Lion is only available for download through the Mac App Store, and in keeping with Apple's trend of affordable pricing on their operating system upgrades, it is only $29.99. Of course, it's also included free on new Macs. If Apple holds with their tradition (and they usually do), that price will never change, so there is no reason to hold off on upgrading.
Installing the new OS will generally make your computer run with a little more zip. Also, there are a ton of new features, many designed to bring some of the best iOS features from the iPhone and iPad to Mac users. The Launchpad application launcher lets you view and open all your apps without having to open any folders. Lion offers new multi-touch gestures to Macs with trackpads. Full-screen apps gives you the option of using your whole screen for your current app. And Mission Control combines the window management features of full-screen apps, Dashboard, Exposé, and Spaces so you can use your computer more efficiently. In addition to a number of other big features like system-wide auto-save and versions, Lion also has updates to all the iWork apps.
When you are buying a Mac, timing is everything. So, what does yesterday’s release mean in terms of buying? Well, if you want the newest and the greatest, now is the time to order a MacBook Air or a Mac mini. Apple is pretty reliable when it comes to refreshing their product lines, so you know that if you buy now, your computer will be the newest model for a longer duration.
When people talk about the Apple life cycle or Apple product life cycle, they mean the average amount of time between new releases. For the MacBook Air, it is 321 days, and for the Mac mini, it is 265 days. Both lines retain price points from the previous generation, but offer features like increased processing speed, Intel’s Sandy Bridge platform, and Thunderbolt for high speed data transfer. The MacBook Air, which starts at $999, also includes a backlit keyboard and Intel Core i5 or i7 processing chips. The Mac mini starts at $599 and comes with an improved AMD Radeon HD graphics card along with Core i5 or i7 processing chips
But, if you don’t mind a slightly older model, this is also a great time to check Apple’s stock of refurbished MacBook Airs and Mac minis, because the prices on previous generations will be lower (on top of the price drop for a refurb). The thing with refurbs is that Apple’s stock changes as people purchase and they get new products in, so you may have to check more than once to find the computer you want. At the time of posting, there was an 11.6" Refurb 1.4Ghz MacBook Air for $749, which is an amazing price.
Apart from refurbs, the Apple store doesn't offer many discounts on computers. However, Apple does have special offers that add some great value to a purchase. Right now you can get a free printer (up to $100) if you order one with your computer purchase and send in the mail-in rebate. Also, students and teachers get special pricing in the Education Store and a $100 gift card with a computer purchase.
There are a number of authorized retailers who resell Apple products, often with discounts. With the new product release, they have their own offers available. For instance, Mac Connection has the current low price on MacBook Airs, with prices starting from $949.99. And MacMall has closeout pricing on the previous generation Mac mini, along with some nice rebate offers.
Where you buy depends on personal factors. If you are unlikely to actually use the mail-in rebates, your best option might be to go with whatever price is lowest. But if you are a rebate pro and will be able to use, sell, or gift the freebies, then you will want to take the value of those items into account.