Don’t Wait For A MacIntel

by Chris Seibold Jun 08, 2005

To revisit an old saw: There are three certainties in life: Death, Taxes and Apple’s plummeting market share. The first to are well worn but the third one only became a truism when Apple announced their impending move to Intel. There are already reports of individuals returning brand new iMacs to resellers because the machines have become suddenly “obsolete.” This is an understandable reaction on the most superficial level but deeper investigation reveals that this notion is a bit misguided.

It would behoove us to remember that Steve Jobs is a careful speaker when on stage (second hand stories tell us his demeanor is markedly different the rest of the time). An excellent example of his careful attention to subject matter came when Steve was discussing worldwide attendance at the conference. Steve noted that there were a plethora of developers at the conference (3800) but pointedly remarked that there were 38 from China and 11 from India. Why would he mention China and India instead of say, the Isle of Man and Peru? Well it turns out that China and India are huge burgeoning computer markets so it is a prescient idea to motivate the developers representing those countries. Now consider what he said when talking about the Intel chip. Steve noted that while the PowerPC would produce 15 units of performance per watt Intel is promising 70 units of performance down the road. This utterance is notable more what it doesn’t say rather than what it does say. It doesn’t say the Intel chip will be more powerful. It doesn’t indicate that the Intel chip will be faster. What Steve is saying is: given like inputs of energy the Intel will out perform the IBM offering. Which is great for laptops and environmentally friendly but, and this is important, most people won’t care. Many people will happily spend extra money for a chip that consumes 10 times the energy while performing ten percent better. Additionally the metric employed by Steve is also vague. What, exactly, is a unit of performance? So there is no indication that by waiting you’re going to get any performance boost. It is, in fact, plausible that the first generation of Intel powered PowerMacs will outperformed by the machines they replace.

That is a general observation, for a more concrete argument let us consider a single user who has a sizeable investment in software. Imagine you have Final Cut Studio, Shake, Logic Pro and Adobe CS. These programs set you back $6,000 and are all optimized for current Macs. Should you choose to wait until the Macintel is released you’ll either have to upgrade all these programs or rely on Rosetta. Rosetta, from reports, tells your new Macintel it is a G3, which is trouble, some of those programs are G5 only. It is also useful to remember that no matter what it tells your computer it won’t be running native code. The developers of Rosetta say 80% performance is probable. The actual performance is likely far less. Hence if you go from your PowerMac G5 to a PowerMac Intel expecting your programs to perform comparably you’ll be sorely disappointed. Therefore it is easy to conclude that someone with a significant amount of money invested in expensive software, who doesn’t feel the need to jump at every iteration of software, will be better served by purchasing existing equipment. It should be noted that at some point the power of the Intel chips will surpass the abilities of the last G5 chips to such a degree that even using Rosetta the applications will outperform the G5 machines. But that day is a very long way away.

The case for a more “average” user taking the plunge is a bit harder to make. The iApps that come with your machine will surely be optimized for either processor and when your biggest investment is Microsoft Office the financials don’t make as much sense. That said if you’re investing in a lower end machine, say an iBook or a mini, you probably don’t expect your investment to last more than a few years. If you’re disappointed in the performance of your current machine why not take the plunge? By the time the roll out is complete you’ll be salivating for a new machine and you’ve enjoyed all the new computer goodness that will come pre-packed with your purchase. Sure upgrading your software will be a bite so try this: get a new rig and don’t bother upgrading your software until your inevitable Macintel purchase. Who knows? AppleWorks may grow on you.

Yet people instinctively believe that the unreleased is always better than the currently released. A personal example: a well heeled acquaintance was ready to pull the trigger on an original Humvee. Upon learning that the Humvee II was in the works he opted to wait. Waiting for that much ugly doesn’t make sense to begin with and when the Hummer II rolled out he bought the original instead. To put a finer, more computer centric point on the subject: Witness the people hauling around first generation TiBooks holding out for the (never to come) G5 laptop. People have been guessing that a G5 PowerBook was just around the corner for two or three years and have waited for it accordingly.  Wouldn’t their overall computing experience have been better if they had gone ahead and purchased a new PowerBook when they first felt the need? In the end rational arguments, or the preceding, won’t make much of difference to most buyers. Apple market share will go the way of dead goldfish and people will needlessly wait for a better Mac that may not show up for years.


  • Hywel had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 51
  • At last. Sanity!!

    davidwb had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 32
  • Nice Hywel!

    donovan had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 19
  • I thought dead fish float upwards… so Apple’s market share will go up now?

    Oliver had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 15
  • At my house dead goldfish generally got the swirly ride of interment down the toilet. Hence the ref. Nice chart Hywel.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 354
  • Hywel, your chart was so good I had to include it in the comment! Brilliant.

    Hadley Stern had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 114
  • Cheers!

    Hywel had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 51
  • That is the best use of Visio I have ever seen.

    Nathan had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 219
  • Great chart Hywel.  I wish my employer could produce flows this sane.

    Heck, I just bought a Power Mac Dual 2.7 last month.  Now, my Power Mac will one of the fastest Macs around for at least the next two years.  And I couldn’t have said that if Apple had maintained its commitment to the PowerPC.

    Thanks Apple!

    zoetrope had this to say on Jun 09, 2005 Posts: 5
  • Just in case that wasn’t sarcasm,  it was done in rather splendid OmniGraffle,  not Visio.

    Possibly my first flowchart in 15 or 20 years.

    Hywel had this to say on Jun 10, 2005 Posts: 51
  • If people hold off on upgrades, how will that result in a decrease in market share? Decrease in sales, yes, decrease in market share, no.

    I seriously doubt Apple will release an Intel-based PowerMac that is slower than the PPC version. I wouldn’t be surprised if they release a few more revisions of the G5 PowerMacs/Xserves.

    I’ll hold off on upgrading my 1 GHz 12” PB until an Intel-based PB is released since the G4 has stagnated completely. The 166Mhz FSB is a joke.

    henrrrik had this to say on Jun 11, 2005 Posts: 5
  • Well Henrrrik sales are market share. The way in which market share is calculated is something as follows:
    MS=(mac sales)/(total computer sales)
    so any drop in Mac sales means a drop in market share.

    About the Intel Mac being faster/slower. Chip speed is a tricky issue to measure well. I suspect that the PowerPC G5 will fare better in some areas and worse in others. I strongly suspect that if you’re running programs in emulation the PPC will do a better job.

    Finally Henrrrik feel free to upgrade your computer at any moment. I understand you think the FSB is anemic at 166MHz but Apple says the FSB is really 167MHz. Think of the performance you’ll get from that single extra MHz!

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jun 11, 2005 Posts: 354
  • A few points:

    1) Apple are seriously cashed up. And I mean *seriously*—thanks to past efforts and the runaway success of the iPod, Apple could continue operating for ten years without selling another Mac. There were hiccups in the 68k-PowerPC transition, there will be bumps here, too.

    2) Apple learned from the mess that was Motorola, so they weren’t game to totally trust IBM, so project Marklar—OSX on x86—was the ‘hedge bet’. The decision to make Darwin LGPL open source was part of this.

    3) Even though IBM might not have been able to keep Steve happy with technology advances, they’ve been able to woo all three major gaming console makers to PowerPC. This means that PowerPC is not going to die any time soon, and as such we will continue to see PowerPC-based Macs on Apple’s product list for several years yet. At no point did Steve say Apple are switching *away* from PowerPC.

    4) There are many many businesses out there relying on Macintosh as their primary computing tool, and who upgrade their hardware annually to ensure the fastest, most productive work environments possible. This ‘switch’ will not affect their choice: they will continue to buy the fastest-possible Macintosh, no matter what it is.

    5) The companies that *should* be worried are those that make name-brand commodity PCs for general use. With the potential lure of having a Macintosh that can dual-boot both major OSes only a year away, especially one that would cost a ‘mere’ two or three hundred more than a comparable Windows-oriented machine, people will hold off.

    I personally don’t see troubles ahead for Apple. They’ve done this transition thing before, and they’ve got an incredibly canny CEO who is capable of seeing the bigger picture and making apparently risky moves without seriously endangering his company.

    Good times ahead smile

    Brains had this to say on Jun 14, 2005 Posts: 2
  • Hywel, your diagram doesn’t account for applications that use AltaVec. These apps won’t run on Rosetta.

    Scott had this to say on Jul 13, 2005 Posts: 144
  • Actually, those Altivec applications WILL run on Rosetta, they’ll just run through the slower G3 path.

    Hywel had this to say on Jul 20, 2005 Posts: 51
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