Apple moves to Manhattan

Apple sure knows how to keep itself on the front pages. The IT world is buzzing with news of their impending shift to Intel chips.

Apple sure knows how to keep itself on the front pages. The IT world is buzzing with news of their impending shift to Intel chips. Some herald it as a "seismic shift," others treat it like a meteorite wiping out the west coast. Some think they did it for technical reasons (that certainly was part of the claim made by Jobs), others think it's a boardroom-level temper tantrum over IBMs waning enthusiasm for its last major desktop customer as it moves to favor the high-growth world of game consoles (IBM chips are the foundation of the "big 3" next generation game consoles).

However, I have to agree with Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe, when he asked Steve Jobs, rhetorically, what took him so long?

Apple computers are an island unto themselves. They are a very fashionable island, and all the people look great in bathing suits, but they relate to the broader computer using community about as much as the Azores do to China.

Part of that disconnect lies in the APIs, and in that regard, it's a disconnect they share with other desktop contenders such as Linux. Granted, it's possible to write to a common API, such as Java or Trolltech's Qt toolkit, but most desktop software isn't developed that way. This is partly because companies want to make their application stand out on their chosen platform, and it's often easier to do that using the API the vendor created for that purpose. It's also due to the power a vendor has to drive its own developer community to use a technology through internally-generated documentation and tools, not to mention products built upon that technology.

The other part of that disconnect lies in Apple's choice of processor. Java code is processor agnostic, so it will port as-is to the Mac's Intel future. Binary applications, however, constitute the majority of software that exists for the Mac, and the fact that the Mac used Power chips meant that it was impossible (or at least very hard) to create native applications that were binary compatible across multiple platforms.

Apple also plugs into a hardware universe mostly oriented around Intel chips. Keith Bachman, a Bank of America Securities analyst, believes Apple could shave approximately $100 off the price of future Apple computers due to the economics of scale of the larger Intel-oriented hardware market. Even in the software realm, Apple benefits in that more work has gone into Intel optimizations (think compilers) than for any other processor in existence.

Apple will continue to live in its own API universe, though they have made their cross-platform API story (e.g. Trolltech's Qt) more interesting. Even so, as I've noted before, Apple could bridge a lot of that by plugging into the API ecosystem Microsoft is building around .NET. Furthermore, they've made that path even easier by moving to a CPU platform that is more widely used than its previous one. A long shot? Maybe, but then again, who would have thought Apple would shift to Intel processors?

Apple on Intel chips is still its own island, though I would say it has become Manhattan island.  Traffic must pass through a series of bridges and tunnels, but it's a heck of a lot easier (and cheaper) to reach than the Azores.