Mac OS 10.7 Lion, the next major release of Mac OS X, is set to be released this summer. You’ve read about and seen all the new features like improved gesture support, a redesigned finder and automatic saving and file version archiving, but one important question remains: how much will it cost? Apple has not officially released pricing information for Lion, but by taking a look at previous versions of OSX, we can get a sense of what the pricing might be. Let’s take a look:
Up until version 10.6 (Snow Leopard), Apple has priced most major releases of Mac OS at around $120. Aside from 10.1, which was given away for free based on the major bugs in 10.0, it was a pretty consistent pattern. Each release had significant new consumer-facing features that justified the upgrade price, and most Mac users jumped on board and paid for the upgrade. With 10.6, however, there was less of a focus on brand new features and more of a focus on optimization of existing features. Because of this, the price was much lower, only $30 for an upgrade from Leopard to Snow Leopard.
Because of all the great new features, it’s unlikely that the upgrade to Lion will cost $30. However, there are reasons to believe that it will be less than $120, and here’s why that is.

  • Apple has essentially spoiled their customers with the dirt-cheap Snow Leopard. Even though there weren’t many new features, it was still a significant upgrade with many performance improvements. People lined up to upgrade for only $30, and Apple might want to ease people back in to paying full price for an operating system. $120 might come with sticker shock for some, so they might price it lower.
  • The Mac App Store is quickly becoming Apple’s favorite way to distribute software, and Apple’s own software like Aperture and iWork is cheaper in the App Store than it is if you buy the physical box. If Apple decides to distribute Lion through the App Store, look for it to cost less than a physical box copy.
  • While Lion does have lots of awesome new features, it’s still not quite on the same level as Tiger or Leopard before it. There’s some good stuff here, but unless Apple has some tricks up their sleeves, these changes are simply not worth $130.

Because of these things, look for Lion to check in this summer at a price somewhere between $50 and $100 for an upgrade. Definitely more than Snow Leopard, but probably less than Leopard and Tiger. The App Store effect has been bringing down software prices across the board, so look for OS prices to fall as well. However, we will not find out for sure until this summer. Stay tuned!