Feb. 21, 1999
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, Al Fasoldt
Apple's Macintosh computers used to cost a great deal more than PCs. Now they just cost more. Mac prices have come down.
This is a good thing. But the important thing to remember is that Macs will always cost more. Apple fans usually fudge this point, to their own discredit.
Macs will never be as cheap as PCs. Apple made sure of that when it killed off the Apple clone business. Clones -- look-alike and act-alike computers -- made a huge difference in the PC world, starting in the mid-'80s, and they could have made the same kind of difference in the Mac world.
Back in the '80s and early '90s, PC clone makers had only one way to complete with IBM, the company that invented the PC: They had to make their versions of PCs cheaper. Everybody benefited. Consumers paid a lot less for PCs, manufacturers did a lot of research into ways of cutting costs and companies that supported the industry -- drive manufacturers, modem makers and all that -- got rich and produced better products when sales of PCs kept climbing.
Eventually, PC clone makers improved on the PC and began making better PCs than IBM did. IBM then started to copy some of the features of the clone PCs, and before long everybody in the PC business was making clones of every other PC. That's why we no longer use the word "clones" in the PC world. They're all "clones."
Apple's clones flowered only for a few years. Apple licensed other companies to make clones at a time when Apple was so heavily in debt that it was close to bankruptcy. It figured clones of Macs would spice up the market and keep Macs in general (and, along with Macs, Apple in particular) afloat for a few more years. But then Apple had second thoughts when it saw that sales of clones were mostly killing off sales of genuine Macs. That prompted Apple to cancel the agreements with the clone companies.
And that, as any Economics 101 student will tell you, ended any chance of real competition in the Mac market and any chance for really cheap Macs. Apple doesn't have to worry about anyone else undercutting its prices for Macs. The only competition it has is from the other side of the street, from PCs.
And that's not the same thing. PCs don't work like Macs and Macs don't work like PCs. PCs use one kind of software and Macs use another. If you need a new PC, you'd be crazy to buy a Mac. And if you need a new Mac, you'd be just as crazy to buy a PC. (Spare me all the hate mail, Mac fans. Don't send me all your theories about people buying Macs for the first time. Trust me: Anyone who needs a new PC would be crazy to buy a Mac, and vice versa.)
What's worse, price comparisons are nearly always done in some sort of hocus-pocus fashion. Since PCs are always cheaper than Macs, fans of the Mac always add on a few conditions -- "If you could get a PC with X, Y, or Z, a comparable Mac would be cheaper," that kind of thing.
But that's all hogwash. You can buy a PC with all the exciting doodads and extra items that Mac fans drool over for less than the same stuff would cost on a Mac. Enhanced (meaning FAST) IDE drives? PC and Mac. Universal serial bus? PC and Mac. 3D graphics? PC and Mac. Stereo sound? PC and Mac. Plug and play? PC and Mac.
But take note. One Macintosh model accounts for about half of all Mac sales. It's the IMac. It's cheap -- $1,000 to $1,200 if you shop around. So cheap, in fact, that Apple left a vital part out to keep the cost down. It's the floppy drive. No PC maker has ever done that. No PC maker would ever dream of doing that. The competition is too fierce. You don't leave out vital parts without getting creamed in the marketplace.
Unless you are Apple and have no competition.