When Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs revealed that Macs would switch to Intel microprocessors beginning in 2006, the news received a mixed response. Would the switch force Apple's 'Think Different' customers to think again?
Apple has gained a small but loyal user base built on an almost illogical desire for all things Mac. So why upset them with the thought of leaving legacy users high and dry and third party developers with major headaches? Initial concerns about compatibility issues, such as Apple’s need to recompile applications to work with Intel-based hardware, have been highlighted by independent test bench results, allegedly showing applications running slower.
Critics have expressed concern that Apple may lose its unique selling point, Mac OS X: a stable intuitive operating system, built on Unix, with the potential of a compromised OSX running on a PC. Apple claims this will not be possible.
Others worry that Apple may find itself open to viruses through its association with Intel. Or that it may even be a future takeover target for Intel, sacrificing innovation for mass-market appeal. Some enthusiast forums and bloggers fear Apple could lose its iconoclastic status and mystique in the process.
One niggled Mac devotee reports that ‘classic’ appointments will reportedly not work on Intel-based Macs. For some it’s a rather gloomy picture, a future fogged by the uncertainty of change, rather than the promised potential of 5GHz Power Macs and PowerBooks which IBM failed to deliver.
Those are the naysayers, but in Apple's traditional core markets: designers, design students and their tutors were far more optimistic at the move, they told Macworld.
Many believe Apple will continue to dominate the design industry whatever the chip inside the shiny box. The ability to innovate and think different is central to the life of a successful designer, just look at Apple’s own Jonathan Ive, they said. Visit any design studio and you will see Macs. Traditionally design studios have used Macs because educators have used Macs, students learn on Macs, and then get jobs working on Macs.
Recent visits to Free Range, the Graduate Art & Design Summer Shows at the Old Truman Brewery Brick Lane confirmed this. Macs of all shapes and sizes outnumbered the East London hot spot famous curry houses, while the number of white headphones on display appeared significantly up from last year. The popularity of iPods has done wonders for both Apple’s credibility and public profile. This was evident seeing students show their work to proud parents and prospective employees alike. As one canny student pointed out: having your work displayed on a Mac was the computer equivalent of a wafer thin widescreen LCD TV, it looks superficially impressive even if the pictures on display aren’t that great.
At the Royal College Of Art, more Macs displayed the work of aspiring designers, with 230 inventions unveiled last week at the college in Kensington. One tutor told me that the gap between Macs and PC’s was narrowing year-by-year, even more so if Apple can produce a Mac that could boot both Mac OS X and Windows. Price remains an increasingly important decision when budgeting for computer hardware and software costs. He described good educational discounts from Apple as essential and hoped that the link with Intel will make cheaper iMacs and iBooks possible. He expressed concern that announcing the switch two to three years in advance of Apple's move could limit Apple's hardware sales, speculating: "Who would want to invest in a Mac right now with Intel based iMacs and Mac Minis on the horizon?"
Chris Hassell, New Media Director at DS.Emotion (www.dsemotion.com), the vibrant design team behind websites for Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs, Def Jam records and many others is cautiously optimistic.
"It is a bit weird the thought of Apple using Intel processors, but ultimately I guess it's going to be a good thing when they start releasing the machines. It isn't going to stop us buying any Macs in the meantime though, even though the 3Ghz G5 that was promised hasn't materialized yet, they're still pretty blinding machines - including the iMac G5, which I think is amazing value at the moment."
DS.Emotion may need them, having just announced record numbers of new accounts and projects over the last two months. "The main thing that upsets me about the news", adds Chris, "is that it sounds like a PowerBook G5 isn't going to happen for quite a while, if at all. Will it even still be called the "G-whatever", can they do that - just re-brand an Intel processor whatever they want?"
Jason Arber, Senior Designer at Now Wash Your Hands (www.nowwashyourhands.com), an innovative design company that has the BBC, BUPA and Playboy amongst its clients, is also optimistic.
"As a designer and Mac lover, the switch to Intel processors will have no negative impact on me or my way of working. If Apple feel that by using Intel they have a clearer processors roadmap and can compete with Microsoft on a level playing field, that's great," said Arber.
"I'm not worried about a new onslaught of viruses as these tend to be operating system specific, not processor specific so my only concern is that it may attract more hackers trying to get OS X to run on standard PC’s, which could potentially dilute the Apple brand experience. But I'm sure the guys at Cupertino are well aware of these problems and they've pulled off other transitions with no major issues before. Ultimately, I'm sure it will be good for Apple: the only loser at this point in time seems to be Metrowerks, whose CodeWarrior products will need to be seriously revamped to compete with Apple's own Xcode," he said.
Liverpool design duo Burn Everything have few reservations about buying a new Mac that may be redundant sooner than later. Designer David Hand said: "I guess I still would - the advances in computer technology are so great these days - that it seems inevitable that you will need to buy new machines within three years anyway - if its not broken already.
"It’s just the way the computer market works and as far as I can see always will.
"It depends, on one hand I think Macs will always look different from other computers - I still believe that is a big selling point for them, people want beautiful looking objects and Apple seem to have this angle more than covered. Naturally, though, performance and usability is always going to be important - so I guess it's how Apple handles the publicity side - but knowing Apple I’m sure it will be turned into some form of unique selling point and everyone will want one," said Hand.