The price of apples

June 24th, 2007

Recently, both my brother and I had occasion to visit our parents’ home briefly for a family event. He decided he needed to have some apples while there, so he bought a box of fifteen fuji apples from Costco because “it was the best value.” Well, it may have been the best value per apple, but it wasn’t the best value overall because he spent more money than he would have had he bought from a regular grocery store only the one or two apples he wanted to eat, and he wouldn’t have had to force himself to eat more apples, take some apples home with him on the plane, ask my cousin to take some apples home with her, and then still end up throwing away some remaining apples (my parents wouldn’t be eating them).

This situation reminded me of a lot of the “Macs are expensive” debates in computing. Typically, some people will say “Macs are more expensive than Windows PCs,” which is then countered by others who say, “No, Macs are actually the same as or cheaper than similarly spec’ed Windows PCs,” which is usually countered with “No, they’re not.” Both sides give examples, and it ends up being a draw, since “similarly spec’ed” is almost never exactly the same specifications, and even if the specifications are exactly the same hardware-wise, Mac proponents will argue that the software that comes with the Mac (OS X and iLife) is superior to that which comes with the Windows PC.

Here are a couple of examples of such arguments:
Debunking the price myth: Apple vs. Dell
The truth about the costs of Macs vs. costs of PCs.

I’m not going to argue that Macs are more or less expensive than similarly spec’ed Windows PCs, because I think that argument is purely intellectual and not practical at all, just as my brother’s choice to buy fifteen fuji apples was looking at how good a theoretical deal he could get per apple instead of looking at how practical it is to eat fifteen apples in a two-day period.

The truth is that people don’t just buy a Windows PC or just buy a Mac. Most people tend to already be using a Windows PC, in which case they’re very likely to buy another Windows PC or they’ve already decided to switch to using a Mac—it’s not a toss-up between the two (Mexican food or Chinese tonight, dear?); it’s a serious choice between sticking with what you’re used to and have software for, and switching to something completely different. Same for Mac users. If you’re already using Macs, you’re very likely to buy another Mac. You’re not just going to buy a Windows computer because it’s cheaper. Nor is the reason you’ll stick with Mac because of its having a better value for similar specifications.

A lot of users don’t care about comparing similar specs. All they want is cheap, especially if a low-end computer for email, web browsing, and light word processing suits their needs. For these folk, a $499 Dell laptop will be a much better deal than a $1,099 Apple laptop, even if the Apple laptop is a “better value.”

For most computer users, the real considerations are these:

  • Can I do with a really cheap computer? Does it do everything I need it to do? Great. I’ll save money, then.
  • If I’m using Windows, do I want to keep using Windows? Or am I willing to switch to Mac?

Sometimes flexibility and familiarity matter more than “value.”

And, of course, if money’s a real issue, desktop Linux is worth at least a little exploration. With Linux-compatible hardware, your computer won’t be obsolete for years after it would be using Mac or Windows. As a regular Ubuntu user, I had to throw that last bit in…

7 Responses to “The price of apples”

  1. Alejandro Says:

    That’s just if you’re willing to buy a pre-packaged computer. I’d never buy a Mac desktop, but I’d never buy a Dell either. Laptops are a different story, but since I can’t get a Mac laptop for less than $6000 ARG, I’d rather buy anything else for 50-60% of the price. The software included in each is pointless, since I don’t use Ubuntu or OS X. And a non-Mac computer comes with the intangible benefit of not supporting a closed hardware company, which in many ways is worse than Microsoft (at least with MS I can build my own computers just like I want them).

    But then, I’m not the kind of person who buys “a computer”.

  2. strabes Says:

    Thanks for linking to my article. However, you seem to be under the impression that there are only two options: Windows or Mac, just like most of the rest of world’s computer using population. However, this assumption is false. There are many free, open source operating systems available, the most popular being Linux. Some distributions of Linux has become so popular and user friendly that Dell even has some of their computers pre-loaded with ubuntu, the most popular distribution of linux. There are many other UNIX-based operating systems which are completely free that I won’t take the time to mention.

  3. emvigo Says:

    You’re right: people care for the absolute value (“How much does it cost?”), not the relative (“How much is this worth to cost x?”)…

  4. ubuntucat Says:

    I can assure you all I’m quite aware that Ubuntu is an option (I use Ubuntu myself) and that not all people buy pre-built computers.

    Please note my use of the terms most people and most computer users throughout the blog entry. Most people are Windows users who buy Windows computers pre-built. And most of those people have no idea that you can buy Ubuntu pre-loaded from Dell. Even if they did, the Dell Ubuntu computers are currently available only in the US, a country in which most people do not live (I’d say about 5.7 billion people can’t order a Ubuntu Dell computer right now).

  5. Anurag Panda Says:

    In the same way long time Windows users usually continue to use Windows usually (only few of them shift to Linux or Mac), and long time Mac Users continue to use Mac; The long time Linux users keep using Linux and keep the distro of their choice.
    The fact is inertia.

  6. Alejandro Says:

    Most people in the US might buy pre-built computers. Most people I know (not just techies… also most of the people who ask me to solve their problems) buy computers from small stores, who assemble them from standard parts. That’s effectively the same as building one yourself, as you’re not paying for Dell’s, HP’s, or Apple’s brand and advertising.

  7. Chris Says:

    People favour what they already have, especially what they have paid good money for. If I have a Windows machine I want to believe that it is the best possible machine I could have gotten. Same (Or more so because it is more expensive and less people use them) for Mac. It is like trying to tell a friend that he got a rubbish car, he is never going to be convinced, he couldn’t possibly have bought a lemon.

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