Are Macs too expensive?

Opinion – I am sure you have seen one of those omnipresent new Microsoft commercials that aim to portray Mac products, in this specific case notebooks, as too expensive (if you haven’t seen the ad, you can watch it here.) There’s quite some buzz over the question whether Macs are really too expensive. At least for some, Microsoft’s new campaign might be a bit shallow, let alone leave the impression that Windows PCs are simply “cheap”. And even if we live in a recession, the description of being “cheap” might not work.

Before I lay out my opinion on this new commercial and before you add your comment below, let me first mention that I am actually a convinced PC user, always have been, for various reasons I don’t want to go into here, and I always felt that Apple computers were, at least for my purposes, way too expensive. And if you try hard enough, it isn’t particularly difficult to make the case why Apple products are expensive (notice: I am not saying “overpriced”). But Microsoft’s attempt to convey this message is flawed and, sorry, a bit silly. Is there anybody in Redmond who is actually reviewing those commercials before they are approved and aired?

So, what do we have here? A woman who tries to buy a 17” notebook for less than $1000 and leaves an Apple store, because they only have one system for less than $1000 and it has just a 13” screen. She concludes that she is “not cool enough” to be a Mac person and she would have to spend $2000 for what she would want. So she ends up with an HP notebook that has all she wants for $699.99. The commercial ends at the cash register – and exactly the point where the commercial’s protagonist, Lauren, would begin a rather painful adventure with her new notebook – setting it up her – and would learn where the real value of the Mac really is (simplicity that already begins when you set it up.) So, at least this strategy makes sense from Microsoft’s point of view, even if anyone who has ever bought a Mac would respond with “Yeah, right.”

Let’s be serious. Are Macs as overpriced as Microsoft makes them look like?

I guess we can agree on the claim that Macs are more expensive than PCs with the same hardware. So, there is a premium involved and it is a question what you get for that premium. And if that what you get has real value.

I’ll take a shortcut here and invite you to discuss that below in our comments section. Yes, I am a PC buyer, never bought a Mac in my life, but I know that a Mac is not just hardware. It is a coherent package of nicely designed hardware, innovative touches and software that just fits. Besides the clean design of Mac computers, you get features such as the magnetic power plug and a shell that does not show fingerprints. The only Mac system I ever reviewed was up and running within 10 minutes out of the box. Is that value? Absolutely. In the end, a Mac is not just a piece of hardware that you can define by the size of the screen. It is the experience you buy. And, of course, the brand – just like you would pay extra for the experience to drive a BMW.

When I buy a new PC, I routinely plan a few hours to set this thing up, remove the boatload of crapware that subsidizes the price of a PC and I usually don’t care how the system looks like. Hey, it is a computer! It is supposed to run Word, Firefox and Photoshop. Do I care what it looks like? No. And if we look at Lauren, who ended up with an HP Pavilion notebook and I look at my HP notebook that is collecting dust in a corner in my office (a Pavilion tx1000, most likely one of the worst notebook designs to ever have come out of HP), I wonder if Lauren will also soon complain about HP’s inability to come up with surfaces that do not show fingerprints. I’d actually like to fast forward this moment of purchasing the notebook an hour or two into the future of Lauren and find out if she still feels good about her purchase then? Setting up Vista is so much fun.

What Microsoft does not emphasize enough is the fact that there is an obvious gap in Apple’s notebook product line: There is no 15” or 17” Macbook for less than $2000 and $2800, respectively. If you have $2000 or less to spend, you are stuck at 13” with Apple. Lauren claims that she would have to double her budget to get a 17” notebook, which isn’t exactly true – she would have to almost triple it. To me, it seems that Microsoft is way too careful when trying to make the case for the PC vs. Mac. In this case, we can be certain fact that Apple will respond and it won’t be especially difficult to ridicule the PC as a cheap piece of hardware.

Sorry, this one did not work, Microsoft.     

Wolfgang Gruener is the founder of TG Daily. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.