Miscellaneous Ramblings

Nothing Else Is a Mac

Marketing the Mac as BMW at a Buick Price

Charles Moore - 2004.02.12 - Tip Jar

Perusing a Radio Shack advertisement in a weekend newspaper focused my mind on what a formidable challenge Apple has to claw back lost market share.

There it was, a Compaq Presario S 5000NX mini tower with a 2.5 MHz Celeron chip, 128 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a 48x CD-RW drive, a 17" monitor, external speakers, plus a Lexmark X1150 "all in one print center" and a Centrios 1.3 megapixel digital camera - the whole works going for Can$899.96. (All dollar values in this column will be expressed in Canadian dollars.)

Now this is in essentially a computer equivalent of those awful "home entertainment centers" one used to find in department stores containing an AM/FM radio tuner, a turntable, a stereo amplifier, cassette and eight track decks, and a pair of speakers, all for $89 95. Basically junk, but an irresistible "value" for wishful thinkers with constrained budgets and poor taste in audio equipment.

The eMacThe closest analog to the Radio Shack offer I could find in the Mac Warehouse Canada catalog was an eMac with an 800 MHz G4 processor, 128 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD Combo drive, a 17" screen, and a Lexmark X75 "all in one print center" for $1,095. No digital camera, no external speakers, and 1,600 MHz less clock speed for $195 more.

Now which is Joe or Jane Consumer going to buy as an Internet and games machine for the kiddies?

Turning our attention to laptops, a Dell flyer that also arrived last week advertises an Inspiron 5100 notebook with a 2.8 GHz Pentium Mobile processor, a 15" 1024 x 768 display, 512 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a combo optical drive, and an ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 video accelerator with 64 MB of VRAM for $1,599.

Over at Mac Warehouse Canada, the closest equivalent is a 933 MHz G4 iBook with a 14.1" 1024 x 768 display, 256 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a Combo drive, and an ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 video accelerator with 32 MB of VRAM for $1,789.

Here we have 1,867 MHz less clock speed, half as much RAM, a 0.9" smaller display, and half as much video RAM (although with a better video chipset) selling for $190 more. Again, a tough sell to "value conscious" consumers.

Looking at a more upscale laptop, Dell offers a Latitude D-800 with a 1.4 GHz Pentium M processor, a 15.1" wide aspect ratio 1600 x 1050 display, 512 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a combo optical drive, and an Nvidia GeForce 4 4200 Go 4x AGP graphics card with 64 MB of video RAM and a three-year on-site service warranty for $2,499.

Apples nearest equivalent is an aluminum PowerBook with a 1 GHz G4 processor, a 15" display, 256 MB of RAM, a 60 GB hard drive, a Combo drive, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 video card with 64 MB of VRAM, and a one-year standard warranty for $2,839.

There is no way that entry-level consumer computer-buyers are not going to be seduced by the combination of lower prices, faster clock speeds, and higher-spec features inventories.

Now I'm not suggesting that Apple should try to slug it out toe-to-toe with the PC mongers pricewise. That would require cheapening the product, and they may have tilted too far in that direction already.

The Mac as the BMW of computers analogy is not going to help much in this context. The Mac actually is the BMW/Mercedes/Lexus - or in some respects the Porsche/Ferrari - of computers, but the sort of customer Apple needs to attract in order to significantly pump up market share doesn't see him/herself as part of that end of the spectrum. These folks drive Chevys and Fords and Hondas, or even Hyundais and Kias. You might be able to sell them a Buick or a Mercury, but the Bimmer analogy doesn't speak compellingly to them.

The best strategy Apple could pursue would be to pitch the Mac as a premium product for just a bit more money, which is what is - or at least what it should be - a BMW at a Buick price.

Here's a slogan that Apple can use for free: Nothing Else Is a Mac. Again, simple and true.

While I'm not immune to the attractions of certain PC hardware - for instance, I'm quite smitten with an authorized Ferrari-red laptop offered by Acer - the reality that lurking inside even the nicest PC are Windows and all the PC architecture angularities quickly snaps me back to my senses.

For me, as long as Mac OS machines are available, a PC is beneath consideration. I've been buying Macs since 1992, have always been cognizant of the fact I would be paying more (at least up front; I'm convinced that the total cost of ownership has been substantially cheaper with the Macs) than for a roughly equivalent performance PC, and figured I was getting plenty of value from the extra cash outlay.

Nothing Else Is a Mac.

What Apple ought to be doing is leveraging their current high market visibility in joining the iPod's high-profile and the popularity of the iTunes Music Store to sell the "Nothing Else Is a Mac" message. In fact, the iPod makes an excellent and topical analogy. There are other, less expensive digital jukebox products, but nothing else is an iPod.

Mac vs. PC

Incidentally, John Droz, Jr. has just done a major update of his excellent Mac vs. PC website, adding over a hundred new reports, studies, and articles, bringing the total to over 500. The downloadable PDF file (1.8 MB) of the whole site is now 115 pages.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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