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  • The Apple/Intel Report: Don’t Believe Those Surveys!

    July 2nd, 2005

    The practice of surveying people about everything imaginable has become an epidemic, and most of it means absolutely nothing. Even those carefully calculated polls by the likes of Gallup and other companies have “margins of error,” which means mistakes are possible. That explains why, when it comes to a very close election, the wrong candidate may be selected as the possible winner. And let’s not forget those exit polls during the last presidential election that showed Senator Kerry emerging victorious.

    So if you have reason to suspect even the polls that are designed via scientific means, certainly a random poll should not be taken seriously. That brings us to recent surveys that purport to predict the future buying plans of Mac users as Apple moves towards its switch to Intel processors. One of those surveys involved a “Macworld Reader Panel” that raised deep concerns that a number of Mac users were putting off purchases until the new “Macintels” were out.

    Troubling indeed. In fact, the survey showed that 33% of those on this panel were less inclined to buy new Macs in light of the great processor transition. It’s more troubling, however, how this panel was selected, since it’s not mentioned in the article. Was it a random sampling of Mac users around the country or world, or just a collection of folks who volunteered to participate? Did the market research firm who took the survey, Karlin Associates, make any effort at all to determine if the folks surveyed in any way represented how Mac users as a whole felt about the situation? Good questions, and, alas, not answered in the article.

    On the surface, though, I’m skeptical of the numbers. People who would join a “Reader Panel” might largely consist of so-called power users and others who were tuned into the latest developments in this corner of the universe. But that in no way represents the Mac user base as a whole. How many Mac users out there even know Apple is planning to switch processors? How many even care? I certainly don’t know, and, while I find the Macworld survey an interesting read, I can’t regard it as anything more than a curiosity.

    So how are we to know whether Apple’s potential sales are being hurt or not? The proof is in the pudding, and the first indication of what’s happening will probably come when Apple reports its quarterly financials in the middle of July. If there was a downtown in Mac sales in June, in the wake of the WWDC announcement, that might deliver a clue that people are indeed setting aside plans to buy new computers for the time being. If true, though, it may only be a temporary phenomenon. If Apple continues to upgrade its product line over the coming months, and makes a huge effort to market the new models, plans to hold off purchases until 2006 or 2007 may well be forgotten. Logic may prevail, and folks with older Macs, or Windows users disgusted with the problems affecting that platform, will decide to act now, and worry about the future later.

    As I have suggested before, there may even be reasons not to wait for a Macintel. At this juncture, it appears that the Classic environment, which allows you to run applications that predate Mac OS X, will not survive the transition, and if you need those applications for work or play, buying a Macintel would be a bad idea. Even if you don’t need Classic, there may be other concerns. Sure, Apple has apparently done its homework and is trying to make this processor change as seamless as possible. No, I don’t necessarily believe that the switch from to PowerPC killed Mac sales back in the 1990s; that was probably largely due to the arrival of Windows 95, although some commentators haven’t grasped that fact yet. But the first Macintels may have unexpected bugs or performance bottlenecks that won’t be cured until version 2 models appear. Not everyone wants to be on the cutting edge.

    Right now, however, nobody knows what’s going to happen a year or two hence, although the executives at Apple surely know whether or not sales are being impacted here and now. In addition to its possible lapses in methodology, none of the published questions in the Macworld survey cover whether Mac users would be more inclined to buy now if prices were cut. Don’t be surprised if Apple does indeed slash prices of Macs if sales decline, or the recent growth spurt slows. Apple has a huge war chest of cash that is doing nothing but earn interest right now. It can certainly weather a few quarters of reduced profits if it were necessary to keep the market alive and it can afford extra advertising campaigns too.

    More to the point, don’t feel you have to join the crowd. Even if that survey and others indeed reveals a genuine sales hit, that should have nothing whatever to do with your plans. If you need a new computer now or in the near future, why should it matter that Apple will have a faster Mac a year or two from now? Even if Apple never went to Intel, speedier computers will appear anyway.

    Yes, speculation is fun, and running a survey now and then may make for good copy. But don’t take it seriously.

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