Latest Microsoft Ad Blasts Apple Tax. Are Macs Overpriced?

lauren-its-apcMuch has been written about the so-called “Mac tax” — the cost delta between purchasing a MacBook and a similarly-configured PC notebook. Our friend Harry McCracken of Technologizer has analyzed this at least half a dozen times and, in his most recent post on the Mac tax, from October 2008, he points out that the new 13-inch MacBook isn’t significantly more expensive than a similarly-configured, 13-inch PC notebook, but that “it’s possible to get a somewhat more utilitarian 13-inch notebook–one that’s better-equipped than the MacBook in some respects, even–for a lot less.” A new commercial from Microsoft posits that, in today’s tight economy, consumers will make their notebook purchase decisions based on two basic factors: price and ergonomic elements such as keyboard feel and screen size. In the commercial, we meet Lauren a 20-something shopper whose mission is to buy a 17-inch notebook for under $1,000. She tries a Mac store first and discovers that she can’t find anything within her budget, except the 13-inch MacBook which starts at $999. In frustration, she drives away and in the car says “I guess I’m not cool enough for a Mac!” She then goes to a big box retailer that looks suspiciously like a Best Buy and finds two different 17-inch notebooks within under $1,000, and chooses a $699 HP Pavilion dv-7 (this one exactly), because she likes its keyboard, screen, and design better than another unidentified system she sees. The  commercial comes from Microsoft so we don’t doubt its bias in favor of PCs.  However, it raises a legitimate question. Even if consumers buy the argument that Macs have better software or better specs than comparable PCs in their price range, do they care? Many drivers would  agree that a BMW can go 0 to 60 faster than a Toyota Camry and that the BMW has a fancier interior, but how many would pony up the cash for the luxury model? Today, the success of netbooks with Intel Atom processors is proving that a lot of consumers don’t care about processor performance. As long as a notebook can perform the basic tasks they need, a lot of people care about size, weight, and keyboard, and price. Apple has always positioned itself as a premium brand that’s not made for the masses, but in this tight economy, we’re left to wonder whether a vendor with no sub-$1,000 notebooks can still thrive. Check out the commercial below and tell us whether you think Macs are too expensive. [flv: 480 360]

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Zak Says:

    Apple has put themselves in a bad space for this economy. In reality, it’s not their fault. They specialize in premium, top of the line products. I’m sure they’re great products, too. However, the flip side is that they have nothing for a budget conscious buyer (which is nearly all we have today). Sure the Mac’s are the best, but many will sette for “good” or “better” for half the price rather than the “best”. As the article points out, the rise of the netbook is evidence that the biggest CPU and latest Nvidia graphics are not all that important to consumers, at least not now.

    And the biggest problem is, Apple can’t really do anything about it. The moment they release a $500-$700 laptop, they are on the way to being passed of as “just another computer company”. It would ruin the perception of Mac as “class”. It would almost be condescending to the PC market; now they are competing against machines that they used to be “to good” for.

    And Apple has other problems. While their lack of lower cost machines is coming back to bite them, PC companies like Dell are now rivaling Apple in their own market. Machines like the Adamo are challenging Apple’s technical superiority above PCs; which further detracts from the “elite” image that Apple has had until now. The Adamo will of course suffer from the current economy as much as the Mac, but it is a strike at the “low class” perception of the PC.

    Apple has hard times ahead. They may have to shift focus to smaller devices that have lower costs by nature, like the iPhone and iPod. I am certain Apple will come through this rough spot, but I’m wondering what they will look like.

  2. ChrisC Says:

    Yeah macs are too expensive. The reason is because for an awesome specced PC, the mac equivalent would be several hundreds of dollars more. And there’s only 1 or 2 choices to choose from, whereas a PC laptop has the whole market to choose from.

    But that’s only for expensive computers. I agree that netbooks are more bang for the buck in the form factor that you want. It is definitely a prize in this economy we’re in.

  3. Dale Says:

    Is this ad for telling people that you should buy the cheapest laptop possible? Come on Lauren at least spend $1000 on that 17″ laptop, you silly girl that thing won’t last a year!

    And it still runs Vista.

  4. Albert Says:

    Weird I have a Mac and a BMW

  5. Well Says:

    Although I don’t recommend HP notebooks except business models, I think the specs for the $699 notebook look good. Why would you spend $1000 or more if a $699 notebook can do what you need to do? Also, unless you are really, really careless, even a $699 notebook will last for at least three to four years without any problem. You might have to replace your hard drive during that period because hard drives usually die in about two years (at least in my case), but that happens to every computer.

    Some people claim that Windows-equiped computers get viruses and other malware easily while Macs don’t and that Vista is really bad. That’s because the majority of computers in the world is Windows-based. If the market share between Windows and Mac were 50:50, Macs would be bombarded with viruses and malware. In fact, Macs are not really secure. I’ve been using Vista Ultimate 64-bit for about 6 months or so, and I have had no problem except some compatibility issues with a few programs. (And, that’s not because the OS is Vista but because it is 64-bit.)

    I don’t think Mac computers are particularly expensive. Apple makes both the operating system (software) and the hardware.

  6. Chris Says:

    I agree that Macs are way to expensive, but that doesn’t stop me from drooling over the new 17″ Mac Book Pro. Its not that I like the Apple OS but they make some very nice computers.

    >Some people claim that Windows-equiped computers get viruses and other malware easily while Macs don’t and that Vista >is really bad. That’s because the majority of computers in the world is Windows-based. If the market share between >Windows and Mac were 50:50, Macs would be bombarded with viruses and malware.

    Yes, you are right, Mac is not any safer that Windows. But Mac has the smallest market share of the big three, Windows, Linux, and Mac. Windows had 90% of the home user market share, Linux has 80% of the SERVER share, which includes Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and pretty much every one else, with the exception of Microsoft. Mac has a small 10% share of the user market. Obviously, if you were a hacker you would try to find a security flaw in ether Windows or Linux in order to do the most damage. All I am saying is, if I was Amazon and held the credit info of half of America I would use a pretty secure OS.

    Chris S
    There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

  7. Jason Says:

    In business/marketing philosophy (if not in product quality), Apple reminds me so much of CarMax.

    There’s a price on the car (Mac) and it’s non-negotiable. You could probably buy it down the street for quite a bit less money, but you get the “no-hassle” warm-and-fuzzy buying experience to compensate.

  8. Cat Says:

    I basically concur with everything Well stated. Several years ago, when OS X first came out, I was living with a roommate that had a full recording studio in the basement. After Apple bought out Emagic and LogicAudio, he decided to switch to Mac’s (because he wanted to keep using Logic) and bought one of the first G5′s with the first version of OS X. Despite the fact that he was assured that all of his (very expensive) MOTU and Apogee hardware would work “just fine” with his Mac, it didn’t…The first day he had the computer, he got no less than three Full Kernel Panics (OS X’s version of the BSoD.) After a week, he contacted MOTU, Apogee and a couple other audio hardware vendors (we were both in Pro Audio sales at the time and had direct access.) They basically all told him that Apple didn’t give them enough time to rewrite their drivers (remember, this is when Apple switched over to a Unix-based OS, so they all had to write new drivers from scratch) before OS X was released and that all their drivers were still in beta. So much for “working right out of the box.”

    It took him several months before all of his so-called compatible hardware would play nice with his Mac, and all Apple ever had to say was to imply that it was somehow his fault. I’ve even witnessed several Full Kernel Panics on a friend’s Mac (which she was persuaded to buy by her employer, MIT) in the past year or so.

    And yet my Lenovo laptop that I just bought for $500, running Vista Business 32-bit, hasn’t had any problems so far. It’s not that I expect it to be perfect, but even after spending about $25 for an extra 2GB of RAM, it was still almost half as much as the cheapest Macbook. Vista w/ SP1 is working great for me and I haven’t had any problems over the past month that I’ve had the notebook. As far as malware and viruses, there are plenty of very capable (and free) programs to take care of that, and it’s not that hard to use your noggin and not open certain email attachments or visit certain websites. Interestingly enough, I read an article just a few days ago on another computer website stating that the amount of hackers that are targetting the Mac OS are growing rapidly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing a dramatic increase in Mac viruses in the next couple of years.

    The one thing that I’d like to correct Well on (with all due respect) is that Apple does not, in fact, make their own hardware. They farm it out just like any other computer manufacturer. Last time I looked inside a Mac (which was probably about eight months ago), it had a pretty standard Asus motherboard, and I believe either WD or Seagate hard drives. Even the most expensive Mac’s use the exact same components as us PC users have been using for 15+ years…they just charge 3x the price.

  9. Janne Says:

    So, is Microsoft basically telling us that we should stop wasting our money on Windows, and use Linux instead, since Linux is free? What extra stuff could we buy, if we paid nothing for OS, as opposed to spending our money on Windows? Windows Vista Ultimate costs close to 300e in retail, instead of buying that, I could get Linux and 24″ monitor! Or maybe 1TB hard-drive and still have money left over?

    Or am I correct in assuming that their argument takes a 180 turn when it’s THEIR product that costs more?

    As to the question whether Macs are overpriced…. No, they aren’t. Sure, computer with similar specs (CPU, RAM etc.) might cost less in the PC-side, but there are more to computers than specs and checkboxes.

    Sure, MacBook (for example) might cost more than PC-laptop with similar CPU and specs. But then again, the MacBook has a lot better design. It has many nice touches (like the magsafe powerplug), it comes loaded with OS that does not suck (unlike Vista), it comes with software that is actually usable.

    Every time I go check out computers, I’m always amazed just how cheap and flimsy those $600 PC-laptops feel…. Instad of buying the cheapest possible machine, I would much rather spend a bit more and get a machine that actually brings me joy for years to come. Sure, I might be able to save a bit money, but in return I would be frustrated by the crappiness of the machine.

  10. Mr. Mac Says:

    What many people fail to realize is that Macs lack the tons of crapware that OEMs use to subsidize the price. Macs=crapware free and better performance overall. PC=full of Nortony stuff and a bloated OS.

    How will Lauren feel in a year when she thinks her PC is ready to implode?

  11. harry Says:

    Mac is overpriced

  12. Postman Says:

    So Janne your saying buy a Mac so it will last pretty much forever? Seriously in about 3 -5 year span that laptop would be considered a dinosaur fossil because it will be so out-dated because technology is always improved upon. Thats the nature of the business. So while your on that Macbook 3 years from now and feeling like your behind the curve on performance are you going to dish out another life’s savings buying a newer Macbook?

    I have a PC laptop and yes it has Vista. On top of that its a Vista 64 bit based to make things more interesting…guess what? I don’t have any problems and I am not “bloated” with crap as you said and I’ve had this laptop for a year now. Just like to say it just takes common sense to maintain a computer just like you would maintain your car.

    In this day and age if you STILL don’t know anything about computers in general and its basic operation/mechanics your just a total idiot. Its like saying the telephone is too difficult to operate and you rather just use the mail system writting letters to communicate.

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