Apple's announcement that it will migrate its Macintosh line of computers away from the PowerPC architecture in favor of CPUs from Intel came as a surprise, not just to fans and developers, but to retailers, who have long carried the Mac torch as Apple's market share declined in the 1990s. Though there are concerns about potential loss of hardware sales, some retailers have reacted hopefully.
"Our reaction to the news was upbeat," said Kevin Anderson, President and CEO of Computer Stores NW (now The Mac Store), which runs six retail stores in the U.S. Northwest, and PowerMax, a mail-order division that sells only Apple products.
"When you start examining all the advantages that will come about as a result of this move, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic," Anderson said.
"It's extremely positive," agreed William Neyman, who sells integrated, high-end video systems based on Apple Computer Inc. products at the Gaithersburg, Md. store Mac Business Solutions Inc.
Neyman expressed more faith in the Intel roadmap than in potential advances in the PowerPC line.
"For a long time," he said, "Apple has had to engineer its way out of not being able to get clock speed up, and they haven't been able to get their most powerful chips into laptops." Because of the Intel switch, Neyman said, "We think that within a year or two, we will see a doubling in clock speed."
"The main negative issue," Anderson said, "is consumer perception. They need to understand that for the most part this will not affect the user experience, and that there's no more reason to wait for it to happen to buy a new Mac than there has ever been. Technology always gets faster and cheaper, and you have to jump on the train when you're ready for an upgrade or ready to switch."
"There's always going to be a faster computer next year," Neyman said.
Neyman added, "I would be very surprised to see a downturn in [Apple hardware] sales." He said he expects at least one more Power Mac revision based on the G5 within the next year, and he said he thinks sales numbers will depend on how enticing this model will be.
"Our policy is not to tell people what to do," he said. "We always sell what people need now." Neyman said Apple might even see a bump in sales of the next Power Mac G5 "from people who are unsure of the Intel news." Or, he added, from collectors looking for the last PowerPC Mac.
Click here to read more about VARs' reactions to Apple's switch to Intel processors.
However, Anderson said, Apple could see a slowdown in hardware sales.
"The size of the hit will depend on the awareness all consumers, both retail and corporate, end up with as to the actual facts," Anderson said. "I think there is cause to be concerned if there isn't enough ground-level information, as well as marketing, to make people fully understand. It's a tough message though, as it can't really be a five-second sound bite."
Anderson said he had received no product roadmap or information about plans from Apple, so he was left only to speculate on future hardware. "Marketing materials from Apple might help
that a consumer might read," he said, "but I think for the most part it needs to be a ground-level dissemination of information."
Not all retailers are so happy about the situation. One large Midwestern retailer, who asked not to be identified, said he was "in a bit of shock." His business had to deal with two Apple stores opening nearby in the last three years, already taking Mac sales away.
"I think we retailers need a lot more information about this transition before we know how to react to it," he said. "What we haven't heard about is how we are supposed to keep our customers buying PowerPC Macs in the next year, what kind of guarantee that they will still support the PowerPX for how many years."
"We still have large customers who are just doing their OS X transition now," the retailer said. "They are going to be very concerned about yet another transition in a year's time. Apple likes to keep secrets, but they have to [be open] on this one if they want to keep their large customers."
"The typical retail customer doesn't know what processor is in a iMac or iBook now," he said. "The real thing that Apple has to make clear to everyone is it is not the processor that makes a Mac a Mac, it's the hardware design and software combination. As long as that doesn't change, most [everyone] but the diehards will stick with them."
"Apple may be giving us more info during the week," the retailer said, "but right now we are in the dark on what this is going to do to our business in the short and long term. And that's a position that no business wants to be in."