As any one who has dared invest on Wall Street can attest, psychology remains a huge factor in a company’s stock performance. If you perceive that a company’s sales are apt to increase, you buy its stock to take advantage of the expected higher prices, and if you perceive that sales are not meeting expectations, you sell in a mad rush before prices collapse. The same apt to be quite as true for a retail product. If you know that a superior model or a price reduction is coming soon, you may ignore existing products and sit on the sidelines.
That’s one reason, for example, why Apple is loathe to reveal information about new models too far in advance. And it’s not just a penchant for secrecy that makes them dread the latest revelations on a Mac rumor site. In fact, when news of Apple’s switch to Intel processors hit the streets, some perfectly reasonable people suggested that sales of new Macs would suffer as a result. I should also mention the fact that there’s competition out there who’d love to know Apple’s plans in advance, particularly when it comes to the iPod.
In fact, there was no apparent Mac sales hit, at least so far. Or any plans by some to put off purchase of a new Mac has been offset by the folks who decided to get in on the action now. But with 2006 coming fast, that situation is poised for a change. For one thing, more and more commentators have joined with the rumor sites in predicting that the first MacIntels will appear in January. Sure, the new product introductions might be limited to iBooks and the Mac mini. Regardless, expectations are high, and Apple may be forced to rush its product release plans, even if it had other plans.
Imagine, for example, if Apple delivers, say, a new version if iLife and iWork, and perhaps a revised iPod shuffle. All good news, to be sure. But if there are no Macs with Intel processors, you can bet that lots of people will be disappointed. So disappointed that they might put off buying a new Mac, in fear that some models will still become obsolete, because the announcement will inevitably come later on in the year.
In other words, Apple may be forced to find the path to that new product introduction faster than it wants. Officially, the company line is the same, that the first MacIntels will appear in the first half of the year. Apple is being cagey in fear of hurting sales this holiday season, and they’re apt to be red hot across the product line. In fact, that was probably the main reason why that generally pathetic PowerBook upgrade appeared. If you don’t care about more pixels on the screen, somewhat faster memory and graphics, it’s really no big deal. You’ll need a stopwatch to measure the performance change, and it may pass in the blink of an eye, but the hype value might be enough to goose sales for a time.
Now I’m not about to say that Apple can’t meet the alleged deadline of having those new Macs ship in January or perhaps February. If Intel can get enough of its newest chips to Apple fast enough, and if development of the Intel version of Mac OS X and the remaining hardware elements fall in place. I can even imagine a tense Steve Jobs ringing up Intel CEO Paul Otellini and asking him, over and over again, “Are you sure everything will be ready in time?”
But a new iBook and perhaps a Mac mini aren’t going to be enough. If anything, their release will quickly demonstrate how far the PowerBook and iMac G5 are behind the curve. Imagine what might happen if someone comes into an Apple Store and puts these models through their paces. Now there are anecdotal reports out there that Mac OS X for Intel simply flies on those testing machines developers have leased from Apple. Officially, of course, they aren’t allowed to comment in public, but that hasn’t stopped some very credible evidence from arising that these reports are true. If that’s really the case, put yourself in the place of that person who, after trying out those computers, checks out those first MacIntels. Why are those cheaper Macs faster?
Reviewers who get ahold of the new models may indeed report the very same thing, that Mac OS X’s user interface appears to have ingested steroids in moving to the Intel platform. How will that affect sales of PowerPC Macs? Now, for the time being, the Power Mac may be in another league, by virtue of the dual cores and speedier memory. But Apple may indeed have to get those PowerBooks and iMacs upgraded too, and quickly, lest folks stop buying in the belief that something much better is just around the corner.
Now I am not about to suggest that Apple wants to rush products to market. At the same time, they have some pretty smart marketing people who can speculate, with a high level of probability, what’s going to happen. Indeed, the first part of 2006 may be quite interesting. I wouldn’t suggest you hold off purchase of a new Mac this holiday season. Expectations and rumors are not reality, and if you need a new computer, go for it.
But if you’d rather wait a few months, well, I can’t blame you.
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