Apple: Just one straw remains on the camel's back

Apple: Just one straw remains on the camel's back

Summary: Steve Jobs' reputation as an idealist and a control freak precedes him everywhere he goes.   Before yesterday, if you asked the age-old question of why other companies like Dell (ones that are better at minimizing hardware manufacturing costs) don't make computers that run Apple's operating systems, they  would have no choice but to make a pit stop at the PowerPC question.

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TOPICS: Apple
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Steve Jobs' reputation as an idealist and a control freak precedes him everywhere he goes.   Before yesterday, if you asked the age-old question of why other companies like Dell (ones that are better at minimizing hardware manufacturing costs) don't make computers that run Apple's operating systems, they  would have no choice but to make a pit stop at the PowerPC question.  Dell, just for example, doesn't even make systems with Intel-compatible AMD chips in them, let alone computers with PowerPC chips in them.  [Sidebar: AMD would probably prefer that you think of it the other way now that Intel makes 32/64 bit hybrids -- in other words  "AMD-compatible Intel chips").  If for no other reason than the way it complicates sales and support, systems manufacturers already have so much angst over which Intel/AMD-compatible operating systems to preinstall, that considering anything beyond the x86 world sphere of influence was simply incomprehensible.  It wasn't even a question of whether Apple would or would not license the operating system for inclusion by systems manufacturers. 

On the rumor scale, Apple's announcement that it's shifting to Intel ranks up there with Intel announcing, after getting tamed by AMD, that it would offer a 32/64-bit hybrid chip.  Both companies never admitted to the pre-announcement skunkworks projects for addressing the initiatives, but virtually the entire industry knew the projects existed.  But now that, with the shift to Intel, the most difficult bullet has been bitten --the one that Apple and its devotees said would never be bitten -- the biggest hurdle to letting the Dells and Gateways of the world resell OS X computers has been removed.   What remains -- the final straw on the camel's back -- is almost as big of a hurdle.   If you're asking the original question (see the second sentence of this blog), the answer, apparently, is Apple's CEO Steve Jobs.

Jobs, by all accounts, has been the one that refuses to entertain the idea of letting other companies make Apple hardware. This do-it-alone approach has been hugely successful in the areas of usability and the out-of-box experience.  For the longest time, nothing came close to a Mac.  Getting behind the keyboard of a Mac was like slipping behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce. There simply was no comparison.  But since August of 1995, when Microsoft Windows 95 officially began Microsoft's long march to close the gap (I remember then-Microsoft vice president Brad Chase asking for an honest opinion of whether Windows 95 didn't offer the best of three worlds --  Mac, OS/2, and Motif), Apple has not been able to stay as many steps ahead as it once did with the Mac OS.  That's not to say it still isn't better. (I have one sitting right here and still come back to it for some tasks.)  But, forgetting the security situation for a minute (and I will get back to that momentarily), the difference between Mac and Windows (and now Linux) can no longer be described in terms of Rolls-Royces and ordinary passenger cars. 

So, Apple's biting of one bullet, but not the other, is a bit troubling to this long-term observer.  Not only does the move to Intel pave the way for that next logical step, but there is perhaps no better time for Apple to give it it shot than now -- and here's why:

Apple is enjoying a resurgence in popularity: Thanks in part to Apple's iPods and its iTunes Music Store, Apple is riding a new wave of popularity.  In the undertow of that wave, the success has given a boost to other parts of Apple including its computers and its stores.  But, if you ask me, under the present business model, that wave isn't going to last forever.  Sure, the Intel announcement will add some new juice into the current computer lineup -- bringing its computers up to par with Windows on performance, power consumption and heat dissipation, and somewhat down to par with Windows on cost  --  and maybe along with that deal will come some other good Intel karma: namely in the area of wireless and handhelds (both key silicon strongholds for Intel).  But if the iPod buzz wears off at some point, Apple will need other reasons to motivate buyers to think about OS X for their next purchase.

If the cost is right, the usability is proven, and the security is better, businesses might be ready: For more than two years now, I've been asking Apple for an interview to discuss its plans, or lack thereof, for going after businesses of all sizes (not just soho to small to some medium sized businesses).  The key question I've had is, with advantages in usability (even though its diminishing over time) and security over Windows and with the cost compared to Windows systems coming more in-line, why restrict the business push primarily to servers? Under the hood, OS X is an operating system -- Unix -- that most businesses are very familiar and comfortable with.  Apple has also argued in the past that, by using OS X-based systems, companies can drive dollars out of their total cost of ownership through the avoidance of support calls. To boot, OS X is one of the slickest environments for developing and using Java applications on the planet (clearly an enterprise feature).  Why not take advantage of Microsoft's key weaknesses (along with OS X's key advantages) and make a play for a larger business market? Businesses might go for it.  If today, you told me I could buy any system and that money is no object, it would still be a Mac.  If Apple wants to hit the medium to large enterprise market (as I've thought it should during these prolonged years of security darkness for Windows),  it will need partners to do so.  Now that it has switched to Intel, perhaps there are some partners like Dell that can help.  Officially, by the way, Dell refused to comment.

Controlling the hardware while letting others manufacture it isn't as hard as it used to be:  To consistently get that pristine first-rate experience that the Mac OS has so long been known for delivering, Apple has historically had to keep control over both the hardware and the software.  This is understandable.  History has proven that when you leave certain aspects of the hardware up to someone  other than the operating system maker, the results can be anything but consistent.   That was never good enough for  Steve Jobs.  But this is 2005 and software vendors have had pretty good luck controlling the hardware.  Just ask Microsoft.  Or, better put, look no further than Microsoft's PocketPC, phone, and tablet operating systems.  Each of these OSes place more requirements on hardware manufacturers than plain old Windows ever did.   Microsoft literally took control of things like display size and resolution (on PocketPCs) and the buttons that invoked certain OS features (on PDAs, phones, and tablets).  Within those markets, the result has been much less in the way of product differentiation from one product to the next.  But, the participants in those markets have also seen enough wiggle room to go after the competition on both price,  features, and functionality without running astray of Microsoft's stringent specifications.  It's preposterous to think that some other hardware manufacturer couldn't actually do something innovative with OS X beyond what Apple has already done.  Docking stations for notebooks come to mind. (IBM has done a pretty good job there with ThinkPads and here's an idea: Come up with a docking station that's also a USB hub so that when you undock your  computer, your USB-based peripherals don't lose their power.)

Apple is no longer alone in building a sleek, high quality chassis (notebooks/desktops): OK, this is kind of a part B to the last point, but let's face it.  Whereas buyers of Macs and Powerbooks routinely enjoyed a much better out of the box ooh and aah experience than buyers of Intel-based systems, the same is no longer true.  I'm every bit as impressed with IBM's (now Lenovo) ThinkPads as Dan Gillmor is and would also pay a premium to have one with Mac OS X running on it (although, I'd like my computer to also have at least one 6-pin FireWire jack like the PowerBooks do).   Somewhere (please help me if you know), recently, I read that one of the big notebook makers (I thought it was Lenovo, but I can't find it) is readying a notebook that's practically a PowerBook knock-off.   So, again, like everything else that has set Apple's systems apart, the world seems pretty hip to the qualities that have attracted people to Apple hardware and it's only a matter of time before we see more and more systems that look and feel so much like Apple systems that they might as well be Apple systems.

Topic: Apple

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126 comments
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  • Heres a thought

    HP will be a reseller/manufacturer for Apple.. They already sell rebranded Apple products; The Ipod.. It isnt that much of a stretch to see Apple team with HP to produce the machines and sell them as Mac's or Rebranded under the HP name.
    icorson1
    • Not the Right Thought...

      Except, HP uses AMD, I think exclusively. Whoops Gracie, I said the magic word.

      Speaking of which, I've never seen Intel as a company passionate about chips. AMD seems a lot more Applesque to me, and since they were already partnered with HP, it surprises me that Apple didn't go with them instead. But, maybe the Intel announcement is just for name recognition, and they'll actually shop around for x86 processors? In a perfect world.

      -Gabe
      gabe_z
      • You are kidding right?

        Only a small part of HP's offerings are AMD. Intel is still the leader in the largest growing segment which is laptops.
        ShadeTree
      • What are you smoking?

        [i]"Except, HP uses AMD, I think exclusively"[/i]

        HP offers a mix of AMD and Intel systems. They were the senior partner in development of Intel's 64 bit Itanium chip (a deal done in 1997).

        HP have been cool on using Itanium because its performance has never lived up to the hype surrounding it - but they are using it in their servers.

        HP also support Xeon, Intel's hybrid 32/64 bit chip.
        Fred Fredrickson
    • Absolutely right - i thought the same thing

      It only makes sense to exploit HP's huge distribution network and
      give HP a new product line that will deliver higher margins and
      completely differentiate them from Smell.
      mlindl
      • Some synergy

        HP's biggest problem is that though they are technically excellent, their produces suck. I have yet to see any HP produce that was anything other than straight-out ugly, including products from their instrument business.

        If an Apple/HP partnership resulted in a best-of-both outcome, that will be great. But if you take a little of Apple's control-freak nature and mix it with HP's complete inability to appeal to consumers, it could be absolute disaster.

        Whatever the outcome, the risks would be huge.
        Fred Fredrickson
  • Apple will need phase change memory

    It is entirely possible that Apple is making this move so that they have early access to Intel's phase change memory. If Apple does not come out with a phase change memory Ipod before the competition, they will be in trouble.

    AMD and ST Micro working together may be for the same reason. From what has been published, ST Micro is ahead of Intel with their OUM development.

    BAE is ahead of both but they are aiming at the space market.

    rbtbob

    rbtbob
    rbtbob
  • Uhhhh?

    I disagree with a lot of your opinions but my bigger question...
    If Apple wouldn't talk to you, then how do know they don't already
    have plans for clones at some point, the first MacIntel is a year off,
    why would they announce anything further now? And, why do you
    think Jobs is the last straw, he's doing the HP dance with the iPod.
    Can you read his mind?
    PXLated
  • Why jump off that cliff now?

    Why not do what Apple is already doing, make their own machines
    that will boot both OSX and Windows. See how that goes, see how
    much marketshare they can reclaim. If they get back a whopping
    part of the market, then they'd be in a much better bargaining
    position for clones, rather than having to beg Dell.
    tic swayback
    • Because - you play with the strengths

      Apple can't seem to get their collective handle around mass production - however the passion is in design and function (to a Mac lover - I don't share the author's opinion). Mike Dell's passion is to build as many units as is possible in a given unit of time. Seems to me a good way to go.
      quietLee
  • You FOOLS!

    You actually think that Apple will use standard PCs for Macs? This will NOT be the case, rest assured! In the past, Apple used "ROMS" to differentiate their OS from the hardware. You needed a license for the Apple ROMs to run things like ShapeShifter - that let you run Apple apps on Amiga - they BOTH used the Motorolla 680x0 chips at the time. This will CERTAINLY carry through to the new Mac PC.

    If you think you can just load up OS/X on your spiffy new PC - you will be VERY dissapointed.
    Roger Ramjet
    • Maybe Not...

      Just wait for the hacks that'll eventually come out, and you'll be able to load OS X onto your Pentium M DRm system, if you're so inclined.

      However, Apple will certainly not lose the design factor which is half of what makes their computers such an incredible experience. If you think apple will sit by and start making beige boxes again, think again. In fact, think different. Apple will continue to develop sweet machines with better engineering than any consumer or home-made machine, which will make OS X a whole lot better on an Apple machine. Plus, I have a feeling that Apple may have some access to an Intel pipeline product that might be optimized for OS X in a way no proccessor that a custom-builder can get their hands on.

      -Gabe
      gabe_z
      • Apple will have access to Intels standard chip line.

        Why would Intel make any changes for a customer that will represent such a small part of their total business? Intel all ready sells 81% of the processors sold and AMD represents another 17%. Between them that is 98% of all processors sold. That leaves a whopping 2% for all the other players including the current G5 Macs. You can bet that Apple will be taking the standard Intel offerings. Dell and HP will have far more leverage with Intel then Apple who is not even a top 5 player!
        ShadeTree
        • Why?

          Because Steve Jobs is a brilliant negotiator who usually gets what he wants. Plus, I think Intel sees apple as an investment waiting to make big returns. Apple's hot again, and their transfer to a standard chipset should be seen as their entry into the world of economical, yet still Apple PCs.

          -Gabe
          gabe_z
        • Change your thinking a little, come from Intels angle

          What Intel has with Apples something the can't do with that huge market you describe. Intel can optomize their processor with Apple safely with out touching thier large market. If it fails no big loss to Intel but it makes Intel look they have the super processor that gives them an edge.

          This is not about Apple leveraging Intel it's about Intel leveraging Apple. Intel has platform they can really show the power of the thier processors and put this AMD vs Intel argument to bed. I'm betting that's what Intel's thinking anyways. I still prefer AMD over Intel personally.
          voska
          • You guys have obviously never sat across ...

            ... the table from Intel. Intel drives their roadmap and not their customers. Apple is in no position to dictate terms and their switch to Intel is more of a surrender then a choice made of their own free will! Just as Apple had no influence on IBMs roadmap they will have even less with Intel. Furthermore there is no incentive for them to favor Apple due to their small size and take a chance of offending their volume customers. There is not enough volume to warrant it and there would be more costs causing the business to be unprofitable. No, Apple will get the same CPus and chipsets as everybody else that buys from Intel.
            ShadeTree
          • Right, that's what I was saying

            I'm think it was Intel that made the descision to accept Apple. I also think it's very possible that Intel could expiriment with Apple with little risk of offending thier volume user base by attempt to optimize for on OS on a restricted hardware platform.

            This is possiblity but it makes more sense than Apple dictating anything.
            voska
          • You still don't get it.

            Intel isn't going to change a single thing except start accepting orders from Apple. No experiments with Apple that alienate Dell, HP, Microsoft, Redhat and not least of all the DOJ.
            ShadeTree
          • You keep thinking that

            Intel is not static. They can and will compete to prove they have the best chip.

            Apple make a great test bed. A small market that will not effect thier current revenue market. It's possibility.

            Not sure why you're so close minded on everything.
            voska
          • I have worked with Intel since the 8088.

            It is not a matter of being closed minded. It's more a matter of knowing how they operate. You are under the misguided impression that they don't think they already make the best processor. They do their design and experimentation away from their customers. All those years that Steven Jobs threw his slings and arrows at Intel are coming back to roost. If Apple thought they didn't have enough control over IBM's roadmap they are in for a rude awakening. They are now a very small fish in a pool of sharks and they have been chummin the water for years. I see I can't convince you so why don't we just wait and see!
            ShadeTree