Don’t Wait For A MacIntel
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.