• The Great MacIntel Sales Controversy

    January 28th, 2006

    When Apple held it’s quarterly financial conference with analysts earlier this month, its executives said they’d have trouble filling all the orders for the new MacBook Pro before the end of the present quarter. Independent reports, from American Technology Research and other industry analysts, suggested strong sales for both the new iMac and MacBook Pro. And then there’s, of course, Amazon, where the new iMac and forthcoming MacBook Pro sit at or near the top of the list.

    Still another report, one that didn’t cite any source, said that Intel-based iMac sales were lagging. A few online commentators went with it, trying to explain just what might have gone wrong with Apple’s sudden move to Intel chips, months ahead of schedule.

    Now I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to seriously consider both possibilities in the same breath. On the other hand, I have good reason for optimism, and it’s not just because of the sales figures at Amazon. One is that statement during that conference call from Peter Oppenheimer, CFO, that the company “is very pleased with customer and analyst response to our new Intel based Macs.” Understand that Apple can get in an awful lot of trouble if it fudges numbers and other information when it meets with the financial community. The other is that report from American Technology Research, which appears to confirm Oppenheimer’s statement.

    Now I can well understand if the situation at an Apple dealer these days is a little confusing, especially if both the new and previous versions of the iMac are on display. You can’t just put up a couple of signs and explain what’s so different about the Intel Core Duo or why Apple switched from its previous latest and greatest chip, the PowerPC G5. Sure, you and I are reasonably well-connected, and I’ve written a whole bunch of articles on the subject. Other technology sites have done their part, and, although some of the information is a little off in a few cases, you can find all the details you need if you look.

    But consider a normal buyer, who sees that the previous iMac had a 2.1GHz, and the new one has a 2GHz Core Duo processor and, not understanding dual processors, wonders why Apple made it slower. Of course, it’s also true that the older iMac will soon disappear from the store shelves, so the confusion won’t last long. At least you’ll get the straight scoop from Apple’s own stores and independent retailers. But, I’m not sanguine about, say, a CompUSA, unless an Apple person is on the front lines to answer questions.

    There’s another dilemma facing the potential buyer, and that’s whether to consider the new architecture, or buy a Mac with PowerPC. If you’re in tune mostly with the stuff that comes with the MacIntel version of the iMac, there’s not a lot to worry about. iLife ’06 is getting great early reviews, and the extra $79 you’ll have to shell out for a user license to make the demo version of iWork ’06 fully enabled is also a good value. Microsoft Office runs well enough so you don’t have to fret over the fact that it’ll be months before a Universal binary version is out.

    The situation isn’t so clear if you use professional applications from Adobe and others that will also not be updated for a while. Adobe Photoshop performance under Rosetta, to be fair, is passable. Benchmarks vary, but it seems to run at about half the speed of the native version on the previous iMac. But you may be upgrading from an older Mac with a G4 or even a G3, so even in emulation, Photoshop will seem tremendously improved. Of course, if you still need Classic apps, well, there may be a third party solution, but otherwise you still might want a legacy Mac if you need to upgrade systems.

    Such considerations aren’t necessarily part of the way reviewers examine the machines, because they are comparing last year’s iMac with this year’s version, or other current Macs. The picture with Rosetta emulation isn’t as bleak as you may think. In addition, if you follow the suggestion from Transitive Corporation, the company that supplied Apple with at least some of the technology it uses to translate PowerPC apps to run on a MacIntel, a RAM upgrade could help maximize performance.

    The good news is there are literally hundreds of Universal applications available now. As I write this article, it was closing in on 400 at the VersionTracker Universal Application Resource Center. This despite the fact that Apple caught developers off guard by getting its first Intel-based Macs out months earlier than it promised. It won’t be long before that figure exceeds 1,000 and bigger and bigger developers get their updates ready.

    So is Apple really going to have trouble moving Macs during this transition period? There doesn’t seem to be evidence that the new models are languishing, although I can see that sales of PowerPC Macs may suffer. That’s the fate of the lame duck model, and Apple’s conservative estimates for the current quarter are based this expectation. But I see no evidence to indicate that Apple is having any trouble at all moving its new line of MacIntels.

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