Adaptive Path logo

Adaptive Path
product experience strategy and design

« At Supernova last week, I | Main | This keyboard prototype in which »

July 08, 2005

PowerPC vs. Intel Macs: buy now or wait?

There are lots of good reasons to buy that new Mac this year rather than waiting for those shiny new Intel Macs.

How often do you buy a new computer? For most active users, it's about every 3 to 5 years. So any computer you buy in 2005 probably needs to last you until 2008-2010.

Apple will still be selling PowerPC machines up to the end of 2007 -- 2 1/2 years from now. At that point, Intel machines might make up as much as a third of the installed base. In mid-2008, we can expect Mac OS X 10.6 (cat name TBD). That's only six months later, so there will still be way too many PowerPC Macs out there for Apple to drop support in the OS.

The installed base won't really start tipping toward Intel until the last generation of PowerPC Macs gets upgraded. That process will start in 2009, but won't really pick up until 2010. So that year is the earliest point at which we can reasonably expect developers to start producing Intel-only applications.

And the major vendors, being naturally more conservative, will probably go Intel-only in another year or two -- if ever. If Apple makes it easy enough to compile to both platforms, it doesn't make any sense to stop doing so unless you really need something you can only get on Intel (i.e., speed) and until you can be sure that most of your customers have made the switch. So we're easily looking at 6 years or more before there's an Intel-only version of, say, Photoshop.

There's another reason you might want to buy now rather than wait for the first Intel Macs to roll off the line: Apple's first stab at any new product almost invariably has quality control problems, as anyone who's seen the paint job on my first-generation titanium PowerBook or the screen on Lane's first-generation Aluminum PowerBook can attest.

Moreover, early adopters of the Intel Macs will be running the majority of their software in emulation, which is likely to nullify any performance advantage these machines might have. By buying now and waiting for the second or third wave of Intel Macs, you can skip straight on to better hardware with a wider selection of native software.

The first Intel Macs will be faster than their immediate predecessors, but it won't be a quantum leap forward. Apple's move is not about "right now". It's about later. Apple's trying to change course before they get too far behind the rest of the industry. This is exactly the sort of forward-looking strategic action people were pleading with the company to take in the early '90s.

<=> | July 8, 2005


i have been struggling with this very question for a while now and i wholeheartedly agree with your points. i bought a rev 1 ti-book and a rev 1 al-book and i was about to upgrade my 2.5 year old 17" when apple made its intel announcement. so i thought about it and figured like you that i would go ahead and upgrade anyway. well, i reconsidered when i looked at the specs of the brand new 17" as compared to my 2.5 year old one and i decided against upgrading. The 2 machines differ in 2 ways: a faster chip, which unless one is doing lots of video or audio editing or hi res photoshop work is fairly meaningless, and a bigger faster hard drive which would definitely help a little bit. Seriously though, those were the only two differences i could find, so what's the point? i might as well wait it out and jump in next spring :)

Posted by: spnyc | Jul 10, 2005 7:41:03 PM


I am recently introduced to your user experience model. It was a wonderful experience and plannin to apply it in my line of work. Just a small doubt. The font of you blog is not clear both in IE and Netscape. Any particular reason for it? Do I need to install any font to read your blog clearly?

Posted by: Rakesh | Jul 12, 2005 2:25:27 AM

When Apple announced its Intel move, first reaction of me and nearly every other Mac geek I know was that waiting until the Intel models came was the smartest thing you could do. As the dust finally settled on the subject and realize it's going to take some serious time to get there, I'm starting to think otherwise. In fact I am now looking for an used Powerbook with basic features, in hopes that I will recoup the investment by the time the first reliable line of Intel-powered PBs (Rev.B or something) roll off Cupertino.

Posted by: beto | Jul 14, 2005 4:25:09 PM

I never thought that waiting for the Mactel machines was the way to go...

I did think that maybe by having a Mactel in the closet all those years it made it a little TOO easy for Apple to switch...

Me? I'm waiting for the switch back.

Posted by: catmistake | Jul 16, 2005 6:45:27 PM

After twenty years on PC, I've been looking longingly at those beautiful Macs in the Apple Stores, wondering if I should jump, just about ready to -- and then I heard about the Intel thing and I got confused all over again. From what you describe, it seems like I might as well jump now as later. Thanks for the insight!

Posted by: BZTV | Jul 29, 2005 10:32:59 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.