MacBook & Apple Watch - two more colours on the spectrum of expense

The new MacBook has divided opinion between those who think it is compromised and expensive, and those who think it is a good product for some people. Similarly, the gold Apple Watch Edition has been the subject of much discussion, as pundits have tried to work out whether it is a betrayal of Apple’s ‘premium for everyone’ promise or an embodiment of egalitarian tech.

The bottom line is that Apple hardware is expensive. The new MacBook and the Apple Watch are just the latest products in a pricey lineup (see illustration). For both, you pay a premium on the materials and design — the care, as Jony Ive might put it — not necessarily (or not entirely) on the functionality.

Image source: Apple Keynote, October 2014

The watch is the more extreme example, and in that sense it is both egalitarian and elitist. ‘Poor’ people get the same tech as ‘rich’ people, albeit cased in aluminium not gold, but only the very rich can afford a $10,000 watch, and only the reasonably well-off can afford a $400 dollar watch. There is no Apple Watch for someone who cannot also (or even) afford an iPhone first (although the carrier subsidies available in the US level that playingfield somewhat). There is certainly no MacBook of any kind for someone who cannot afford a laptop at $900 plus.

But these truths about Apple are OK. Apple is a company for people with money to spend (and there are lots of those people, if Apple’s profits are any indicator). Apple aims to occupy the high end of the markets they are in, and they are successful at doing so. Arguing that they should be something other than they are, or, worse still, pretending that they ever have been, is disingenuous. The deal Apple is offering on its hardware is crystal clear: you will pay more because it is Apple, and you will enjoy it more because it is Apple. For many people, myself included, that is a good deal. But we are priviledged that we can afford it.

Can we all please stop pretending that expense and compromise are a new departure for Apple.

Those who argue that the pricing of the Apple Watch at the high end is a betrayal of Apple’s core consumers, or those who complain that the MacBook is unusually underpowered for the price, therefore seem not to know Apple very well. All of Apple’s products are on a spectrum of expense and compromise. Apple chooses those compromises and prices very carefully; whether you agree with them or not is up to you. That so many people love Apple’s hardware regardless is testament to Apple’s skill at creating products on that spectrum: products that provide enough for those who want to be different and can afford to be; products that somehow delight despite their percieved shortcomings or expense.

For myself, I will buy an Apple Watch to go with my iPhone. I have already accepted and can afford the price for entry into Apple’s world, and I will continue to pay it. Can we all please stop pretending that expense and compromise are a new departure for Apple.

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