PC users have long voiced a common concern that Macs cost more than PCs.
For a few years, Macs have been price competitive with PCs—provided the PC was configured like a Mac. That’s wrong.
Isn’t that a bit like saying a Toyota Corolla is price competitive with a Lexus ES 350?
Sure it is. After you tack on every option available, toss in a larger engine, and customize everything on the Corolla to build it out to compete with a better Lexus. The Lexus might even be cheaper.
The common thinking among comparison hounds has been to configure a PC to match a comparable Mac, hardware feature for feature, as closely as possible.
While I understand the need for balanced comparisons, and don’t disagree with that approach, especially for the sake of price comparisons, it’s still wrong.
Macs cost more than PCs. Why? How? Bear with me on this, but it’s basic to the user buying process and the user requirements.
In the recent Sunday newspaper I saw a number of PC advertisements for Dell, HP, and Gateway. Complete PCs with RAM, keyboard, mouse, display, and Windows XP Home—prices ranged from $299 (Dell) to $799 (HP).
Obviously, these were sale prices, and in some cases subsidized prices where AOL or some other company reduces the PC price tag if you sign up for a couple of years of monthly payments for something else. Apple doesn’t engage in such schemes.
Compare those “complete” PCs with Apple’s low end Macs, the Mac mini at $599 and the iMac at $999.
Macs are not cheaper. They’re more expensive.
The “why” and the “how” has to do with hardware configuration, overall quality of hardware, acceptable profit margins, and, very importantly, what the buyer expects from the PC vs. a Mac.
Mac users expect more and get more. PC users expect less, and get what they pay for.
I’ll argue that Macs simply cost more than PCs because PC users don’t demand, don’t require, and in many cases don’t even understand the basic hardware and software differences between the two platforms.
By the way, that’s one more reason why Apple’s Boot Camp, the software that lets Intel Macs run Windows, is so brilliant.
PC users, in general have limited use requirements of their PCs, and that’s substantially different than average Mac users. What’s a PC user need for $299, or even $599.
Email, browsing, basic word processing, some games, playing music, sync their iPods (more iPods are sold to Windows users than Mac users), print some photos, store some photos. That’s it. There’s not much more that the average PC buyer requires.
Firewire? Most PC users don’t even know what it is. iLife? We love it on our Macs, but most PC users get the basics in iTunes or Windows Media Player for music, there’s plenty of PC applications to store digital photos.
Most PC users are not into creating DVDs or digital movies, though tens of millions have fallen in love with Mac-like simplicity of synchronizing their iPods and managing their music via iTunes.
Simply put, at a basic user level, PCs cost more than Macs. That’s not such a bad thing, because it’s well known that PC manufacturers do not make money by selling cheap PCs. They would like to upgrade PC buyers to more expensive PCs, but they haven’t figured out how.
Apple has figured out how by adding more value and creating a better user experience. Piece for piece, feature for feature, Macs are no more expensive than comparable PCs and often less. It doesn’t matter.
The Bell Curve of consumer buying enters into the equation and there’s a large mass of buyers who will not spend Mac money on a PC because they don’t value the difference in price. Mac users place a higher value on those differences and we’re willing to spend the extra money as we see the differences as requirements for our digital life.
For basic uses, PCs remain cheaper to buy than Macs. How about Total Cost of Ownership? That’s a different story and subject to multiple views and comparisons, too. If you buy a $399 PC, keep it for three years, then buy another—without spending more money—it’s hard to argue that Macs are lower TCO.
If you add in all the time spent with anti-virus scans, security issues, checking for malware, troubleshooting problems, and lack of productivity, and so on, the Mac may be the lower cost option, but most PC users don’t see it that way.
The fact is, at a basic user requirement level, there are lower cost options for PC buyers. Mac buyers are stuck with a minimum level of quality and user experience. Of course, that “minimum level” is similar to the Lexus.
But wouldn’t you like to have a Mac mini for the same price as that $299 Dell in the newspaper ad?