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Backstage: Apple switches to Intel; iPod impact, zero (for now)

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Monday, June 6, 2005
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imageIt’s over—the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference keynote speech, delivered by Steve Jobs. And the “news” for iPod fans is good: none. iTunes will support podcasting, a revelation made two weeks ago, while iPods and iTunes continue to steamroll their competitors in market share. No new iPods were announced, no new version of iTunes is shipping - it’s all quiet on the music front.

And the biggest announcement of the day, Apple’s switch to Intel chips for its Macintosh computers, appears set to have zero impact on current-generation iPod owners. Apple’s Mac applications—as well as third-party ones—won’t run any differently on the new Mac computers, and that process won’t begin until next year, anyway. iTunes will continue to be cross-platform, etc., etc.

The real issue is whether reports from Wired and the like regarding Apple’s interest in specific Intel chips, namely ones with advanced (and potentially consumer-unfriendly) digital rights management hardware, are accurate. If so, the next generation of Intel Macs could be perfectly poised to permit fair use transferring of, say, DVD content onto Apple-developed portable devices. But what about current PowerPC-based Macs? Surely Apple wouldn’t leave all of its current Mac customers behind? And owners of non-DRM equipped PCs, for that matter?

So the net effect for iPod music lovers appears to be basically nothing. Next-generation iPods, though? We’ll see.

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Comments

1

“But what about current PowerPC-based Macs? Surely Apple wouldn’t leave all of its current customers behind?”

You haven’t been paying much attention…that is exactly what Apple does.  EVERY TIME.

Hence the legions of 3G iPod owners who are still pissed that the OK to Disco bug STILL ISN’T FIXED.

Posted by stark23x on June 6, 2005 at 12:23 PM (PDT)

2

I think I have the OK to Disco bug right now…boogie fever! Do the hustle! Stayin’ alive! I just gotta dance!

Posted by agentkow in Vancouver, Canada on June 6, 2005 at 12:51 PM (PDT)

3

Apple actually has an EXCELLENT history of bringing its users smoothly through big transitions.

I’m pretty amazed at what Apple’s been doing for 5 years—including implementing Transitive technology. This Intel change isn’t a simple thing, but most of the problems some end-users seem to expect truly seem to be misunderstandings.

Making OS X work on BOTH PPC and Intel is a huge challenge for Apple. And they have ALREADY done that. Making our apps work on both is a smaller challenge—for developers—and Apple has given them plenty of time, tools, and choices. Including the “do nothing and your app will probably still run” option in many cases.

What about for us users, and people shopping for a Mac today?

Upside: the apps you buy for your Mac NOW will likely still run on the Intel machines with Rosetta—like the current Photoshop and Office were shown to do—and run faster than they run for you today, because we’re looking at Intel chips from 2006-7, not chips from today. Apps made in the future will ALSO still run on your current Mac, for a LONG time. The Mac you buy today is part of a much larger user base than Intel Macs will be—for quite a while—so developers WILL use the Universal Binary option to serve both groups. Not to mention that none of this even starts for a year.

Downside: Rosetta doesn’t run EVERYthing, so you might have to upgrade some apps in 1-2 years (if you choose to upgrade your Mac that soon). But then, you might have anyway, no matter what new Mac (G6, etc.) came along. Intel Macs are available to developers now—so expect people to assemble lists soon of which apps are already Rosetta-ready. Expect most other apps you use, and all the major ones, to be converted to run even BETTER than Rosetta: Intel-optimized universal binaries that also run natively on PPC.

I think Bill Palmer’s quote explains why Apple’s strategy is a good one. It’s NOT that PowerPCs aren’t great chips today. They are—especially the G5. It’s that Intel’s got a better map for the FUTURE.

“You don’t wait until after it starts raining to fix that hole in the roof. If you know storm season is coming, you do it on the sunniest day possible, far enough in advance that you leave yourself all the time you need to make sure you do it right.”

Why stop buying Macs now? Because faster Mac are coming in a year or two? That was ALWAYS true—of ALL computer platforms. Or because your current software won’t work on your next Mac in two years? Well, most of it will, but some won’t without an upgrade. That too was always true—on any computer platform. Or maybe because future software won’t run on current hardware? It will, thanks to universal binaries. Or maybe because the next Mac OS won’t run on PPC? But Leopard WILL run on PPC: it’s coming out in the middle of the Intel transition, not at the end.

I predict that a Mac bought today will STILL have a much longer usable life than a PC bought today (to say nothing of Tiger and all the huge benefits Mac OS X and iLife have over Windows—and Linux).

When future Intel Macs go to Leopard, universal binaries, and Rosetta, your PPC Mac will ALSO go to Leopard and universal binaries… and won’t even NEED Rosetta. The PPC folks, not the Intel Mac folks, will have the easier end of the transition in that sense. Now compare to people buying a Windows machine today. How many of those machines will run Longhorn and Longhorn software well? PCs have always had a shorter usable life than Macs—and I don’t expect the change from XP to Longhorn is going to help that one bit.

Buy a Mac now and use it for years. The platform is strong and getting stronger. Buy an Intel Mac instead of a G6 next time, and do the same.

Posted by Nagromme on June 7, 2005 at 7:40 AM (PDT)

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