Apple's Mountain Lion Master Plan

CUPERTINO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Apple ( AAPL) gave consumers and investors another glimpse into its master plan on Thursday, unveiling a preview version of its new OS X, dubbed Mountain Lion.

While Apple zealots are eagerly anticipating new hardware in 2012 such as the iPad 3, iPhone 5, and even a TV offering, the company's software strategy has attracted much less attention. Mountain Lion, though, will prove crucial in bringing Apple's gadgets to a wider audience, according to Mike Walkley, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity.

Apple unveiled a preview version of its new Mountain Lion OS on Thursday.

"It makes it easier for people that use one Apple product to use another one," explained Walkley. "It's a logical step to make the complete platform approach."

OS X Mountain Lion is the ninth release of Apple's Mac operating system, and brings apps and features from the iPad and iPhone to the Mac platform. Mountain Lion, for example, extends iOS apps such as Messages and Game Center to the Mac, and also offers tight integration with Twitter and Apple's own iCloud service.

Launched last year, iCloud was the first indication of Apple's plan to grow its business way beyond the latest, greatest, gadgets. The launch pad for services like streaming media and storing data, iCloud opens up lucrative new revenue streams for the Cupertino, Calif.-based firm.

More than 100 million users have iCloud accounts, according to Apple, which says that Mountain Lion will make it easier for customers to set up the service and access documents across their devices.

Mountain Lion bodes well for the company's Mac sales, according to Walkley.

"This makes Mac much easier to adopt," he explained. "We're already seeing Mac grow much faster than the market."

The tech giant has often talked about the 'halo effect' whereby users of one Apple product are more likely to buy another Apple device, such as iPod users buying iPhones, and, more recently, iPads. Mountain Lion could thus extend this 'halo effect' all the way to the desktop, taking Apple's Mac sales to new levels.

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Despite weakness in the broader PC market, Apple sold 5.2 million Macs during its recent fiscal first quarter, a hike of 26% compared to the same period last year.

There are already signs of progress. Mac sales were particularly strong in Asia-Pacific, growing 58% year-over-year in the latest quarter. The company also says that its overall Mac business has grown faster than the PC market for 23 straight quarters.

Intriguingly, Mountain Lion offers features specifically designed to support Chinese users, including enhancements to the Chinese input method and the ability to select Baidu ( BIDU) search in the Safari Web browser. Chinese users can also upload video via the Share Sheets feature directly to video Web sites Youku ( YOKU) and Tudou, according to Apple.

Ultimately, Apple's effort to integrate different devices via software could extend all the way into the living room, says Canaccord's Walkley, who thinks that iCloud could feature prominently on the rumored Apple TV.

"There's a lot of cool technology coming together -- there's a new 802.11 standard where you will have the ability to stream HD video over Wi-Fi," he said, noting that users could download movies from the cloud.

Rumors have been swirling around the blogosphere for months that Apple may launch a television technology, possibly sometime later this year.

Apple made the preview version of Mountain Lion available to developers on Thursday, with users able to upgrade via the Mac App Store in late summer.

Shares of Apple, which hit a new all-time high this week, rose $4.54, or 0.91%, to $502.21 on Thursday.

-- Written by James Rogers in New York.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/jamesjrogers.

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