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Apple's New Core

June 12, 2005

With all due respect to a certain software company just outside Seattle, the greatest feat of marketing in PC history is a small silver sticker affixed to the vast majority of all personal computers. Intel's reputation may rest on its engineering, but until its "Intel Inside" labels started appearing on PCs, most consumers didn't know the difference between a microprocessor and a food processor.

The tech industry's other marketing champion is Apple Computer, which for years has used both innovation and snob appeal to justify charging a premium for computers using its Macintosh operating system. Unlike PCs running Windows, Macs don't work with Intel chips. So it was with great fanfare that Apple and Intel announced last week that, beginning in 2006, Apples would have Intel inside.

We have quite never understood why people care what brand of chip is inside their computer. It's like buying a car based on its engine; yes, it has to work, and yes, it needs to have a certain minimum level of power, but beyond that, there are more pertinent considerations. Legroom, for instance. Or, in the case of a computer, whether it runs the latest games and programs.

On that score, the Apple/Intel alliance may actually have some benefits for consumers. Mac and Windows PCs still don't talk to each other as well as they might, and with both using the same chip, the translation process will eventually get easier. (Although, like all technology transitions, it will cause its share of frustration in the meantime.)

In the long term, the alliance is likely to strengthen Apple, which is good news not only for Mac users but for anyone who thinks healthy competition is good for the software industry. About 90% of all personal computers run Microsoft Windows, while Macintosh computers are about 3% of the market. Even allowing for Apple's inflated view of its own influence, it is probably true that if more people used Macs, Microsoft would be quicker to make improvements to Windows.

Apple has long defined itself as the anti-Microsoft, claiming that its machines were easier to use and nicer to look at. Now, with Intel inside, Apple will be a little less different. Given their marketing prowess, before long Intel and Apple will be using that (now smaller) difference to their advantage.

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