2005-06-04

Hell's getting mighty chilly

Good article from Ars Technica: Apple to Intel announcement at WWDC?
Also see discussion here: Ars Mac Ach discussion thread

I find this very had to believe. Moving to Intel may lower Apple's costs somewhat but, so long as Apple continues to engage in a substantial degree of custom design for their machines, Apple will not be able to match costs with the likes of Dell, HP or Lenovo. Now, I believe that all things considered the price premium for a Mac is well worth it (and would be worth it on x86 as well), but getting people to see this, or even getting them into a position where they might be able to see this, is a supremely difficult task (as Apple has discovered while trying to get switchers). Presently Apple's task is made somewhat easier by the difficulty of making direct price–performance comparisons between Apple and the competition, since they run on different architectures. By making the direct hardware comparison more difficult, PowerPC based Macs prompt users to consider what advantages the Mac might offer by way of custom designed hardware, software, and the high level of integration between the two. If Apple moves the Mac to x86, potential customers will be able to compare processor speed, etc., at a glance —Apple will certainly come out the looser in these at a glance comparisons, and many potential customers will never get beyond the initial superficial impression they create.

The only scenario to which the above concern wouldn't apply is one in which Apple gives up on being the exclusive provider of hardware on which to run Mac OS X; in this scenario, Apple wouldn't be basing its business on hardware. But, of course, this would entail giving up the high-degree of hardware–software integration that has made the Mac so appealing, and which has allowed Apple to innovate (virtually) at will. And, since Apple still makes most of its revenue from hardware, it is hard to see how Apple could survive with the inevitable decrease in hardware sales.

In short, I don't see this move being a good one for Apple's market share nor, with the transition costs, for the health of the platform in general. Apple and developers have invested a great deal in the PPC architecture, which will be lost if Apple abandons it. Moreover, with IBM's recent Power Everywhere initiative and the commitment of all three major game console manufacturer to Power derived processors, the future of the PPC was looking brighter. While there may be particular advantages to running the Mac on x86, in general I just don't see how this rumor makes much sense in the long run.

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