Ran­dom Ap­ple Mem­ory

We re­call when Ap­ple em­braced In­tel chips.

Mac|Life - - CONTENTS -

On 6 June

2005, Steve Jobs an­nounced to the World­wide De­vel­op­ers Con­fer­ence (WWDC) that the Mac was aban­don­ing the Pow­erPC pro­ces­sor line that Ap­ple had been man­u­fac­tur­ing in part­ner­ship with IBM and switch­ing to the ri­val In­tel chips used in Win­dows PCs. Amid much-dis­cussed de­lays to the Pow­erPC 970, aka G5, the move wasn’t en­tirely un­ex­pected. But the de­ci­sion came out of the blue, with Jobs re­veal­ing Mac OS X had se­cretly been tested on both plat­forms for years.

De­spite the frac­tious re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ap­ple and IBM, Pow­erPC had given the Mac a new lease of life. In 1997, an Ap­ple TV com­mer­cial showed In­tel’s Pen­tium II lum­ber­ing along on the back of a snail, con­trast­ing its rep­u­ta­tion as “the fastest chip in the world” with the Pow­erPC G3 — “up to twice as fast.” In 1999, Ap­ple hailed the Power Mac­in­tosh G4 as “the first per­sonal com­puter clas­si­fied as a weapon by the US Gov­ern­ment.” The claim, re­fer­ring to a thresh­old for tech­nol­ogy ex­ports set 20 years ear­lier, was cheeky, but true.

So giv­ing up on the G5 looked like snatch­ing defeat from the jaws of vic­tory. “I don’t know that Ap­ple’s mar­ket share can sur­vive another ar­chi­tec­ture shift,” wor­ried In­sight 64 an­a­lyst Nathan Brook­wood, echo­ing the views of many. In fact, the fol­low­ing decade saw Mac ship­ments grow steadily, while the PC mar­ket de­clined.

Whether stick­ing with Pow­erPC would have been bet­ter or worse, we’ll never know. But a year later Jobs was able to re­port, again dur­ing WWDC, that the tran­si­tion — aided by the in­tro­duc­tion of “univer­sal bi­na­ries,” al­low­ing de­vel­op­ers to re­lease apps that worked on both old and new ma­chines — was “the best and smoothest in the whole his­tory of the in­dus­try.” This time, the an­a­lysts agreed.

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