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Mac and PC Price Comparisons Revisited: Eight Cylinder Versus Four Cylinder

You know it makes an awful lot of sense. When you are price shopping for a new car, you’ll check off the options list and see that both have similarly powerful six-cylinder engines, air conditioning, perhaps a navigation system, satellite radio and so on and so forth.

At the end of the process, you tally up the sticker price, or whatever the dealer gives you as his “final offer,” and see where you stand. I’m assuming here that we’re talking about two similar makes, such as a Honda Accord and a Toyota Camry, and you’re making the final decision on price alone.

But what if one dealer said he could save you a few hundred by giving you the four-cylinder version, that changes the basis for comparison, and it’s up to you to weigh slightly better fuel economy against additional power.

You cannot, however, say the two vehicles are comparably equipped.

Yet when I made the standard argument about Mac versus PC pricing, using comparable features as the means for calculating the cost, that’s exactly the stunt some of you readers tried to pull on me. You began to argue that the Dell I used for a price match against a Mac mini could function almost as well with a cheaper AMD processor, and did I really need gigabit Ethernet, a high-end version of Windows, digital life apps, a remote control and all the rest?

Well, maybe you don’t. That’s a decision you have to make, but Apple doesn’t play that game. They provide a small number of models, with fairly limited configuration options, except, perhaps, for the Mac Pro. By unifying the manufacturing structure in this fashion, they can buy higher quantities of each part, and earn more money. You get a fair price for the Apple product you buy, and they make a fair profit that keeps their employees and stockholders happy.

Nothing wrong with that, right?

Yes, but every single time I criticize the bogus claim that the Mac costs more than a comparably-equipped PC, I am attacked because Apple doesn’t cripple its products.

Understand, however, I am not saying Apple shouldn’t let you downgrade your Mac if that’s what you want. However, in a consumer environment, that puts you on an unequal footing. Apple’s own applications assume a minimum configuration, and if people are buying Macs with all different network speeds, loads of additional processor configurations, RAM and all the rest, they end up with the situation that exists today with Microsoft and Windows, and that’s a greater danger of incompatibilities of one sort or another.

So it makes sense, from Apple’s point of view, to have locked down systems with a limited number of configuration choices.

On the other hand, it would make perfect sense to provide a “dumbed down” version for business users, who may not require AirPort, Bluetooth, remote controls, or even the iLife applications. That could reduce the price by, say, $100 or so, which may not mean much to you and me, but certainly can account for a lot to a company that’s ordering 10,000 units. You see, that’s where the PC box makers have their biggest sales advantage over Apple. They have no problem configuring commodity hardware in this fashion. That’s probably where the majority of their profits come from. They certainly don’t make much on the $399 PC bundle you buy at Wal-Mart.

Yes, it makes perfect sense, but not to Apple, which has no enterprise-based plan of that sort. If a business wants Macs, they have to choose from among the regular models. You could argue until you’re blue in the face for a different marketing scheme, but it probably won’t come from Apple. I have argued, for example, for a mid-range minitower, with iMac power and some limited expansion options, such as room for a second hard drive, replaceable graphics card, and an extra slot for other sorts of add-ons, such as a second network port or a hardware RAID installation.

I think that there has long been room in Apple’s product mix for such a model, just as some of you suggest that Apple needs to allow you to shed unwanted features to reduce the price. But I also try to be the realistic Virgo, which means I do not really expect anything of this sort to happen.

Consider that Apple’s stock is soaring once again, with sales continuing to rise, and all eyes are now on the expected revision to the iPod that’s due next week.

In that climate, we can talk all we want, but let’s not forget that opinions are a dime a dozen. Or is that now fifty cents because of inflation?