Apple got the worlds attention on Monday, saying it will move to Intel processors.
Apple Computer Inc. will begin moving its systems to Intel Corp. processors by June 2006 and will finish the transition by June 2007, Steve Jobs, Apples CEO, said in a keynote address at the companys Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco.
Jobs underscored his point by demonstrating a Power Mac running Apple applications on a 3.6GHz Intel Pentium 4 and showing a port of Wolfram Research Inc.s Mathematica before an audience of developers and other Apple followers during the keynote.
The move will be made possible by work thats been ongoing at Apple for some time. Apples Mac OS X has been leading a secret double life, having been compiled for both for Intel and the PowerPC, Apples current processor of choice, Jobs said in the keynote. The company will support the PowerPC—right now it uses IBMs PowerPC 970FX chip—for some time to come.
Apple will use dynamic translation software called Rosetta, named after the famous Rosetta stone, to allow applications designed for PowerPC chips to run on Apples Intel systems.
To underscore the point, Jobs showed Adobe Systems Inc.s PhotoShop running and opened Microsoft Word and Excel files on an Apple-Intel system. The chief executives from Adobe and Intel joined Jobs on stage to express their rapport.
“After 30 years, Apple and Intel are together at last,” Otellini said. Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen jokingly asked what took so long.
Although its a sea change for Apple, the move to Intel processors will grant the company the options it feels it needs to move forward, ultimately allowing Apple to focus its hardware efforts on designing sleek products and, at the same time, expanding sales.
Jobs explanation for the move? Apple, which has been maintaining a feature—complete version of OS X for Intel chips—a project code-named Marklar—in secret for some time, could not build the machines it wanted with IBM PowerPC chips inside, given their power consumption. Intel won out, he said, on watts.
“We have a good relationship with IBM. Theyve got a product roadmap. Today the products are really good. But as we look out into the future … we can envision some awesome products we want to build. Intels processor roadmap aligns with our vision more than others,” Jobs said in an interview broadcast on CNBC shortly after his keynote ended.
Although he declined to say specifically what new products he had in mind, the implications of Jobs comments are that IBMs PowerPC roadmap will not meet Apples needs for notebooks and miniature desktops, both of which are sensitive to power consumption and heat.
But Apple still plans a long transition between chip architectures; the company will continue to offer PowerPC for some time to come. In fact, Apple will bring out new Macs, soon, using new PowerPC processors from IBM, Jobs said.
IBM did not return phone calls or respond to an e-mail query from eWEEK.com.
Intel can provide Apple with a number of different processors, including dual-core desktop chips and a low-power, high-performance processor in the Pentium M, as well as other computer guts such as chip sets, analysts said.
“The Pentium M fits best into Apples philosophy” as in products like thin, lightweight notebooks in its PowerBook line and small desktops, such as the Mac Mini, said Dean McCarron, analyst with Mercury Research in Cave Creek, Ariz.
The Pentium M doesnt run as fast as the Pentium 4 or IBMs PowerPC 970FX. However, the mobile chip from Intel offers a significant amount of performance for the amount of power it uses. The Pentium M line will gain even more performance next year when dual-core version “Yonah” arrives, Intel has said.
The move could also cut costs for Apple as Intel, in theory, could provide Apple with concessions on pricing, giving the Mac maker low-price processors. And the chip maker or its partners can also provide chip sets and other supporting bits, cutting down on Apples design costs, analysts said.
The companies are also likely to work together to create new kinds of computing products, Jobs hinted in his CNBC interview. Intel sells a wide range of chips that could be used in Apples iPod music player line, for example.
Despite the potential for unrest among its developers, ultimately, “Apple is selling more than a processor in a box,” McCarron said. “So as long as its got a decent performance—no matter how its achieved—I dont think it will have an issue.”
Indeed, “The soul of a Mac is its operating system,” Jobs said in the keynote.
But analysts said that the company has to be careful not to lose that soul.
“Most Apple users are pretty sophisticated and tend to be a lot more focused on what theyre doing on a computer,” said Steve Baker, an analyst with The NPD Group Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y.
To these users, he said, “the Apple is not just a computer. No one has a love affair with their HP; they have a love affair with the Apple. Apple will have to be [careful not to] lose hardware identity when getting the same 3.6GHz processor that all the other machines have.”
Also, it remains to be seen whether Apple will garner more business by moving to Intel.
“What we have seen in the past 18 months is a lot more attention being paid to Apple for a lot of different reasons—iPod, design. Apple has to maintain that kind of presentation to draw new customers,” Baker said.
“This takes some focus off of the PowerPC and the difference between Apple and everyone else—from a hardware perspective—and focuses more on the difference in the software. If you take away the hardware issues and turn it into more of an OS vs. OS type of situation, this might be a good way [for Apple] to increase market share.”
Now Apple will begin the work of getting its developers on board to create universal OS X applications for PowerPC and Intel chips.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include additional comments from Steve Jobs and more feedback from analysts. Dan Turner, David Morgenstern and Libe Goad provided additional reporting for this story.