Can Steve Jobs Sell "Intel Inside" to the Mac Faithful?

Posted by: Peter Burrows on June 5, 2005

If reports from CNET and the Wall Street Journal are true, Apple will announce a phased move from the PowerPC microprocessor to use chips from Intel Corp. in future Macs. This is blockbuster news in computer-land, obviously—and the best reason yet for this Apple beat reporter to arrive early to hear a Steve Jobs’ keynote. Jobs is expected to discuss the reasons for the shift at a speech tomorrow morning at Apple’s Worldwide Developers conference in San Francisco—and I can’t wait to hear them.

Why? Because I want to understand why Jobs would mess with Apple's Mac strategy, just when he's got it firing on all cylinders. After a decade of laboring to maintain what was left of its piddly market share, Mac sales have far outdistanced overall PC market growth in recent quarters. What's more, there seems to be lots of runway for further gains ahead. Apple just unveiled its Tiger release of the MacOS to rave reviews--at a time when rival PC makers are stuck waiting for Microsoft to finally deliver the Longhorn release of Windows. And thanks to the huge success of the iPod, the Mac is finally on Joe Mainstream's possible purchase list, particularly since word is out that Macs are somewhat less vulnerable to viruses and other forms of mal-ware.

Of course, there are many good reasons for Apple to consider a change of platforms. An obvious one is that Intel has a better record for developing cooler-running processors--a critical skill, given how quickly the PC market is moving towards notebooks and away from desktop models. And I'd bet Jobs will have compelling solutions to some of the problems the change will cause--such as the need for current Mac owners to get Intel-compatible versions of their programs should they decide to upgrade to an Intel-equipped Mac someday.

But in my mind, Jobs' challenge is to show why this move is clearly better for Apple's customers--not just why it won't cause problems for them. While Apple is completing this processor transplant in the years to come, will it continue to innovate as smartly as it has of late? Will its prices come down? Will there be more Mac-compatible software titles, or better built-in wireless networking? Say what you want about Apple's passion for industrial design or flair for marketing, but the fundamental reason for its recent success is that more customers find its products easier-to-use and simply a better value. If this deal is just about getting a sweeter deal on chip prices, or being able to claim the same megahertz rating as makers of other Intel-based machines can claim, I'd wonder why Apple signed on with Intel this time (By the way, Macinsider has a good recap of the recent history of Apple-Intel talks.)

I'm sure Jobs, one of the last "product guys" still running a computer company, wouldn't dispute that Apple only wins if having Intel Inside helps it make better products. But I look forward to hearing how he makes the case.

Reader Comments

Josh Hallett

June 5, 2005 5:52 PM

I think many Mac users, like myself, don't care what is under the hood as long as the OS stays the same. If a switch to Intel means cheaper hardware prices and a bit more speed, [then it's] great.

Mac users have lived with major platform changes before: 68xxxx to PowerPC then from OS9 to OS X. (I've been with them for 18 years. See http://hyku.com/blog/archives/000591.html)

The big hitch is the developers, as they will have to change course a little bit. For me upgrading apps every few years is normal. As long as the transition to Intel-compatible code takes place along my natural upgrade path, I'll be happy.

Robert

June 5, 2005 8:25 PM

Apple has spent a lot of money convincing its user base that Intel is "evil". They're going to regret this. I remember a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a Macintosh use running Photoshop, who shouldn't have cared at all what CPU was in his machine:

"Intel is Thegmented" he said, lisping because of his tounge piercing. "Ith hard for programmers to write thoftware for it."

I don't know where he learned that nonsense, but it had to have started from Apple's spin and hype machine.

Jack Krupansky

June 5, 2005 8:45 PM

IBM, once a great hardware company, is now primarily a services company. How could anybody believe that IBM is going to have the breadth and depth and intensity of commitment to a broad range of processor capabilities as Intel?

Would an Apple/Intel deal be based on the current 32-bit x86 architecture (and 64-bit implementations of the 32-bit architecture), or the 64-bit Itanium?

-- Jack Krupansky

John

June 5, 2005 9:16 PM

Sure Robert. It's Apple's fault. And Intel has never run multi-million dollar ad campaigns suggesting that the whole world runs on Intel processors and they're better than the rest.

Both Apple and Intel are guilty of MARKETING. That's all. Your "they're going to regret this" comment is asinine. Your anectdotal Mac user sounds unreal, and if not, why would you have cared what processor he was using? You must have brought it up.

Franck

June 5, 2005 11:24 PM

I have been a Mac Fan for 15 years. I trust Steve J & Apple's decisions more than the analysts.

If Apple has licensed QuickTransit for an Intel-powered Mac, all current applications should just work, no user or developer intervention required. Read this article, that writer is probably closer to the truth (http://www.wired.com/news/mac/0,2125,67749,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_1).

We shall see tomorrow. I doubt Apple will switch the entire line. Laptops are probably the first target. Apple will probably keep the G5 for servers and Towers.

Now I have to wait for tomorrow.

BW Reader

June 6, 2005 9:33 AM

Apple wouldn't do this if they didn't feel it was necessary. IBM has backed a direct competitor (linux) and has limited Apple's chip features and availability. Those two never have really gotten along.

CTucker

June 6, 2005 3:07 PM

Gee.

Jump on the "We HEART Intel" bandwagon with Dell just as AMD trumps Intel. Both on the server side and desktop, see Tom's Hardware or Anandtech for details. So you'll be using dual core chips held together with bits of solder.

Apple should've gone to AMD. Then they could've said how elegant the Opteron and Athlon64 X2 are. And could've sold the Mac crowd on how once again you're leaping over Intel. Oh well.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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