"Growing disparity" in Mac vs PC pricing

August 7, 2008 | 08:57

Tags: #msp #performance #pricing #rrp

Companies: #apple #dell

We all know that Macs are expensive bits of kit, but have you ever stopped to think just how expensive compared to similar off-the-shelf PCs lacking that partially consumed fruit logo?

Joe Wilcox over at EWeek has posted an analysis of figures gathered by Stephen Baker of NPD Group during his investigation of the pricing disparity that exists between what I still mentally refer to as “IBM compatibles” (showing my age there) and Apple Macs. That a pricing disparity exists – and, furthermore, that it's definitely in favour or Apple's profit margins – won't come as any surprise, but the extent of the difference might.

According to NPD's research into the 'average' retail selling price of both Windows-based and Mac desktops, you'll pay around £500 more on average for a Mac compared to a Windows system. The difference in average price for laptops isn't quite so steep, but you're still looking at around a £400 premium for something from Cupertino.

Wilcox does make a good point in that the figures are somewhat skewed by the fact that Apple doesn't market any 'budget' systems – everything in the Apple Mac range excluding the Mac Mini, which sells poorly compared to its full-sized brethren, sells in the US for over $1,000 (around £500). By contrast, so-called Wintel desktops can practically be had by redeeming bottletops – so long as you're not fussy about performance.

However, it's not all about the figures – what matters is the bang you get for your buck, right? Well, according to Wilcox the news isn't so great there either – while the performance on both side of the coin used to be pretty much even, the scales have tipped dramatically in favour of Wintel. Wilcox says that while it used to be the case that “Macs and Windows PCs of similar price [had] hardware features [that] were about the same,” now “[the] situation has dramatically changed in the last six months, particularly the last three months.

As an experiment, Wilcox priced up equivalent systems from Dell and Apple in order to see what the actual difference in price was, rather than a misleading difference in average selling price. Ending up with a mid-range iMac and an Inspiron 518 desktop system, the specs were as similar as possible – 2.4GHz processor, widescreen TFT, basic graphics, and so forth. While the iMac had the edge in extras with 802.11g WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 included as standard alongside a larger 20” display to the Dell's 19”, the Dell certainly had the edge in specification: a Core 2 Quad compared to the weedier Core Duo in the iMac, 3GB of RAM compared to just 1GB, and a 500GB hard drive space compared to 250GB. Both systems came with the 'leading edge' OS from the respective companies – Windows Vista Home Premium in the case of the Dell and MacOS X 10.5 for the iMac.

The difference was plain to see - $1,199 for the iMac with its bells and whistles, but just $739 for the higher specification Dell. It's not the headline-grabbing $1,000 differential from the NPD data, but it's still a chunk of change – and all for wireless, Bluetooth, and an extra inch of screen.

As with anything, it's horses for courses – Mac fans will be quick to point out that the build quality is likely to be significantly higher for the iMac, and there's no denying that it's far more aesthetically pleasing. When you factor in that there are significantly more people singing Mac OS X's praises compared to Windows Vista, and perhaps the £230 difference doesn't seem so dramatic. It's still a big chunk of change, and with more people looking toward the grey-area solutions for running the real gem in the crown, MacOS X, on standard (and cheap) hardware it's a margin that Apple are going to be hard pushed to justify. Indeed, Wilcox concludes his article with the summation that “if Apple is going to continue its market share gains, or simply maintain that 8.5 percent U.S. share, prices must go down and configurations bulk up.

Can anyone come up with a reasonable explanation for the Mac costing 62 percent more than its Dell equivalent – is the joy of MacOS X really worth so much, especially now the systems are based on the same off-the-shelf hardware as their Wintel competitors? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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