Apple To Put Intel Inside?

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About a year and a half ago, we ran a story about someone who put an x86 system inside a Mac case. It is the all-time most read article in our history. It got some people sick, it made some people cry.

If Macsters got that upset about one person doing that with one Mac box, what are they going to do if Little Stevie Jobs decides on Monday to do that to all of them?

Here’s the original story.

Here’s a recent confirmation of the story (which also indicates AMD may end up playing a role, too).

If this announcement actually occurs during Little Stevie’s keynote speech, which starts Monday at 10 AM Pacific Daylight Time (1 PM on the U.S. east coast, 6 PM in the UK, 7 PM in France/Germany, etc.), Monday, well, that would be pretty stunning news.

There is a great deal of skepticism about this announcement. Many Macsters are doing their best Mr. Bill imitation and essentially going, “Noooooooo.” A few are very upset over the possibility of an “Intel Inside” sticker on their Mac.

Be as kind to such people. After all, they’ve been hearing for years that Mac systems are vastly faster than Intel systems. Now they’re going to be told Intel is so much better that Apple is going to switch? That’s like George W. getting up to the podium and saying, “Osama is a better man than I.”

Others are skeptical for more rational reasons. It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense right now to move Apple hardware to x86 in general and Intel in particular, especially when it will be inevitable that sales of current Apple machines will go down the tubes for the next year/two years.

Those who have recently bought Macs are likely to be upset, too. As one Mac forum poster memorably put it:

“If this is true my mother in law is going to kick me in the balls. I just talked her into getting a mac mini last month.”

I think he’s right. If this happens, there is going to be a lot of one-sided soccer matches in Macdom. 🙂

This leads some to conclude that:

  • Little Stevie is playing one megagame of chicken with IBM,
  • Little Stevie has thrown one supernova snit fit at IBM,
  • The media is part of the snit, and a false rumor was put out, or
  • Somebody just wants to make sure everybody watches his keynote address

    If Intel Is Going To Be Inside, Then What?

    If this is going to happen, there’s a lot of ways it could happen:

    Apple Could Go With A Stripped Down Version of Itanium: This would be an incredibly bold move, probably too bold. How do you put an Itanium in a Mini Mac?

    Apple Could Come Out With Two Lines There could be a cheap Intel-based line, and a more expensive PowerPC line. Unfortunately, the article says that Apple will eventually use Intel across the whole product line.

    Apple Could Have Intel Make PPC Chips This would make lawyers retained by IBM very happy. It’s unclear if Apple could give Intel the permission/technical information needed legally, but there would probably be lawsuits even if they could.

    In the short-term, Intel would benefit from finding out all sorts of interesting things about IBM technology. In the long-term, though, it doesn’t make sense. Apple complains about their CPU companies not delivering world-class products, but they hardly offer the prospect of world-class sales of their product.

    Intel makes as many CPUs as Apple sells yearly on a good week; AMD, in about five-six weeks. R&D gets awfully expensive per chip when you can only spread the costs out among three-four million CPUs as opposed to 150 or even 30 million plus. If Apple’s wants the benefits of mass production, they can’t expect a boutique chip.

    Apple Could Say “To Hell With Hardware” Apple could create an x86 version of Mac OS X that could run on a Dell (or any other recent) x86 box, and hope they could make more money selling Mac OS X than they do making hardware. If an x86 Mac OS X got the same market share as, say, AMD, they probably would (less revenue but more profit margin). If they succeed, Apple becomes a software and iPod company. If it didn’t, Apple becomes an iPod company.

    That alone is a “bet the company move,” but the real problem is with the person throwing the dice. Expecting Little Stevie to give up hardware is like expecting Billy Graham to give up Jesus. It goes against everything he and Apple have stood for.

    This is pretty hard to believe on the basis of just a news article or two. This is news you want to hear from the horse’s mouth before believing.

    Apple Could Go With A Proprietary Intel-based Box Given Apple’s history and tradition, this would seem to be the most likely possibility. Produce (Intel would probably make the CPU/mobo) the only box that can run Windows AND Mac OS X full-speed. Apple would have to do something in hardware that would prevent, say a Dell box, from running an x86 version of Mac OS X.

    Despite such protection, this could be a very dangerous move on Apple’s part. When IBM introduced the IBM PC, it had a proprietary BIOS. First, a couple companies (most notably Compaq) managed to create a functional equivalent to that BIOS. A bit later, Phoenix built its BIOS, beat IBM in court, and began selling its BIOS to everyone. That’s the big risk Apple would face if they chose this option.

    Then again, if Apple could price the machine competitively, that might not matter too much. If this move makes it possible for Apple to sell a Windows/MacOS X box for not too much more than a Dell box, I think a whole lot more people would give Apple a shot. If Little Stevie saw the chance of getting 10% market share in a few years, giving up, say, half of 2% for a year or two might be an acceptable risk.

    Why?

    If something extreme does happen Monday, the question remains: What could possibly have changed Little Stevie’s mind? It can’t be just a snit fit; Apple has been in far worse shape CPU-wise without making such a jump.

    Well, at least that part is simple:

    iPod

    For the first time ever, Apple is making serious money from something besides a computer. iPod/iTune revenues are approaching that of Mac hardware sales. iPod revenues would enable a revolutionary change, a new vision, at Apple. Failure would no longer be suicidal.

    Frankly, reinventing the company would be a pretty good idea at this point. The Mac platform is dying a slow, lingering death. The overall trend has been downward the last ten years, with occasional, temporary blips upward when products like the iMac were introduced.

    Little Stevie was brought back to Apple when Apple market share had dipped a little below 3%. In 2005, Apple market share, after a rally, mind you, is now around 2%. Ten years ago, Apple outsold Dell. Today, Dell sells eight-and-a-half times as many computers as Apple. Last quarter, the increase in Dell sales from the previous year was about the same as Apple’s total sales.

    It might be a good time to have a graceful exit strategy in place, even as a contingency plan, and going Intel now would be a good way to implement it, maybe give the hybrid route a shot for a year or two, then hang it up and just make software if it doesn’t work.

    So What Is He Going To Do?

    Ask me Monday afternoon. 🙂 I’m not going to even pretend I know; I’m only suggesting that if there is a change, it might be more radical than you might otherwise think.

    I’ll tell you this, though. If the change is rad, it ought to be pretty entertaining visiting the forums of some Mac sites.

    Ed

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