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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Apple and Intel 

You might already think that Apple's decision to use Intel chips is a good idea, but I think it's a great idea.

Markets, as they grow and mature, tend to get more specialized. It used to be, you could get a Model T in any color, as long as it was black. Today's car market caters to such specialized tastes as "small-cab pickups" and "luxury sports sedan." So it is becoming for computing. The days of the do-it-all machine are disappearing, and we're moving towards more devices and more specialized devices. There's no way that a single chip can provide the outstanding floating point performance that games want, as well as the dynamic reordering and so forth that a mainstream PC needs to run older code efficiently. Not at a decent price/heat-level/whatever. Choices have to be made, and it makes sense for floating point monsters to be made for game machines at the expense of other factors. The PC is being dismantled into smaller pieces and moved towards a greater variety of more specialized configurations; there'll be cheap game consoles, expensive workstations for content creation, cheap media recording/receiving/playback machines, cheap machines for internet connectivity, and so forth. It's a natural process, and we'll probably end up with much better products for it.

Well, pity poor Apple. They were one of the first to see this trend and a few years ago, Jobs told us his strategy: make the Mac the "digital hub" of the home, connecting and distributing media and so forth to TVs and stereos. They've made some great progress on this end, with their digital music and AirPort lines, and so forth. I expect some more good stuff to come from them for video and movies.

However, a few weeks ago I wrote about the competitive threat that the new video game consoles were going to present to Apple. They too want to be digital hubs of the home, and they have the content that's going to drive people to buy them up and connect them to TVs and stereos. iTunes and AirPort Express is great, but those PS3s and Xbox2s are going to present real problems for Apple, because they don't have any games to get people to connect up with their stack. Some people might go for hybrid solutions, but it's obvious that people will only favor one solution. I've also suggested that Apple team up with one of the obvious winners (Sony or Microsoft), or find someone else who is being left out in the cold and combine forces with them, like Nintendo.

But Apple found someone even better: Intel. With the next wave of home entertainment devices, Microsoft, Sony, and IBM are all winning, and even Apple is better positioned than Intel to profit from this trend. Now, with Apple, Intel has a vector into the home, and Jobs did hint that they had other consumer electronics devices planned with Intel. Major PC manufacturers, like Dell and Gateway have attempted to move into this space by selling flat-panel TVs, and other devices, but that's clearly not going to be where the value is. If Intel is smart, they'll treat Apple very well, and not just as another relatively low-volume PC-maker.

So, in concrete terms, I don't know what can go on here. I suspect that by moving to Intel chips, Apple has greatly improved the chances of people buying their machines. Windows will probably run on the new Macs, though Apple has said it won't work out of the box, and game developers seem to see moving to another platform with the same chips as easier than moving to a different platform with different chips. Perhaps Apple will even be able to use some VMWare or Wine-like technology to get decent game emulation performance for specific games. I'm sure they've explored that, but I don't think that's a likely scenario.

They've got a big hungry giant they can work with, and if they're both smart, they'll find ways to get in on the big living room opportunity that Microsoft and Sony are fighting over. I think this is a likely happening, because Intel can also see what's going on, they see that they are being left out of the party, and they know that the average PC manufacturer's idea of an innovative consumer product is putting their logo on a flat-panel TV. Apple is a company that can make this happen for them. Even without the games, Apple knows users and knows user interfaces. It's not impossible that Apple's offerings will be so far superior to Sony's and Microsoft's that most users will use Apple's offerings for everything that isn't games, very much like the fact that the PS2 is a crappy DVD player has resulted in most people having a separate DVD player in addition to their PS2.

Why not AMD: Great chips, great performance, great prices, absolutely doesn't address either of the main reasons for Apple's switch [very well]: notebook chips and supply reliability. That's about all there is to say about AMD. Maybe their notebook line will shape up, but they've got a long way to go on being a reliable chip supplier. If you're gonna switch, might as well solve that headache for good, and the deal will be sweeter if you go straight there.
Comments:
Also, IBM is a terrible partner in several respects. For example, how they screwed Sun over with their faulty memory (something they tested and knew was broken, but left for Sun to figure out and work around). So, it's not at all suprising that IBM made Jobs back out on his promise of a 3GHz PPC.

The funny thing is, I thought the PPC was supposed to be the cooler one for laptops. After reading the stories, I guess not. (This will make the Apple tablet all the better, too.)

I love the solution, and I'd be willing to bet Microsoft is going to be bending backwards to be sure Windows binaries can run smoothly on a Mac. Microsoft has no where to go but down in market share and if they can sell even more of their productivity software (more than just the MacOS ports of Office, et cetera) then all the better for them. Failing any of that, at least SoftPC will be more efficient.

How about dual booting? If my mini could have dual booted into Windows it could have become my primary machine.
 
Er, and that's cooler in terms of heat and energy of laptops.
 
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