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

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?