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  • The Mac and the PC: Maybe There is No Comparison!

    July 7th, 2009

    In recent weeks, our comments section has been busy with debates about whether Apple’s gear is overpriced, and, as some claim, you have to pay the so-called Apple Tax to get a Mac. A few might use the inevitable comparison of the BMW versus the Chevrolet. Both get you from here to there, but you pay a lot more to acquire the former.

    Certainly this argument fuels the Microsoft Laptop Hunters commercial, even though it focuses on invalid comparisons rather than the honest ones you can conceivably make. That’s part of the smack-them-in-the-face approach to this amateurish and endlessly boring ad campaign.

    I gather, however, that it’s probably not doing much for the sale of the note-books featured in the ads, from such companies as HP and Sony, since Apple’s sales are rebounding at a pretty good clip these days. Despite Apple’s legendary controls on inventory, some configurations of the updated MacBook Pro lineup are listed as having a 7–10 business day shipping delay when you order from their online store. A similar situation holds true with the iPhone 3GS (mine was sent within the 5–7 business days quoted by Apple). That doesn’t mean that you can’t buy one of these products at a local retail outlet, but it does pose the possibility of continued high demand.

    Sure, the recent price cuts helped some, but the NPD Group’s recent survey (since buttressed by other surveys) indicated that sales were on the rise before then, most likely coinciding with Apple’s annual back-to-school event. Some analysts are even now suggesting that Apple actually underestimated just how quickly these machines would move. Maybe they were unduly influenced by the dire predictions contained in some of those analyst comments, though that doesn’t seem likely.

    Now in arguing against claims that Macs are overpriced, Apple has stated that a cheap PC doesn’t represent a good value if it can’t perform the tasks you require of it. Recent reviews of the new MacBook pro lineup describe not just a box with commodity parts in a fancy case, but a product that smacks of superior engineering that is designed to last far longer than the standard two-year timeframe for a note-book. As you might have noticed, they rate the new “nonremovable” battery with a five-year lifecycle under normal use. Apple expects you to keep their products for years, and as better models are released, simply pass the older gear on to other family members.

    Yes, it is true that the hard drives, RAM, optical drives, processors and graphics hardware are all from industry-standard parts bins. But Apple has found a way to package them that’s not only attractive, but supremely reliable compared to competing PC note-books. They also run fast, cool and quiet and often benchmark as good or better than competing portables running Windows. That has to be embarrassing to the likes of Dell, HP and the other personal computer assemblers. Yes, I hesitate to call them manufacturers as most of their PCs all look and operate pretty much alike.

    Before you ask, this doesn’t mean that are no premium PC note-books. There are, and some cherish the Lenovo ThinkPad, and others the various models built by Sony that seem to stress a higher level of style. It’s also true that a premium-priced PC can deliver superior longevity too, but the price comparisons allegedly demonstrating an Apple Tax quickly go out the window.

    You can, of course, focus on the argument that you are paying for features in a Mac that are not available in a PC product, or you simply don’t need. Indeed at the end of the day, Apple might just not have the model that fits your requirements, since the product lineup is sparse and the configuration options are minimal for the most part.

    But look at the value of those extra features and see whether they really do present an advantage to you. Consider the high-gamut displays on the latest MacBook Pros. Maybe it doesn’t matter for email, Web surfing and word processing. But as soon as you engage in any degree of professional multimedia work, the higher-grade display will sure come in handy.

    Look at productivity. If your computer isn’t brought down regularly by malware and driver bugs, you can use your valuable time to actually get some work done, rather than sit back and waste time. I presume, of course, that your time has value and you want to use it as productively as possible. If you get your work finished sooner, you might actually have more time to spend with family and friends, and isn’t that what life is all about?

    Yes, you can induce Mac OS X to install on many PCs out there. There’s plenty of information online on how to handle the process, and which hardware is most compatible with Leopard. These days it doesn’t take a whole lot of power user skills to perform one of these unsupported setups, but that goes against the benefits of having a computer that works out of the box and carries with it the best customer support in the industry. That’s worth money too isn’t it?

    Oh, and the next time you compare, say, a BMW with a mid-range auto, such as a fully-outfitted Honda Accord, factor in the cost of regular maintenance, including brake jobs. BMW offers all that free for the first four years or 50,000 miles of ownership, and you can extend the service policy if you like. That has to count for at least some of the price difference, right?



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    5 Responses to “The Mac and the PC: Maybe There is No Comparison!”

    1. BMW Service says:

      That BMW service is nice, but it isn’t worth thousands of dollars for one simple reason, BMW (and Mercedes) have incredibly long service intervals and at those intervals need very little done.

      My wife has a new 2009 BMW X3 which already has almost 11,000 miles on it since we bought it in January with only 14 miles on the clock. That car has yet to see BMW’s service department because the computer, which monitors the oil and other aspects of wear as well as driving habits, indicates that the car won’t need its first service for another 6,000 miles or so. This is not a fixed interval of 3K, 5K or even 10K miles like most cars, but rather a flexible system that basis intervals on the measured cleanliness of internal components and the way the car is driven.

      At this rate, those 50,000 miles will be up in just under 3 years, and the car will only have needed 3 service visits.

      In direct competition and also with a very long service interval governed by computers and sensors is my 2005 Mercedes Benz C230 Kompressor. This car is long since out of warranty, but never included free maintenance (2004 and earlier did). I was worried that Mercedes service would be too expensive, but in the 75,000 miles now on the car, its only been into the shop fro scheduled maintenance 7 times, and only that often because I have insisted on service at ever 10,000 miles even though the computer continually tells me that with my driving habits the car should go another 4,500 miles before each service.

      More important than service interval is service cost. Service on the Mercedes is a lot more expensive than on my family’s third vehicle, a 2007 Ford F-150 truck, but the Ford’s interval is 7,500 miles instead of approximately 15,000, and while service is slightly less than half the price of Mercedes service, the truck needs it twice as often.

      Premium products don’t pay for themselves with saved or economical use of money, but rather with joy and pleasure of use and ownership. My Mercedes always comes back from the shop washed, and at or before the promised time.

      Apple is much like Mercedes or BMW in that the product is just nicer to use, I also agree that it won’t crunch your numbers any faster or make your stories any more likely to get published. If you love to drive, get a BMW, but if you only want to go to and from work, a Kia is every bit as good. Ditto with computers, if they are your hobby or you spend significant amounts of time with it, get the one you want.

    2. DaveD says:

      I worked many years on a PC. Somehow in all those many years, I don’t recall moments of enjoyment. There were many PITA (pain in the…) situations I would like so much to forget. Yet, there have been a number of intances where Mac OS misbehaved (more so in the past). It comes down to the level of satisfaction of using a PC or Mac. With the Mac, the moments of satisfaction outweigh the moments of dissatisfaction by a large factor while it is the reverse on the PC.

      So, if there is no difference in hardware between a Mac and PC then why is my Mac experience preferable? A big in-your-face answer is the OS with solid applications and utilities. However, there are some hardware differences like being the smallest or the thinnest or in an expressive way, the sexiest and of course, the coolest.

      Another aspect of enjoyment is observing Apple as a company that keeps moving forward. Whether it is a legacy or bad product, Apple is willing to drop it to forge ahead. It is hard to envision what the state of the PC industry would be like today without a company like Apple around.

    3. Andrew says:

      Apple gear USUALLY is far nicer than PC gear, but there have been exceptions over the years. I remember the first Sony Vaio 505 superslim laptops that were smaller than the MacBook Air in most dimensions and only slightly thicker. In the context of its time (1998 or so) they were extremely impressive. ThinkPads continue to delight with their superior keyboards and eraserhead mice, which I find vastly superior to any touchpad.

      Apple gear is definitely top-tier, but there are definitely others who compete on hardware. Software is another story entirely, and is the reason why I carry a MacBook Air when I travel instead of a ThinkPad X301, which I consider better from a hardware perspective. OS X is just so vastly superior when it comes to portability (sleep, power management, location switching, etc, etc) that I am willing to sacrifice the ThinkPad keyboard, pointing device, expansion and battery choices.

    4. The Mac OS is awesome with its security and simplicity and will continue to outperform with Snow Leopard.

    5. John Davis says:

      When you’re doing something creative, even mildly creative, like getting an important point across in an email, the last thing you need is an interruption. The reason I gave up with pcs was this. If it’s not a simple crash, getting it up and running again can take quite a bit of time. During that time, I would totally and completely lose the thread of what I was working on.

      Macs just don’t do that. There are applications that do, but the OS doesn’t. OSX is stable. I wouldn’t say “very” stable, there are no degrees or modifications of its stability. It’s not a little stable or rather stable or very or extremely stable, it’s stable. It does what I expect it to.

      It’s also extremely well integrated. Except for Microsoft products and a few other renegades, apps that run on a Mac behave very similarly. I very rarely need to stop and think about how to do something – again less interruptions.

      It just works.

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