have a deeper look into the company's earnings expectations coming up in a later post.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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