A short interview with iBuyPower's Marketing Manager Ricky Lee on Slashgear reveals why we're not really getting any answers in regards to a Steam Machine launch date. That's because Valve holds all the cards; Steam Machines will go on sale when Valve is ready. That means SteamOS needs to be ready as well as the controller.
First, a little background. In order for OEMs to actually sell PCs with SteamOS or the Steam client pre-installed, they must first license the software from Valve.
"In very simple terms, you need a license to redistribute our proprietary Steam Client, whether on its own or whether as part of SteamOS, and you need a license to use any of our trademarks in a commercial context," Valve states. "That includes, without limitation, using the Steam symbol and terms like Steam, SteamOS and Steam Machine in any of your commercial communication, whether from product design, advertising or PR. And unless you are a licensee, you should not publicly suggest any connection to Valve or Steam."
That goes back to what was previously said: Valve must have a final, complete and distributable version of SteamOS for OEMs before Steam Machines can license and ship to customers. Valve must also give the OK for each Steam Machine to be released. And as previously stated, the Steam Controller must be finalized; Steam Machines cannot ship to gamers without this controller.
With all that said, the Steam Machine ship dates rests solely on Valve. Ricky Lee said iBuyPower's Steam Machine could theoretically ship next month, and there's speculation that the green light may be given in February. But again, it's speculation until Valve is officially ready to move forward.
Slashgear also talked with Lee about iBuyPower's strategy with its first Steam Machine. There was talk about some of the other competitors with huge machines and huge price tags, and a comment that "they just don't get it" in regards to the overall Steam Machine philosophy of bringing a price-competitive console PC into the living room.