G5! The Apple Killing Chip?

On August 12, 2003, in Features, by Chris Seibold

It has been bantered about by some that the upcoming G5 could be one decidedly long-lived computer. Friends have opined that your grandchildren will be using the next G5 you buy, even an IBM executive said that the 64 bit G5 was probably overkill for desktops. Then you have any number of sites talking about how the G5 is really a workstation powered computer wrapped up in a pro level desktop. Others feel differently, they maintain that the processor and the up to 8 GB of accompanying memory will soon be taxed be programmers. I don’t which scenario to buy into, if it’s the latter then everything is pretty groovy. If the former is correct and the G5 is so monstrously powerful that your grand kids will get good use out of it then we have a situation, a bad situation. So fire up the Bat signal and hope Michael Keaton shows up instead of George Clooney, cause we’ll need a cool Batman to take on this issue.

Why would the G5 cause Apple to go the way of David Duchovny? Heck, if it’s the last computer you have to buy then suddenly computers aren’t on a three or four year upgrade cycle. Mac’s become cars that no one sees. Now stop for a minute and ask yourself, if no one saw your car would you buy a new one every three or so years? Probably not. Cars are (excuse pun) pretty pedestrian things. You basically want to get from point A to point B. The reason people buy new cars is not because they want the latest gizmo and gadgets, but because their old ones look fairly crappy and they fear a sudden breakdown. When is the last time you heard of someone running out to buy a Pontiac Grand Prix because it has hydroformed body panels? It doesn’t happen. When people buy a car they invariably say: “Well, it’s breaking down a lot and I want to get something out of it.” What they mean, of course, is “my neighbor got a new Beamer and I am feeling left behind.”

Ask yourself, if you had a car that that no one saw and was perfectly serviceable, would you buy a new one? Heck, no! Cars are freakin’ expensive. If we extrapolate this to the computer realm (a dangerous notion): If the G5 is really that great will anyone ever buy a new one, even if it’s adorned with burnished walnut panels? Probably not. The difference between cars and computers is that cars all have the same functionality, you don’t get to do anything with your new Avalon that you couldn’t do with your old Gremlin. Computers get new functionality every so often and this is a driver of sales, take away new functionality (with a really powerful processor perhaps) and you remove the impetus for the purchase of a new machine.

Is it reasonable to think that folks won’t want a new computer just for the sake of shiny newness if it’s still performing? I think so, I’d probably be using a Centris 660AV if I was waiting for the computer to go Pinto on me but newer Macs offered one very compelling feature: namely they would actually run new programs. If the old 660AV would fire up iMovie I’d still be pounding away on the old pizza box. If the G5 can handle nearly anything you throw at it for the next ten years, where is the new functionality? No new functionality and no neighbors to mock you for using an eight-year-old computer means you’re spending your cash elsewhere. So what does this scenario mean for Apple? If the upgrade cycle is broken (as it seemingly has been for some time, Mac users are chomping at the bit for a new processor) then sales of systems is pretty much going to go the way of the dodo. Whither Apple without the income stream from desktops? I don’t know but I hope they have something up their sleeve.

And Apple may have just that, the recent iSight introduction has been a hit (strange that the QuickTime AV cam didn’t make it) and everyone knows how well the iPod has done. Throw iTunes (and the fiasco that is buymusic.com) into the mix and Apple becomes less tied to the desktop and more tied to providing a compelling consumer product and experience. Hence I doubt the G5 will kill Apple even if it is last computer you ever buy, but it could transform Apple into a very different company.


Chris Seibold

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