By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at 3:54 am
In a move that’s apparently a new tradition, Microsoft is once again helpfully assisting reporters ready themselves for whatever news Apple will reveal this morning by talking up the idea of an “Apple Tax.” The idea is based on the undeniably-true proposition that you can buy Windows PCs with better specs than Macs for a lot less money.
But once again, the e-mail I got from a Microsoft representative takes a heavy-handed approach to making this perfectly valid point. “Apple continues to impose the Apple tax” was the subject line, a notion repeated in a statement within the message so important it’s in boldface: They continue to impose the Apple Tax on consumers even in the midst of a very challenging recession.”
What’s with the “impose?” What makes it a “tax?” Apple isn’t the Sheriff of Nottingham, and it can’t impose anything on anyone. (As Microsoft’s own e-mail points out, the world is bursting at the seams with other choices, most of which cost less than Macs.) All it can do is try to convince consumers that the products it sells are worth the money. If it can’t do that, it’ll eventually go out of business. (Hey, it almost did in the mid-1990s.)
Reasonable people can and do disagree on whether Macs are good values, but every purchase of one represents a willful decision by a person to spend money. That’s more of an investment–sensible or not–than a tax.
Then there’s the fact that computers with Mac-like features and Mac-like price premiums exist in the Windows world, too–most obviously in the form of Sony’s classier VAIOs. With computers as with most things in life, you’ll probably pay extra for fancier materials and more stylish design. But Microsoft isn’t about to start talking about a Sony tax or a VooDoo tax.
Lastly, Microsoft’s price comparisons are all about specs. (I’ve taken a similar approach in the multiple PC/Mac price comparisons I’ve written.) But the biggest differences between PCs and Macs has nothing to do with hardware–it is, of course, the operating systems the two platforms run. I suspect that if you talk to virtually any happy Mac user, he or she will mention OS X first, will say that it lets him or her get more stuff done in less time than Windows, and will strongly feel that it’s worth paying more to get a computer that runs it. Like I said, some price premiums are investments.
Look, there’s a reasonable argument buried in Microsoft’s hype painting Apple as a recession-ignoring, customer-abusing totalitarian tax collector. (Which is a portrayal as unfair in its own way as Apple’s depiction of PCs as being incapable of much except for running spreadsheets.) You can get a powerful PC for a lot less than a Mac. PCs do immensely greater choice–for everyone from gamers to businessfolk to those on very tight budgets–than the handful of models offered by Apple. There are meaningful features such as Blu-Ray drives which are commonplace on PCs and unavailable on Macs.
These facts presumably explain at least in part why more than nine people choose a PC for every one person who chooses a Mac. But the people who opt for Macs aren’t the victims of a tyrant or goofballs who don’t know any better. And I’d love to see Microsoft–who counts more than three-quarters of Macheads as customers for Office–acknowledge that fact.