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When to Buy an Apple PC

With Apple?s recent announcement that they will move to Intel technology in 2006/7, the most common question I hear is, ?Should I hold off buying a new Apple computer??  The short answer is “yes,” but for most of those asking, not as long as you might think.  

Switchers:  Hold for Now

First, for those thinking of switching from Windows to Apple, you should likely hold off until you have the opportunity to choose between Apple?s new platforms and Microsoft?s next generation operating system.  This is because both firms will be running hard against each other and you?ll see the best effort from both companies at that time; consequently, you’ll be able to make the most informed decision.  

Switches from Apple to Windows are typically driven by a critical application, and if that is the driver, the announcement may suggest an alternative solution when Apple?s new hardware shows up.  Rosetta, which is based on technology from Transitive, is a virtual machine technology.  Transitive?s core product can handle both Windows and Linux, suggesting the possibility that you may be able to better run that critical application on the new Apple platform.  We won?t know for sure until Rosetta actually shows up, but if you can wait, it would be wise to do so.  In addition, you?ll probably find Longhorn a less costly platform to migrate to, which would also support the argument to hold onto Apple for now and revisit the decision to move once both products are in the market.  

Apple Customers: Hold for bargains in Q3/4/1

How about if you were planning to stay on Apple and desperately need new hardware but now don?t want to buy because you know it soon will be obsolete?   First, remember that hardware often becomes obsolete on a regular basis anyway, so what makes this different is the size of the change, not the change itself. 

The magnitude of this change suggests that existing Apple hardware will become largely obsolete by 2008/9.  Given that the recommended life cycle for desktop hardware is 3 years and laptop hardware is 2 years (and Apple hardware often enjoys longer than average lifecycles), concerns are valid.  However, this simply means that if you need new hardware, you should buy with the understanding that the hardware?s life cycle will be shortened.

This suggests that you buy lower cost Apple hardware than you otherwise might have purchased to offset this shorter life cycle.  Considering that moves like this typically result in a sharp decline in sales, and that sharp declines in sales generally result in heavy discounting, there should be some incredible deals on Apple hardware during the back-to-school and Christmas buying seasons.  This will only get better as we enter the first quarter of next year, but I understand why most will likely prefer to have something fun and new for Christmas.  

As a result, my recommendation is to hold until the 4th quarter (or first quarter) if possible and make your considered purchase then.   If Apple extends support beyond 2008, which is likely, your purchase only gets more valuable and you won?t feel driven to buy the initial run of Intel-based Apple products?which, due to supply, probably will be relatively expensive, and these new machines (because they will be vastly different) will probably be relatively buggy as well (at least for Apple.)

Apple Gifts

It occurs to me that Apple hardware, especially iMacs, should be really inexpensive in the 4th quarter unless Apple cuts back dramatically on manufacturing (which is possible.)   I can?t think of a better deal for a PC for an elderly relative or a guest room (or possibly a kitchen) in your home.  Mac Minis, because they are already aggressively priced, probably won?t see as big a discount.  Since the G4-based notebooks are already well behind the technology curve, I don?t have a good sense yet as to how aggressive discounting will be.   We?ll try to revisit this around the back-to-school time frame, when the discounting level on all of these products will be clearer.  

Apple clearly has enough of a reserve to survive what will undoubtedly be a painful move, but it should leave them stronger than they were; that means abandoning them at this time would not be wise.  In addition, such changes can result in some incredible buys, and shopping for those can be a lot of fun.  Finally, if everyone stops buying Apple altogether, Apple will exit the market; that would be an incredibly bad thing for the PC market, which desperately needs a company like Apple to keep them focused on the user experience and not just raw technology.  

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