Steve Jobs and the incredibly shrinking customer base
By now you’ve seen the news that Apple is switching from IBM’s chips to Intel’s chips.
I’m sure there’s a great gnashing of teeth among many that he’s making a huge mistake, but I think it’s apparent that he’s made a distinct decision for the long-term benefit of Apple, though it has an implication he probably wasn’t expecting.
- Apple switching to Intel chips (Washington Post)
- Apple risks it with Intel (eWeek opinion)
- Jobs: Mac software to work on Intel (SJ Merc)
I have written before on the dangers of being in a small customer base, and microprocessors is no exception. For a long time now, IBM has been making the PowerPC chip primarily for Apple. On ther other side of the world, Intel has been outproducing them for years. Every Intel chip that is sold above and beyond the number of PPC chips that are sold increases Intel’s R&D budget beyond IBM’s. Decided purely on that basis, you’d be insane to pick IBM over Intel.
In every way, as a consumer you want to be in as big a customer base as possible as long as you can still serve your needs. You depart when you need the strategic advantage it brings you.
However shifting to an Intel platform will, for once, put Macs and Windows boxes on the same hardware architecture. Over time, this will cause the Mac hardware to become commodified and the value in Apple to lie in the software, and in my opinion, OS X.
Imagine for a moment that Jobs has decided that alongside all the Linux advocates, that OS X is in fact the very best Linux operating system. How better to become a threat to Microsoft’s dominance, than to migrate his user base to Intel, and then start selling it to run on other hardware? The world would be his oyster, and if he can’t convert the world to buy Mac hardware, he might at least convince them to buy the Mac platform and be satisfied that the hardware market has completely commodified. (Apple hardware is so overpriced, it’s surprising Apple’s still in that market.)
To their credit, this is a strategy guaranteed to make lots of enemies, and Apple is quoted as saying they won’t let OS X run on any other platform.
I would say that too, at the beginning. And then wait to see how my knowledgable hacker-esque customer base started merging the existing Intel world and my Mac world. They might appear to drag me to supporting the generic Intel platform. Or something else might happen to change the environment. Who knows.
But first, I’d swear that OS X wouldn’t run anywhere but on Macs.