Revisiting the Apple Price Disconnect

June 28th, 2016

For years, Apple has been attacked for selling luxury, overpriced gear. Year in and year out, the same arguments are made, that you can buy an Android smartphone and a PC running Windows for far less than anything from Apple. Therefore, greedy Apple is being predatory about pricing. You are paying too much to immerse yourself in Apple’s walled garden.

For years, I’ve made the argument that, by and large, Apple gear is priced in the same league as comparable gear from other companies. Sometimes the same price, sometimes cheaper, sometimes more. But it’s very important to make sure the products match up as closely as possible. As soon is the components change, all bets are off.

Now when you visit a Walmart and see desktop PCs for less than $400, and notebooks for not so much more, the argument in favor of an $899 MacBook Air — the cheapest Mac in the current lineup — doesn’t appear to make a whole lot of sense. How does Apple justify such a high price?

So let’s look at a fairly typical Windows notebook from Walmart, an HP ProBook 645 G1 H7L95EC. Typical of PC makers, the model designation is totally inscrutable. What you get for $393.49 is a notebook equipped with an AMD A8-4500M 1.9GHz quad-core processor, with 4GB RAM, a 320GB drive, and Windows 7. Yes, Windows 7, not Windows 10. So much for major PC makers supporting Microsoft’s “free” operating system, or is it possible this computer was left unsold and taken from remainder stock?

Now AMD may make great graphics cards, but their processors are notable for being cheap. A PassMark CPU benchmark rated the AMD chip as slower than an Intel Core i5 from 2011. In other words, really slow, though I suppose it’ll be all right for email, Internet access and simple word processing. The 320GB storage device is an old fashioned mechanical hard drive, and 4GB is barely enough as notebooks go, but it’s the same as Apple supplies in the basic MacBook Air.

According to HP’s product sheet, the 14-inch display has a resolution of 1366 x 768, hardly Retina level, and WI-Fi is limited to 802.11n — yesterday’s news. It weighs a hefty 4.4 lbs. The product sheet is dated 2013, and it’s possible HP was saddled with remainder stock that it sold off to Walmart and other dealers for a really low price.

In contrast, the 11-inch MacBook Air, at $899, has the same resolution, which, on a smaller display, will appear sharper. Without putting the two together, however, I wouldn’t presume to evaluate the quality of the HP’s display compared to Apple’s. But I’m sure cheap is cheap.

The MacBook’s processor is a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 from the Skylake family, which means it’ll be way faster than the AMD chip on the HP. While a 128GB SSD may seem inadequate compared to 320GB, being solid state means that performance speeds up considerably even before the CPU’s capabilities enter the picture. The MacBook Air has 10 hours battery life; I doubt you’ll get half that on the HP.

I won’t suggest that it’s even a fair comparison, but you can see where cheap PCs seem better than they are. They will come with slower processors, slower graphics hardware, older Wi-Fi chipsets, regular hard drives and other old or subpar hardware. Remember, this notebook also has an OS that’s nearly seven years old, though I grant many of you wouldn’t care. Besides, if you buy one before July 29, I’m sure Microsoft will find a way to force Windows 10 on to you.

In short, you get what you pay for. I can waste lots of space listing PC hardware that made seem less expensive than Apple’s, until you actually compare the nuts and the bolts. PC makers also tend to take lower profits than Apple — sometimes no profit at all — and thus they might still produce a PC that’s cheaper than the comparable Mac. In saying that, last time I did a comparison with a Mac Pro, the closest PC equivalents were actually thousands of dollars more expensive.

When it comes to smartphones and tablets, the high-end models from Samsung are usually priced within the range of iPhones and iPads. Yes, Samsung sells a lot of cheaper stuff, and that’s where the volume is for them. It means lower profits, and if you feel you can live with entry-level gear, all well and good. But the $399 iPhone SE improves the Apple value proposition, which is why it still remains backordered.

The other part of the comparison is the operating system. If you believe Android is better than iOS, no argument. If you don’t care, and your needs are modest — you want to make phone calls and send email, for example — perhaps a low-cost Android handset is for you. Apple’s approach is stay within the medium to high-price range. That doesn’t make those gadgets overpriced by any means.

So you can argue about cheap PCs and Android gear as long as you want. You’ll find examples to prove your point, more or less, though it’s not so easy when you do a fair comparison.

But what value do you attach to macOS and iOS? Or the advantages these operating systems offer compared to Windows and Android? What about the software bundles, and can Google’s online apps match up to iWork? If you’re invested in Google’s apps, though, you can run them on iPhones and iPads.

All right! I’ve made these points a number of times. When I do, someone inevitably says, “what about this one?” Do me a favor: Don’t bother!

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One Response to “Revisiting the Apple Price Disconnect”

  1. DaveD says:

    For many there is a need to justify one’s purchase of a computer. Of course, cost is a huge factor in a buyer’s mind. The other factors are build quality and device usability. Those who were lucky at their place of occupation encountered a work computer and spent “quality” time with Windows. The key is to be happy with your purchase of a home PC. My choice was a Mac then and more Macs later with zero buyer’s remorse.

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