When I first started hearing about the rumors of an Apple shift to Intel, I rationalised it as the usual x86 platform naming confusion. When people talk about Intel processors, they often mean x86 architecture, and I figured that somebody had simply introduced noise in the Chinese whispers.
Migrating from PowerPC to x86 has strong market merits, particularly with the current strength of AMD products. Not only could Apple use an Athlon 64 mobile chipset in future Powerbooks, it could gain a high speed dual-core 64 bit processor for its cutting edge workstations and rack servers. Imagine how surprised I was when Jobs got up on stage and basked in the glow of an "Intel Inside" logo.
Clearly, Apple isn't going to allow us to run their software on grey box systems. Talented nerds may make it possible, but that isn't going to be supported, encouraged or possibly even go unpunished. So we won't be getting any MacOS love for AMD hardware. With the Apple site still proclaiming that its G5 PowerMac systems are faster in real-world performance than Intel offerings, there is bound to be very real confusion in the Apple market.
Various pundits have suggested that the Apple announcement fits the Intel timetable for newer EM64T based processors in late 2006 to replace the PowerMac. That could be correct, and certainly existing mobile chips from Intel would allow for an earlier refresh in the Mac Mini and Powerbook lines with more powerful Intel hardware, but it creates a confusing market for many months that is presumably bleeding sales. The really big question has to be why Apple would sink their own ship by announcing plans to change processor achitecture so far in the future (in tech terms).
Jobs has stated that the timing of the announcement was based on providing enough time for application developers to get their software ported. Something smells funky here. Did Jobs not also show a version of Mathematica running on an Intel version of Tiger to demonstrate how quickly applications could be ported? Are application developers not usually courted in secret under the usual NDAs when market threatening changes have to be communicated?
There is something SO BIG around the corner that Jobs has decided its worth ruining his current hardware sales for a year. That has to be one or both of two things in my opinion. Either we are going to see the introduction of Itanium Personal, or Jobs is going to the board of Intel in a stock swap agreement. The July 19 Q2 Intel earnings report webcast might be worth looking in on.