On very rare cases one can safely predict the outcome of an open discussion, but sometimes, it is just too obvious. While there are many examples of this around the Interweb, two situations come to my mind. First, the fallacious debates that arise from any music video on YouTube, that always end up in insults, and second, the age old Mac vs. PC debate, on which this post will develop a bit.
Apple computers are overpriced products, there is no doubt about it, but I would go and affirm they are not grossly overpriced as many people like to suggest. Back when Macs were functioning on the PowerPC platform the story was a bit different but with Apple’s recent switch to x86, the fact that you can now build your own hackintosh for a fraction of the price (this is not legal however) and that the hardware contained in PCs and Macs is now identical from a compatibility point of view has given the PC proponents a lot more ammunition to throw at the Mac fans. I completely concede that if you look at a computer from a purely hardware aspect, you are much better off buying a bare bone deal of similar specifications and slapping a Linux distro on it, or a Windows PC if this is your cup of tea (it ends up being more expensive). In other words, when you look at the guts of Mac, you can get the same PC for a fraction of the price.
Also, the operating system you are choosing will definitely have an effect on the final cost of the system and it makes the comparison that much harder. With Linux, its quite simple: free. With Windows, it depends. If you buy a bunch of hardware and a windows license, you will end up paying between 200$ and 500$ depending on the flavor you choose. On the other hand, if you buy a computer from the big manufactures (Dell, Acer, HP and company) the license will end up being around 40$! This figure might not be accurate, but I remember reading it somewhere. In fact, this price discrepancy is so great that I recall Microsoft getting slapped on the hand by an important European court of law for that dishonest practice. With Apple’s OS X, I do not know the exact price but I suppose it sits somewhere inside the boxed windows license price bracket. Mind you, any subsequent upgrade will cost you only 30 US$ so this is definitely something to consider. Now, whether OS X or a more luxurious Windows version is worth paying that much for is very debatable, but for me, it ends being a matter of whether you want the added luxury or not. Linux is also a worthy choice, but given the fact that is does not have as much market penetration as the two others, it is never an obvious choice. From my experience, Linux users that are not computer enthusiast very often had it pushed onto them (like I did with my sister).
To many, the hardware similarity seems to close the case if we take the software out of the equation but there is something else that is very often overlooked : quality; two computers with the same hardware specs are not necessarily equivalent when they face the harsh physical environment we live in. This is the reason why military grade electronical parts are considerably more expensive than their commercial equivalent. Now, if you look at the actual internals of a Mac, you will clearly notice that there are much more passive electrical components than an equivalent cheap off the shelf part and that they are generally of better overall quality. While this will not make an equivalent PC as pricey, it has to be considered. So, how does this translate to the user? Lesser likeliness to fail or break; that’s it. Whether this added reliability is worth the price is another question, but it goes without saying that some people are willing to put down the money for it. Segundo, the materials and the construction of the computer are actually better. Most Apple products are made of very good quality plastics or even metal and the whole is assembled with plenty screws and very tight mechanical tolerances. It definably makes a difference in the quality of a product, when you hold an Apple device, it feels sturdy and can take a beating and still works. Cheaper devices, especially laptops, crack and bend when you manipulate them. I use a simple test to assess the build quality of a laptop: I take it by one extremity and gently shake it; if it feels like I am about to break or bend something, its probably low quality stuff. That’s not all, the speakers sound good (for a portable computer), the lcd screen (a screen that can correctly replicate colors is worth a significant premium), the aluminum construction, the thickness, the back lit keyboard, the multi-touch mouse pad, the tray-less DVD drive, the LEDs on the battery, the Mag-Safe connector, etc.
See? Its no all about hardware and all these little things add up to a pricier computer in the end. Do not get me wrong, you still pay for the brand, but not as much as PC proponents might believe. Some individuals are all about specs and will deny any claim of superior quality, good for them. On my part, I like the tool that use the most to be reliable and pleasing to the senses; even a year after my switch, I still look at my MacBook Pro (not the sexier new version) with a sense of satisfaction. Plus, I expect my laptop to last me a few years if not more, and the prospect for this to happen is good as I am certain the population of Apple computers that reach a venerable age is much bigger than the rest.
Case closed? No, but I still hope that one day, we can call coexist in peace and get rid of those persons that think they are better than the rest because the purchase cheap stuff…