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  • The Apple/Intel Report: The Excitement Dies Down

    July 30th, 2005

    In the days following the news of Apple’s decision switch to Intel processors, speculation ran rampant. Some said it was a foolish idea, while others said it was a long time coming. But many delivered a collective yawn. So who cares what processor is inside a Mac? It is, after all, the operating system that makes a Mac a Mac, so why should anyone be concerned about the parts Apple selects, so long as you get the level of performance you expect?

    At first, it was predicted that Apple would suffer a sales hit, that lots of Mac users would rather sit on the sidelines for a year or two, afraid the present models with PowerPC processors would suddenly become obsolete. Even Apple is talking a cautious approach, despite stellar Mac sales last quarter. It’s guidance for the current quarter is flat, despite the back-to-school season where sales typically increase. Of course, if it moves more Macs than expected, Apple emerges in an even better light, because its own projections were so conservative.

    So are there any indicators as to how sales are faring? Well, there is Amazon.com, which has a decent selection of personal computers in its online catalog. Products are ranked by sales, and the figures change on an hourly basis, but when I checked the listings this morning, I noticed that four of the top 10 laptops were iBooks or PowerBooks. Two more Apple portables were included among the next ten listings. Desktop Macs fared better, with Apple garnering the first five slots. The first three were iMacs, followed by a pair of Mac minis. Power Macs earned number 19 and 21 rankings.

    Let me emphasize, once again, that the results you see may differ substantially from the ones I observed while writing this article, and it’s also not clear just how the sales picture at Amazon.com compares with other online and brick and mortar retailers. At the same time, it should serve as an indication that you shouldn’t dismiss Apple’s prospects outright either, nor take knee-jerk reactions seriously.

    In the past few weeks, the online world has been filled with erroneous information and baseless speculation. Just the other day, I caught an article from an otherwise responsible Mac resource predicting the demise of Apple because of its foolish move, that “this announcement will stop current Mac sales dead in the water.” No, I don’t want to embarrass the author any further by linking to the article, which also contains the prediction that no native software will be available for Macs with Intel. In case you haven’t noticed, there are already a handful of applications with Universal Binaries available, although only developers have access to the computers that can test them for Intel-based performance. For many, the conversion will prove a trivial exercise.

    At the same time, there has been a lot of intriguing speculation that personal computers are only a small part of Apple’s deal with Intel, and that the iPod and other digital devices constitute a main part of the picture. It’s fair to say that Intel builds a lot more than Pentiums.

    At the same time, there’s noting to prevent Apple from continuing to buy chips from Freescale Semiconductor and IBM if the offerings are compelling enough. Ditto for AMD if it delivers superior processors when the great transition begins in earnest. There’s no indication that Apple’s deal with Intel is exclusive. It’s quite possible that Apple will, at the beginning at least, develop both PowerPC and x86 motherboards for future Macs, choosing one over the other depending on which chip maker provides the best performance and ready availability.

    Even if the switch to Intel goes as planned, Apple will likely keep PowerPC models in stock as long as there is demand for them. Do you recall that, early in the migration to Mac OS X, Apple decided to stop building models that could also boot under Mac OS 9? A handful of older, dual-boot products were kept in production for a short time to serve those customers who couldn’t get by with the Classic mode.

    Right now, it appears that the Macintels will not be able to run Classic Mac OS applications, unless something changes drastically between now and the time these new computers appear. So what are people who still need Classic supposed to do? Well, I don’t think it takes tea leaves to predict that you’ll be able to buy Macs with PowerPC processors even after the Intel transition is over. Apple wouldn’t be so foolish as to lose sales because of lack of support for Classic. It may even be possible for third parties to devise a solution, which will get Apple off the hook. Time will tell.

    Of course, my predictions and expectations about all this may end up being wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.



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