I’ve been following up on the news reports that Apple will announce today their intention to switch from using IBM’s PowerPC processors in their Macs to Intel’s Pentium 4 processors. The reaction from a lot of Mac fans out there has been everything from cautiously skeptical to violent opposition. Leander Kahney was also skeptical this would come to pass, but in an article he wrote for Wired he shares with us just why he thinks the switch might actually happen:
I guess Apple will move to Intel, and they’re relying on a fast, seamless emulator to do it.
But it’s really about Hollywood: Apple’s looking to transform the movie industry the same way the iPod and iTunes changed the music business.
As initially reported, there are a couple of big problems with Apple moving to Intel. The biggest is shifting all the Mac software to a new platform. Apple apparently mulled moving to Intel a few years ago, when Motorola’s chip development fell woefully behind, but Steve Jobs nixed it because of the massive disruption it would cause developers.
What’s new this time is a fast, transparent, universal emulator from Transitive, a Silicon Valley startup.
The emulator in question is called QuickTransit and it supposedly allows you to run software written for one processor on a different processor with little loss of speed. If Apple has licensed this software and it actually performs as well as is claimed then developers of Mac software wouldn’t have to worry about recompiling their current applications to run under an Intel processor. That would make a transition to a new processor a lot less painful. Most folks assume Apple wants to make the move because they’re not happy with the fact that PowerPC chips lag considerably behind their Pentium counterparts in the speed department and there’s some truth to that, but that’s only part of the allure of Intel’s CPUs:
Released just few days ago, the dual-core chips include a hardware copy protection scheme that prevents “unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted materials from the motherboard,” according to PC World.
Apple—or rather, Hollywood—wants the Pentium D to secure an online movie store (iFlicks if you will), that will allow consumers to buy or rent new movies on demand, over the internet.
According to News.com, the Intel transition will occur first in the summer with the Mac mini, which I’ll bet will become a mini-Tivo-cum-home-server.
Hooked to the internet, it will allow movies to be ordered and stored, and if this News.com piece is correct, loaded onto the video iPod that’s in the works.
Intel’s DRM scheme has been kept under wraps—to prevent giving clues to crackers—but the company has said it will allow content to be moved around a home network, and onto suitably-equipped portable devices.
And that’s why the whole Mac platform has to shift to Intel. Consumers will want to move content from one device to another—or one computer to another—and Intel’s DRM scheme will keep it all nicely locked down.
This makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. Apple has a small market share which makes it ideal as a test bed for this new technology and most of the other computer makers out there aren’t real keen on actually implementing the DRM aspects of Intel’s new chips for fear of pissing off their customers. Apple themselves have earned quite a few pennies from their iPod/iTunes combo which already makes use of DRM technology so they’re more than happy to get the jump on distributed movies/video. There could be a good chunk of change headed Apple’s way if this works out in the long run.