Apple’s decision to embrace Intel at the expense of its long-time processor partner IBM is likely to cause a major reverberation in the tight Apple consumer and developer communities that could see the niche PC vendor struggle for the next few years as it integrates Intel’s technology.
Several industry analysts said sales could be endangered during this period as consumers may shy away from the company during the transition, but Jim McGregor, principle analyst for In-Stat, paints Apple in even more dire straits. “I think this move is the death of Apple Computer,” he said.
He cited the one to two years it will take to integrate Intel’s designs into the Apple hardware and rewrite the Macintosh operating system to work with the new chips as creating a dead period in Apple sales.
“Consumers are going to say, ‘Should I buy an IBM Apple now? Probably not, because the support for those is going away soon,'” he said, adding that the Intel powered Macs are likely to run below optimum speed due to necessary changes in the Mac OS to mate it with the Intel processors.
However, other industry watchers were less apocalyptic. Stephen Baker, NPD’s industry analysis director, said: “Most consumers are pretty processor-agnostic these days. If the product works and performs, it’s all that really matters. Apple can keep its identity because it comes (for consumers) from the box and the design. Software is much less a concern for consumers.”
Toni DuBois, Current Analysis’ senior analyst, initially had mixed thoughts, but said in the end that Apple has a lot to gain, and she is anxious to see the Intel-based designs. The upside of the deal has Apple gaining a better performing chip with better thermal management for notebooks.
The one area all three analysts agreed upon was that Apple’s back was against the wall and it had to move away from the IBM chips if it hoped to compete, particularly in the notebook computer category. The decision to jump to Intel must have been a bitter pill for Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs as he spent a great deal of time and effort demonstrating the superiority of Apple’s processors over Intel’s at many Macworld shows over the past five years. But, according to Baker, making the change was the price of doing business.
IBM had not significantly upgraded its PowerPC platform in a decade, pointed out McGregor. It had no 64-bit processor in the pipeline, and the Apple’s mobile processor is outdated. Now that Apple is going forward with the switch, the company’s task to make this a success is nothing less then monumental.