It was 1989. After using Macs at the office for a couple of years, I decided that I needed one at home since I had begun to take outside assignment. So I went shopping.
To be sure, a Mac was pretty expensive in 1989 dollars. There were no budget models, but I shopped around and found a good deal from the same dealer who sold Macs to my employer.
After an afternoon’s consultation, I weighed my options, and I decided to take a chance, expecting that the freelance work would cover the costs. So I made a lease deal for a complete system. I acquired the Macintosh IIcx, an “affordable” alternative to the Macintosh IIx. It was maxed out with 8MB of RAM and a 100MB hard drive. Add to that a 14-inch Apple color display (later referred to as a “13-inch display,”, a LaserWriter NT PostScript printer, and several productivity apps, including QuarkXPress and Microsoft Word. The bill came to $14,000.
But don’t forget that my choice of a computer system 30 years ago covered, in large part, the middle of the pack. My budget would not cover the top-up-the-line.
As we close out 2019, that original investment explodes to $29,039.61. For that figure, using Apple’s current lineup, you can buy an iMac Pro, a 16-inch MacBook Pro, a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, an iPhone 11 Pro Max and an Apple Watch Series 5, all fully outfitted and still have nearly $5,000 left to cover sales tax, software, backup drives for the Macs, and some leftover cash for productivity apps.
Not that I have that much spare cash around, but it’s fun to wish.
In essence, the price of Apple gear today is actually lower, in proportion to today’s buying power, than it was then.
And then there’s the 2019 Mac Pro, where you can double that $29,039.61 price tag and still not quite get there to a maxed out system and display. In pricing this ultimate system, I checked every option, including wheels for the Mac Pro and a Pro Stand for the Pro Display XDR. It came to $60,797, again plus sales tax.
To put that figure in perspective, I can order a Tesla Model 3 Performance for $50,815 and a well-equipped BMW Model 3 sedan for $47,341.
Well, you get the picture.
But a Mac Pro is not strictly a plaything for the rich and the famous. For a subset of users, it’s the ideal workstation designed for high-end use, say for scientists and movie special effects artists. A director working on a $300 million superhero extravaganza would not mind at all having a network of $60,000 systems. If they went to other major vendors, such as Dell or HP, they’d likely pay more and still not get all the goodies Apple offers, such as the $2,000 Apple Afterburner card.
We’re talking of a flagship machine here, something designed to showcase the best of Apple’s technology, along with the best hardware from AMD and Intel. Other than the SSD, which has to be tuned to the T2 chip and thus must be changed by an Apple authorized repairperson, upgrades are dead simple. This is quite unlike any other Macs nowadays, where upgrades are impossible on notebooks, and of varying degrees of complexity depending on which desktop machine you pick.
Of course, for folks who hoped for something priced in the range if the original Mac Pro tower, only the entry-level model fits the bill. In other words, Apple has reached heights never before attempted. That, and the pro-level features included in the 16-inch MacBook Pro, clearly demonstrates Apple’s renewed commitment to the professional market.
Regardless, I can feel the ardor of Apple’s critics in criticizing the company for gouging its customers. That has been a typical argument for years, and the fact that Apple earns high profits from selling its gear only buttresses that point of view.
The attacks aren’t just focused on the final price, but on Apple’s alleged exorbitant price for upgrades. While you can easily acquire third-party RAM for the desktops, it’s soldered onto the logic boards for notebooks. Sure, Apple may be able to justify that decision on the basis of increased reliability and the fact that only a tiny percentage of buyers really want to do those upgrades.
Of course, nobody outside of Apple and its partners really has access to such statistics. On the surface, it looks credible. I speak with lots of people using Macs, and rarely hear complaints about the inability to do upgrades. Even with desktops, the RAM upgrade schemes may be hostile to the user, particularly with the Mac mini, the 21.5-inch iMac, and the iMac Pro.
I’m particularly disappointed with the decisions made about the latter, since it’s supposed to cater to professional users who want the simplicity of an all-in-one computer and may not be able to afford, or need, the pricy and more powerful components of a Mac Pro. With the iMac Pro, you have to basically remove the display, an annoying and delicate process, to add or replace RAM.
With the regular 27-inch iMac, it’s dead simple, and can be done in less than five minutes. Maybe it’s a compromise made to encompass the improved cooling scheme for the high-powered components? Perhaps, since I can’t believe that Apple would have made the process so difficult for any other reason.
And when it comes to the price offacgtory upgrades, I’ve done comparisons with gear from Dell and HP, and the costs aren’t altogether different. Third-party alternatives, particularly RAM, can be had for far more reasonable prices.
And one more thing: Even if I had the spare cash, and chose to invest it in a computer rather than a luxury car, I wouldn’t go so far. In fact, I can’t conceive of ever requiring the level of performance achieved by the Mac Pro. It’s not designed for me or most of you. Indeed, if someone offered me the equivalent of $60,000 in purchasing power, I’d get a more affordable car, say for up to $35,000, and allocate the rest for my dream collection of Apple gear, the one described above.
Of course, there have been demands, or requests, for Apple to deliver cheaper gear. But as has been said many many times by many analysts and journalists, there’s no profit in commodity gear. Apple has carved out for itself a profitable market niche.
There’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t want to pay the price — or settle for a refurbished or used Apple product — there are plenty of alternatives if you are prepared to desert the macOS, iOS, iPadOS and watchOS.