About the Pricey Mac

December 17th, 2014

I was reading a review of the iMac 5K, highly favorable you understand, which had the telltale “pricey” word in the title. It’s a cheap shot, since it’s a common perception — actually misperception — that Apple overcharges for its gear to earn stellar profits.

Of course, that claim ignores the fact that a company like Samsung, having high-end smartphones priced in the same range as an iPhone, makes far less in the way of profits. So clearly there’s a disconnect. But let’s return to the subject of the Mac.

Nowadays, if you want an expensive Mac, just look over the configuration options for a Mac Pro. Check off every possible upgrade, and add a Sharp 32-inch PN-K321 — 4K Ultra HD LED Monitor, and you’ll end up with a bill for $13,522. That includes the AppleCare extended warranty. Back in 1988, a Macintosh IIx could also be configured to set you back a five-figure sum.

But most Macs available nowadays don’t cost anywhere near that much, and they are definitely not expensive.

Sure, you can buy a Chrome-book, with Google’s web-based OS, for a starting price of $199, but consider what little you get for the price. A Windows PC note-book can be had for less than $400, such as a Dell Inspiron with, get this, an Intel Celeron processor. You cannot expect very much when you want to take the cheap route.

Compare that to the very cheapest MacBook Air, which is still, at $899, a better value than a Surface Pro 3 from Microsoft that actually becomes more expensive when you add the keyboard and more powerful configurations. All right, Macs do not have a touchscreen, but it’s a real question mark whether having that capability on a regular note-book computer is a plus or a needless expense. So far, convertible PC portables haven’t been huge sellers. Besides, it’s not a new form factor at all, although today’s entrants into this unproven product category are slimmer and lighter.

The key here is that, for what Apple is offering, you cannot say Macs are overpriced. You may find comparably equipped Windows PCs for a little less, but you also have to look at Apple’s software bundle, which is not easily matched on the other side of the tracks.

But what about the iMac 5K? That review called it “pricey,” and it may seem that way with a starting price of $2,499. You can also pile on the options with all SSD rather than a Fusion Drive, more powerful processor and graphics, and the maximum 32GB of RAM. Suddenly the price is north of $4,000. You can save money if you buy RAM from a third-party, but replacing the hard drive isn’t worth the potential savings in most cases when you consider the annoying process of taking the thing apart.

As a practical matter, though, $2,499 is just four dollars more than the original 128K compact Mac. Even more interesting is the fact that, if priced in 2014 dollars, the first Mac would cost $5,594 according to one estimate (others are similar). Suddenly the iMac 5K seems cheap by this extremely unequal standard.

Of course, that’s not a reasonable comparison. A 2014 all-in-one personal computer should be compared directly to another 2014 all-in-one personal computer. But here the PC makers are at a disadvantage, because there is no comparable Windows product. There might be eventually, but don’t forget that the entire iMac 5K has the same retail price as a 27-inch Dell 5K display. Remember that the Dell doesn’t include the computer, so suddenly Apple has a huge advantage.

Now I assume the folks at Dell are smart enough to realize their product is not such a good value when compared to the iMac 5K. So there may be a lower price before long.

Even if you forget the fact that this particular iMac lacks target display mode — meaning it cannot be used as a display on another Mac — you can still use it as a Windows computer if you like. Don’t forget Boot Camp or the ability to run a Windows virtual machine with such apps as Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. All right, you won’t get 5K capability with a Boot Camp setup until AMD releases a driver update, but the iMac is a relative bargain, relatively speaking, when you consider what it can do right now.

Sure, if you consider the iMac 5K’s price without the fine details, I can see where some will argue that it’s expensive, and that you can get a perfectly good all-in-one PC for a lot less. But that ignores the 5K factor, and there Apple has a lock on the market for this holiday season.

But since Dell appears to have the capability to make a 5K display at what would have been an affordable price before the iMac 5K arrived, I suppose other companies will get into the game. Typical of PC makers, they will push the price as low as possible even if profit margins are nuked.

The fair argument to make is that Apple sells mid-priced and high-end personal computers. In those categories, Apple’s prices are competitive with the competition. If you still want to call them pricey despite these considerations, so be it. But the claims won’t be true.

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