Yesterday I talked about the pricing box Apple finds itself in as it tries to integrate Intel CPUs into its products: basically going from a $72 CPU in an iBook to one selling, in volume, for about $240 destroys the financial structure needed to meet school board demand for significant discounts on products retailing at $999 in oneses and twoses.
If Intel were to match PowerPC pricing from As a strategy, this is win-win for all the good guys. IBM and Freescale they'd have to reduce the average price per CPU by about $200 - meaning that Intel would be subsidizing Apple to the tune of about a billion dollars a year.
SInce that's just not going to happen the obvious thing for Apple to do in 2006 is continue, as it originally said it would, with the PowerPC line - using the dual core G4 in products like the iBook and Mini and the low power (14W at 1.6Ghz) G5 970FX in new Powerbooks.
Great, but where does this leave Apple's Intel strategy? More importantly, how will developers, particularly the PC oriented shops dragged into the Apple house over the last six months on the promise of lower porting costs and higher performance for PC code, react?
There is a simple and elegant answer: Linux.
Apple could simply license the MacOS X shell and integration technologies set for Linux - thereby creating an instant mass market for its software on Intel, more than meeting its obligations to its PC oriented developers, differentially rewarding those who put real effort into their Mac software, and freeing itself to to make a more reasoned CPU decision for its 2007 and later products.
As a strategy this is win-win for all the good guys:
- Current Apple customer values in terms of quality, "it just works" systems integration, external design elegance, and high end performance would continue to support growing sales for Apple's own BSD based machines;
- The general Linux community would gain a beautifully unified and highly functionally commercial alternative to KDE/Gnome along with access to a lot of new business software - including Microsoft Office.
- Developers, hobbyists, and the games community would get access to Intel's performance tools for Lintel - from compilers to analyzers these either level the playing field or provide competitive advantages to Linux in the battle for Windows market share.
- And Apple, of course, would be the biggest winner of all: a future in computing; continuity of intellectual rights protection on MacOS X; significant new software and services markets; greater opportunities for low end products like iBooks and Minis; greater sales synergies between Minis and entertainment products like the iTechnologies group; and, clear product differentiation for its higher end, higher margin, product lines.
So what could possibly be better than all that? Well, there is that sticking it to IBM, Microsoft, and Intel in one move bit, but hey, grown-ups wouldn't care about that, right?