Analysts Have More Questions Than Answers For Intel-Based Macs

Human beings have always feared the unknown, so it wasnit a surprise when Apple announced on Monday that it is moving to Intel-based Macs starting next year and many of its customers and developers reacted with apprehension. With scant hard details available, analysts contacted by The Mac Observer painted a picture of short-term confusion, followed by a possible medium-term sales dip for Apple, with a final long-term outlook that could be very positive for the company, assuming many questions get answered.

"It comes down to how good a sales job Steve Jobs did today," Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said. "Apple is in a hard place, because architecture changes are difficult to make."

"I know itis early, but more information than standard PR boilerplate would have been helpful," added NPD analyst Steve Baker. "[Appleis developers] are people committed to the Mac; they need more hand-holding. In the long run, theyill be happy, but in the short term, they will ask iWhat does this mean to me? How much will it cost me? What does it mean for the platform going forward?i"

Once Apple gets beyond the short term, however, Mr. Wilcox saw several advantages the company will receive from its partnership with Intel. "Intel does a lot of work with software developers," he explained, "so Apple will get some of that benefit. On the chipset level, Intel provides a lot of its own that come with Bluetooth or WiFi or integrated graphics and so forth. That could reduce costs for Apple and increase their margins.

"And the whole notebook issue will be solved: Intel has Centrino, which means low power, low heat and long battery life. There doesnit appear to be a portable G5 chip in the future."

"If you had to pick one reason [why this happened], [the notebook issue] had to be it," said Mr. Baker. "In the long run, it will be positive for market share, especially as we see the transition to notebooks, given IBMis inability to get the G5 into a notebook. That would have become a big problem for Apple in the next couple years."

In the long term, Mr. Wilcox was unsure if the partnership will yield more market share for Apple. "Itis too early to take a guess," he said. "But this could help with expansion into new markets. Apple created an iPod division, and if it adds other consumer devices, Intel could provide the chipsets for them."

Mr. Wilcox was also hesitant to discuss Appleis short-term outlook, given the speculation by some pundits that todayis news could mean flat or even declining Mac sales until the new machines hit the market. Mr. Baker didnit foresee an immediate drop, but "when you get closer to the switch-over date, a lot of people may hold off on their purchases."

And while itis probably safe to assume that Apple will lock down its Intel-based Macs to ensure that consumers canit buy garden variety PCs and install Mac OS X on them, IDC analyst Roger Kay said that if the company doesnit do a good job of that, it "will end up where Microsoft is. Apple hasnit had a lot of copy protection, but if they donit control this, they will have the same piracy problems as Microsoft. This could also put Apple hardware sales in jeopardy, if people can buy any x86 platform and run Mac OS X on it."

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions," summed up Mr. Baker. "How will Apple make sure people are still buying PowerPC products for the next two years? Whatis their strategy to prevent cloning? What kind of products will come out first? We still havenit seen the full disclosure behind this."