“Are Macs More Expensive?”: The AfterFAQ

By  |  Friday, August 15, 2008 at 8:03 pm

McCracken’s Fifth Rule of Tech Journalism states that reaction to anything one writes about Macs is likely to be incredibly passionate–and that you can write one story and catch flack for being both mindlessly pro-Mac and mindlessly anti-Mac. I shoulda remembered that when I decided to write “Are Macs More Expensive?“, which is already one of the most-read, most-commented-upon things I’ve written for Technologizer. I didn’t mean to provoke so much strong opinion, but I did, in spades.

That said, I’m sure enjoying reading the reaction to the story in the form of comments on the story itself as well as discussion elsewhere on the Web. As I mentioned in the story, I’m going to continue trying to answer the question in additional posts that compare different types of Macs to similar Windows machines, so this conversation is going to continue for awhile.

But some of the points that people have raised cry out for a speedy response. So with no further ado, an AfterFAQ on the story (which, I should repeat, is just round one in a series I plan to do):

Q. How come you didn’t factor in the fact that not all features are created equal? Surely the HP’s larger screen, faster CPU, and better graphics card are more important than the MacBook’s clever AC adapter, Gigabit Ethernet, and better service record.

A. I did cheerfully admit that I wasn’t going to try and weight each feature as part of my analysis. And I never set out to answer the question “Which of these notebooks provides the most features for the money?” If I had, the HP woulda won. But I wasn’t trying to prove that there’s no such thing as a Windows machine that delivers more for the money than a Mac–I was comparing the MacBook again three representative Windows-based competitors. It was more expensive than one, cost almost exactly the same as another, and was cheaper than the third. Sounds likeevidence that Macs aren’t by definition pricier than Windows machines to me.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t discount the value of the Mac’s AC adapter: I’ve carried bulky ones, and I’ve carried compact ones, and compact is better. And the Mac’s better service record is nothing to sniff at, either,

Q. This whole experiment is pointless because specs don’t matter that much anymore–you can’t judge a computer by them.

A. Depends on who you’re asking, but judging the MacBook and Windows rivals on factors that don’t boil down to numbers would be writing a far more subjective Mac-vs.-PC review. I may do that at some point, but this story wasn’t it.

Q. This whole experiment is pointless because the HP clearly had the best specs and only a dunce would buy a machine that cost more and offered less.

A. As I mentioned in the story, I think most smart PC buyers don’t fixate on fairly small difference in things like clockspeed, or fairly small (sub-$100) differences in price. Hardcore hardware enthusiasts would, of course, disagree with me.

Q. How come you didn’t penalize the MacBook for Apple’s practice of releasing OS upgrades more frequently than Microsoft, which will cost you money if you try to keep current?

A. As I mentioned, I didn’t try to do an analysis of overall cost of ownership–just the price for the box itself.

Q. How come you didn’t reward the MacBook for Apple’s practice of releasing OS upgrades more frequently than Microsoft, which thereby improves the Mac platform at a faster clip?

A. Again, that’s a factor beyond the initial purchase price. Plus, I understand that some people think that’s a minus!

Q. Why didn’t you compare the MacBook against laptops for sale in Best Buy? They’re way cheaper, and some have impressive specs.

A. Good point–I may do a sequel that takes that approach. I didn’t this time because I wanted to try and equip the machines as similarly as possible, and therefore chose custom configurations of the Dell, HP, and Sony. The stuff on the shelves at Best Buy is made up of fixed configurations, most of which lack some items that are standard on Macs, such as Bluetooth.

Q. You point out towards the top of your own story that the average selling price of PCs is about half the average selling price of Macs! With that fact already established, why even bother to investigate any further?

A. Because I wanted to do an apples-to-apples comparison with systems that were as comparably configured as possible. Those average selling prices are…well, averages, which reflect the fact that there are an array of Windows systems out there, starting with very basic machines at very basic prices. There are no budget Macs, except for the almost-forgotten Mac Mini.

Q. A lot of people will be perfectly happy with a basic Windows PC; there’s no reason for them to buy a Mac that costs much more.

A. Absolutely. And as I mentioned in the post, the variety of Windows computers for different types of people is a pretty compelling advantage over the much more limited selection of Macs.

Q. You “come across as a dedicated Mac user, and wanted the right answer.” What say you to that?

Um, I’m the only journalist I know who quit a cool job rather than quash a story that was critical of Apple–I would hope that give me a little credibility when it comes to covering this stuff. Actually, I had no idea what my research would show until I did it…and it’s quite possible that when I do similar comparisons for other Macs, I’ll come to different conclusions.

Keep the feedback coming! And thanks for reading Technologizer…



2 Comments For This Post

  1. DrBunsen Says:

    A nice set of comparisons, and I’ll be referencing this series in future.

    One thing I noticed in your spec process; when the Mac came with a feature which was optional on the Windows machines, you added it, and included it in the price. When the Windows machine came with a feature standard that was a Mac option, instead of adding it and including it in the price, you kind of said “Oh well” and moved on.

    Just went back and checked: the example I was thinking of was the Mini-DVI adapter. And, if we’re including dongles, an external media card reader for the Macbook would be an option. To be fair though, you did do the reverse on a couple of options (bundled software on the Dell in round 2 IIRC).

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not screaming bias, or claiming that it somehow invalidates the whole exercise. It just struck me as a small inconsistency, not one which really biases towards either platform.

    Anyway, it cuts both ways – media reader goes down as a plus (yay!), but the price hike goes down as a minus. If you wanted to be anally consistent, speccing them all up to the exact same standard, and making each candidate wear full price.

    On the question of full price and accessories – there’s no reason to pay Apple’s (or indeed Sony’s) markup on accessories when they’ll 9 times out of 10 use the same newegg clearance special USB stick/wifi/RAM/card reader/7200 RPM hard drive as any other machine.

  2. Scott Says:

    I love your view, and love even more how well you defend it.

    I did the same kind of comparison last year:

    It is still relevant if the specs and prices may have changed a bit over time.