Apple should have adopted Intel chips when it had the chance, former CEO John Sculley said this week.
Sculley served five years as CEO for Pepsi before being tempted by Apple's current CEO Steve Jobs to take that position at Apple in 1983, with the question: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?" Sculley left Apple ten years later.
Speaking this week to a packed crowd at the Silicon Valley 4.0 conference, held at the Computer History Museum, in California, Sculley explained Intel's attempt to woo the company. In the late 80s, when Apple was using Motorola's 68000 series chips and considering its next step, Intel co-founder Andy Grove tried to convince the company to migrate to Intel chips.
An experienced team from Apple's Cupertino HQ studied the idea but turned it down. Apple concluded that Intel's CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer) architecture ultimately would not be able to compete against RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processors, which had a more advanced instruction set, he said. Apple later adopted RISC.
"That's probably one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made, not going to the Intel platform," said Sculley, who is now a partner in New York investment firm Sculley Brothers.
History shows that Intel was able to keep its CISC architecture and bring the RISC instruction set into it. What Apple had underestimated was the power of Intel's overall system as a manufacturer, bringing billions of dollars to bear on the problem and solving it through evolution, Sculley said.
"They never had to do a heart transplant," he said.
Had it gone to the Intel platform, Apple would have had more options, Scully added. For one thing, not embracing the endless commoditization of Intel-architecture chips meant Apple couldn't compete on price against "the Dells of the world," he said. The die was cast. Apple took another path and ended up a different kind of company, Sculley said.