Oh, this isn’t a pleasant thing to have to do, but I do have to do it. Apple is bending the truth to breaking point and somebody has to blow the whistle on them. The advert reads “2x Faster. Twice as amazing”. Ok, I’ll concede that the iMac is amazing, maybe even twice as amazing, hell it could be ten times as amazing. Of course, amazing is in the eye of the beholder. The 2x faster bit is the bit that I’m having a problem with. It is, to say the least, disputable.
I was sitting in the front row of the Steve Jobs keynote, lapping up all the performance figures with the rest of you. I understand the claims made and how there are indeed some elements of the new Intel Macs that perform two to three times faster than the old iMacs. I understand that the floating-point performance is 2.13 times faster than the old (three-month old) G5 iMac. I also understand that the integer calculations run a honking 3.19 times faster than the G5 iMac. But the important thing to understand is that these very correct and entirely valid test results are correct only for the processor. I know that, many of you know that, but others, especially the general PC-buying public, do not.
I don’t mind Apple making grand claims, or suggesting that geniuses like Einstein and Ghandi would have used a Mac if they could. That’s all fluffy branding. It makes people feel good and gets a message across well. But claiming double the speed is just crazy; it’s completely mismanaging the expectations of buyers. If you just bought a G5 for Christmas and now see Apple touting iMacs that are twice as fast you’d be livid. If you are one of those people, turn quickly to page 58 and our test results should cool your blood. That’s because you’ll be lucky to get a 20 per cent increase in power, and you’ll have to struggle with older applications that run slower if you buy right now.
I don’t mean to rain on Apple’s parade; after all I’m an early adopter. I upgrade whenever I can so you have somebody to test the water. Well I’ve dipped my toe in, and I’m going to wait until the summer so the sun can warm the water a bit before I dive in.
Of course, some people are happily taking the plunge now, and will be in a good position to feel the warming jets of Intel-native software as and when it becomes available. I’ve no doubt that the Core Duo processor will offer fantastic performance boosts in time, and the people that already have an Intel iMac will get the power first. I’m just not convinced that in six months, when there will be a lot more Intel-happy software, that Apple won’t have some newer, better hardware to run it on.
Usually I would balk at recommending people wait before upgrading. It’s very unlike me, but in this case I think it’s valid. I understand that Apple might see disappointing sales for a little while, but having seen the financials for the past year, I think it can handle it. Apple has something tucked away for a rainy day, and the next six months will undoubtedly see some unsettled weather.
Fortunately, Apple has weathered much worse storms than this, and changing everything is one of Apple’s most impressive skills. I remember the change from System 6 to System 7. It broke everything, and there was mayhem, but people came through it with groundbreaking features and smiling faces. Then there was the 68K processor to PowerPC transition, another hurdle that meant developers needed to rewrite applications from the ground up.
Probably the biggest transition in recent memory has been the OS X introduction. If any of you still use OS 9 then I have to tell you that you may as well be using a Sinclair Spectrum compared to what OS X can do. I only restart my machines when I’ve updated them or installed something. With OS 9 I had a fatal crash two or three times a week. I think it’s safe to say that OS X has been a resounding success . In many ways it saved Apple.
The difference here is that while most people could see that OS 9 was old, shaky and prone to collapse, the PowerPC processors are fine. Sure they might be bumping up against the limitations of the technology, and people want ever-faster, more capable machines. But would sticking with PowerPC have led Apple down the path to ruin? A friend who knows about such things told me that when the Intel deal was announced there was just as good a road map for PowerPC processors as there was for Intel chips. As he works for IBM he might be a little biased, but even so I’m not sure Apple has made a compelling argument for the Intel processor. Don’t get me wrong; I’m convinced it is the right move, or at least one of the right moves Apple could have made. But how well has Apple got that message across?
A lot of people are looking at Apple right now – 43 million iPod users can’t be wrong – so there must be millions of people considering a switch this year. If Apple puts a foot wrong now, those people could easily be put off. Making grand claims is risking a lot. If and when the less informed press gets hold of the story that Apple is exaggerating the performance of its new machines all the goodwill could go flying out the door. Apple is currently the darling of the press and the stock market, which is a very risky place to be. We’re all familiar with the way the press likes to build up celebrities and then tear them apart at the first sign of weakness.
So let’s hope that when Apple does get called on its big claims it happens quietly and without fuss. But for a company like Apple, which can’t fart without an insider starting a website, that’s going to be difficult. While this might seem like a tall order, I know Apple is as slippery as the Teflon don, so I fully expect it to ride out this potential storm without too much damage. MW