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Buying Lion on a physical medium from Apple's online store carries a price more than twice that of the digital download. The drive ships for free in one to three business days.
"OS X Lion is available on a USB thumb drive for installation without the need for a broadband Internet connection," Apple's official product description reads. "Just plug the drive into your USB port and follow the instructions to install. OS X Lion is also available for a lower price as a digital download from the Mac App Store."
In addition to the lower price, Apple also incentivized users to buy Lion from the Mac App Store buy giving it a month's head start over the USB thumb drive. The 3.49GB operating system install became available for download on July 20.
The product also comes with an "Important Note" from Apple: "When you install OS X Lion using the USB thumb drive, you will not be able to reinstall OS X Lion from Lion Recovery. You will need to use the USB thumb drive to reinstall OS X Lion."
Lion marks the first operating system release from Apple where a download is the preferred install method. AppleInsider was first to report in May that Apple planned to push users toward buying through the Mac App Store.
The last version of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, also carried a $29.99 price tag, but its default distribution method was on a physical DVD. When Apple redesigned its thin-and-light MacBook Air in 2010, it came with a USB thumb drive to reinstall Snow Leopard, as Apple began to move away from disc drives in its Mac lineup.
Apple did not reveal until Lion became available on the Mac App Store in July that a USB thumb drive would be sold in August. But the company also noted that users who do not have broadband access at home, work or school can download the multi-gigabyte install file from the Mac App Store at its retail stores at no extra cost.