• The Apple/Intel Report: Staying Out of Touch

    October 1st, 2005

    Sometimes I think it was all a dream. I was sitting in the press box during June’s WWDC keynote and heard Steve Jobs explain some of the basics of Apple’s planned switch to Intel processors. I then read the stories about his press conference last week in Paris, in which he said the company was on track to deliver its first Macs with Intel Inside, MacIntels, or whatever, by June of 2006. Nothing so far sounds especially new and different, right?

    But then I wonder, but only for a moment, if what I saw and read is really true. Maybe I’m the one who is dreaming, and some of the others are seeing a glimpse of reality. But I doubt it!

    Right now, a story is making the rounds that Apple is engaged in a concerted push for favored treatment from Intel so it can get ahold of two proposed processor families early, before the official release. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Intel begin to sell new chips as soon as they have enough to ship? Why would they hold them back and how would they be able to deliver the parts to Apple ahead of the planned release? Sounds like a contradiction of terms here.

    Of course, the story has no authority. Certainly Apple isn’t going to comment on future products until they’re ready, or almost ready, to ship. Intel’s future processor roadmap is very clear, and you can easily look it all up if you’re curious. I’m sure if Intel managed to beat its forecasts and get a product out earlier, every one of its customers would have a chance to get in on the deal. Why not? So what would Apple seek to gain by insisting on the impossible, or is this just another thread to support the contention that Steve Jobs makes impossible demands?

    So what impossible demands did Jobs make of IBM, beyond shipping its chips on time and in sufficient quantities to fill waiting orders? Is meeting a commitment an impossible demand? There’s also talk about what discounts Apple is expecting from Intel, suggesting that Jobs wants to pay less than Dell or HP, even though he’s going to buy less chips. Well, nothing wrong with making the best deal you can, but I rather expect pricing was already arranged when Apple agreed to cast its lot with Intel. How could it be otherwise? Would you commit yourself to ordering all your components from a specific supplier without knowing the price?

    All of this stuff strains logic.

    Then we heard the stories, and these were apparently true, that some crackers managed to make the developer version of Mac OS X for Intel run on vanilla PC boxes. There was a subsequent report, not confirmed, that a new release from Apple closed the loophole. But the real story comes again from Steve Jobs, who made it perfectly clear in last week’s meeting with the media that the x86 version of Mac OS X would run strictly on Apple hardware. End of story!

    Now I suppose it will be possible for some clever crackers to figure out how to make it happen anyway, and no doubt there’s a small clique out there who will announce a successful achievement. All this with the illusion of saving a few dollars and making Mac OS X compatible with the cheapest PC in the land. Of course, they forget that there’s the issue of driver compatibility, and what difference will it all make if you can’t make your optical drives, printers, scanners, digital cameras, iPods and what not function? The time it takes to make even some of those devices compatible, assuming it was possible, would be worth a lot more than any alleged premium they’d pay simply to buy a new Mac and be done with it.

    Of course, just buying and using an off-the-shelf computer with its preloaded operating system may not seem quite so attractive to people who do such things. It won’t satisfy their egos near as much as defeating the copy protection devices that Apple and Intel put in place, even if the end result isn’t so perfect.

    There’s always the hope, however, that once they use a hacked Mac, they might just find it within themselves to want to buy a real one.

    And just one more thing: The stories that Mac sales would stop dead in their tracks as a result of the impending Intel switch don’t seem to be true, at least so far. Industry analysts still claim that Apple’s going to continue to boost market share. Now maybe, in the final months prior to the release of the real MacIntels, things will quiet down as folks await news about the new products. However, some savvy marketing ought to minimize the impact. For one thing, strong price reductions on existing products would help move existing inventories, and slowing down production lines gradually as the product introduction approaches would ensure that only a small number of unsold units are left in the sales channel. Careful preparation will minimize any serious sales impact.

    Now I wonder what tall tales about Apple and Intel will arise next. Inquiring minds indeed want to know.

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