Say Goodbye to the Mac You Know

Steve Jobs wasn't pronouncing the death of the Mac when he unveiled iPhone 4 at Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) annual Worldwide Developer Conference last Monday, but he may as well have been.

To review, the new iPhone provides features we've long expected (multitasking and an integrated email inbox), and others that would've been a surprise if not for a drunken employee and the sleuths at Gizmodo (video calling and HD video recording).

But the real story lies underneath these features, where the new iOS4 operating system and existing A4 chipset hint at another architectural shift for Apple, one akin to the move from PowerPC to Intel's (Nasdaq: INTC  ) x86 architecture in 2005. Only this time, the Mac isn't leading the way forward.

The iPhone and iPad are.

No more Intel inside?
To be clear, Intel isn't losing anything right now and may not for some time. Neither the iPhone nor the iPad were ever Intel gadgets. Apple used Infineon chips for earlier generations of its iPhones, and the iPad is the first device to use the A4 chipset designed by former IBM chip guru Mark Papermaster and the team Apple acquired with P.A. Semi.

What's interesting here is the convergence. The iPhone and iPad share a common architecture (iOS4 and A4). I think the Mac is next. After all, what reason could Apple have for not moving all of its hardware portfolio to a common platform after having done it so many times before?

Look at how Apple approaches software. Vertical integration is the norm, even to the point of controlling the interfaces to which iPhone programmers are allowed to write. The advantage of such controlled environments is control, for both the manufacturer and the user. Expecting anything less from Apple in hardware design -- even at the chip level -- would be folly.

What's more, the argument for keeping Intel paired with Mac OS X -- compatibility with Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows -- is becoming more irrelevant by the day. A slew of emerging standards either created or endorsed by Apple have made the Web the OS layer for thousands of new software applications -- WebKit, JavaScript, and HTML5, to name three.

They're widely responsible for enabling cloud computing, and the building blocks for Palm's highly regarded webOS smartphone operating system and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Apps suite of online productivity software.

So what you're saying is?
I'm saying that iOS and Mac OS X are going to merge at some point, creating a new operating system built to run on the A4 (and 5, and 6, and 7, and so on) architecture. It'll be designed for highly interactive, open Web standards. Developers will adopt it because it'll already have played host to hundreds of thousands of software apps.

Sound scary? It should. This is nightmare scenario for Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) and everyone else in the device and PC business, but for Google and Microsoft most of all. Why? A tightly integrated Apple ecosystem would give users the ability to pull from apps to perform any task, on any iDevice, and in any location.

No other supplier would be able to match that degree of pervasiveness:

  • HP and Dell have the hardware but not the software.
  • Microsoft and Google have the software but lack the hardware.
  • Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) has some of the hardware but nowhere near the software.

Only Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) has a comparable vision, with smartphones and netbooks powered by its popular Symbian operating system, which already enjoys a global customer base. The Finnish phenom's worldwide reach would challenge Apple's ambitions.

Everyone else has a lot to fear. Jobs introduced iPhone 4 Monday, and in the process set in motion what may become the most important architectural shift in recent computing history.

How soon will Apple release an A4 Mac? Discuss in the comments box below.

Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Intel, Microsoft, and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended covered calls for Intel and a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He had stock and options positions in Apple and stock positions in Google and IBM at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool has a covered strangle position on Intel and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy was last seen raiding the company refrigerator.


Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (21)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 11:30 AM, Cushing1 wrote:

    Mac OSX and both Apple's desktop and laptop computers require a much faster CPU than A4. Until A4 evolves into a processor which can match Intel chips' performance, full-fledged Apple computers are unlikely to switch to the same processor or operating system as the less demanding mobile devices.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 11:53 AM, marv08 wrote:

    I do not think so. Something else will happen: less and less people will require "full" computers at all. Those who do (designers, architects, video/audio artists, etc.) will still get them with powerful Intel or AMD CPUs. But five years from now you will not see anybody with a PC/Mac in the living room or a laptop/netbook in a coffee shop or on a plane. Since my iPad arrived, I have not taken my laptop out of the house even once and even at home, I rather sit of the sofa with the iPad, than sneak back into my asylum (study) and sit at the desk...

    So far this is Apple's game alone. Palm/HP and Google have a chance to join. MS has almost 10 different OSs (over 40 if you count the various versions and 32/64-bit editions) and not a single one of them is good on a mobile device. Nokia does not have anything. Symbian is utter junk and the Meego project with Intel is years from being a competitor to anything.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 11:55 AM, jpanspac wrote:

    My brand new ARM-based smartphone takes longer to boot up than my 2 year old laptop, and the interface is sluggish. Maybe in 10 years ARM processors will be fast enough to run low-end Macs and PCs, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 11:58 AM, jrnyoflife wrote:

    I am fully Apple now. When Apple goes away from Intel for Mac, I am back to Windows. I like and need to run Windows software virtually.

    I also like the relationship between Apple and Intel. Apple will not have as much luck getting PC users to switch to the Mac OS if they can't run their existing software during a transition, and if it's too complicated for them to understand by being able to compare exact processors.

    Apple went with Power PC in the past. That was a mistake rectified when Apple changed to Inte.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 12:10 PM, nastanir wrote:

    PC's as we know today is changing.iPad is a starting point. I agree with marv08 above that many of the common function that we use PC for along with new accelerator, sensor integrated functions that pc can not do are going towards iPad and its evolutionary lineage. PC's will remain as niche specialist professional content creation device. Mac OS X does not have to go away as the iOS is a subset of the Mac OS X. I don't see any benefit in changing intel processor as why spend money to develop higher performance processor when it is going to be a niche product anyway. Already Mac desktop evolution slowed down with predictable processor upgrade. A4's will evolve to get performance between present A4 and core 2 duo at lesser power consumption. Mac OS X will incorporate more and more iphone api's to have more sortware but legacy code will be there for compatibility at least for the next 5 to 7 year.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 12:33 PM, millsbob wrote:

    i had the same thought the instant Steve dropped the iOS 4 bomb.

    but it's a long, Long, LONG way from iOS and A4 to MacOSX and even a laptop chip. if you use VNC to bridge the 2 platforms, this becomes even more obvious. your finger and location-awareness make the iOS devices more advanced in some ways, but you just can't control a system as well with your finger as with a mouse and keyboard simultaneously.

    the fact that you dress this idea up immediately in a long article shows me that for all TMF provides me in business analysis, even your better tech analysts (and Tim is one of the few i like) really don't have a programmer's knowledge of how things work.

    and to make tech predictions at this level, you need Both.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 1:33 PM, dlchase24 wrote:

    While I wouldn't be shocked to see Apple push toward using their own processors in Mac's, I don't expect to see this push.

    Apple has already, as mentioned in the article, moved from the PowerPC to x86 architecture under Steve Jobs rule. This allowed for greater compatibility between Mac and Windows computers, but most importantly, it allowed for easier maintenance of Apple software, specifically iTunes on both Mac and Windows platforms. In my opinion, the introduction of iTunes on Windows is what propelled the iPod to its dominating presence among mp3 players.

    This point is somewhat challenged with the cloud computer references and web apps becoming increasingly potent and useful. However, despite this, Apple has showed a reliance on their iTunes software for iPods, iPhones and the iPad. There are already gadget blogs that complain about this reliance and that MobileMe does not provide the same level of cloud integration as Google's services do with their Android phone OS. One may even be able to argue the tight ecosystem is already provide by Google's OS and further improved by allowing for multiple hardware vendors instead of the singular vendor that would occur in Apple's ecosystem.

    I think Apple creating its own chips will help them continue to improve their iProducts, but introducing them to the Macs seems unlikely.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 3:59 PM, TMFTheDoctor wrote:

    The trouble is that apps don't integrate well into the broader system. They're these little niches that do some tiny task, and none of them so far are particularly good at doing anything complex. I'm sure iMovie for iPhone will be stripped down to the barest essentials (or else it will be utterly unusable), and I can't imagine any sort of Photoshop for iPhone, or any decent text editor or much of anything intended for productivity. Admittedly iPad has the iWork suite, but while I haven't seen it myself the reviews I've read have not been glowing. I know the average user just wants to check their email and screw around on the internet, but a big part of screwing around on the internet involves Flash games, many of which require a mouse and keyboard (and, of course, Flash). And even the simplest user occasionally wants to do something that just isn't feasible while relying on available bandwidth and the browser's poor execution. Even Netflix streaming is, at least at this point, pretty awful, and showing little sign of improving in the couple years I at least have been using it. I have a hard time seeing users essentially dumbing down their computing experience and deciding they no longer need to do anything that requires processing power, execution speed, real multitasking (not just app switching), and interaction between apps -- not to mention actual freedom of choice when it comes to which applications to use, instead of letting Apple or whoever else dictate which apps are good enough.

    All of that said, I have absolute faith in Apple's ability to convince millions of people that large steps backward are actually revolutionary, stylish, dancing steps forward.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2010, at 4:57 PM, elmerfudd1723 wrote:

    why would apple do this? they still sell more macs than iphones. it makes no sense for them to crater their own cash cow with a lower margin product. the goal is to create new markets. the pc at home, the handheld on the road. all the power at home, minimal need mobile.

    also...if you're saying the iphone/ipad will replace the pc in consumer...maybe. but, consumer is such a small portion of the market. the majority of product sold go to business. i highly doubt that over the next 5 years fortune 500 companies will have all their employees working on ipads. you're going to have a difficult time getting employees 10 hours a day on a 4 inch or 10 inch display all day...with zero IT enabled security or the inability to load your own software stack.

    so, when thinking thru this, you need to look at both consumer and business markets.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2010, at 10:50 AM, agragr wrote:

    The Mac isn't going away. It is gaining share from Windows and has lots of head room in that market. Apple would be foolish to try to out do Intel in the high performance multicore CPUs MacOS and iOS are the same except for the UI. It will be easy for Apple to add iOS apps to the Mac once they have a multi touch trackpad for their desktop line, like the one that was recently leaked. Yes iPads and Macs will compete in the middle. So what? Apple makes money either way.

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