Dear Apple, Lower Your Prices

- 9.5 minutes -

It’s almost stereotypical for a non-Apple user to resort to “It’s too expensive” in criticism of their devices, which I still see a lot of on the internet. But they’re not wrong, it’s how they’re one of the most profitable businesses in existence.

However, being an Apple user, I think it’s very much justified, and I’m sure many others share this opinion. I’d chalk it up to there being numerous intangible qualities not immediately obvious when it comes to their devices, which are almost invisible to those who’ve never experienced owning one before. These intangibles achieve a lot in aggregate, but understandably seem silly to commend Apple for from an ‘outsider’ perspective.

For example, MacBook Pro’s used to have a button-activated battery indicator on the side. Surely it wasn’t a necessity, especially to those who’d prioritise superior internals over something laptops already technically do through their software. But it was a brilliant touch of convenience that made the Mac experience that much better than anything else. The same argument applies for OS X’s detailed, ‘lickable’ app icons, or the softer rendering of text and graphics onscreen compared to Windows, or MagSafe.

These are the things that make the user experience pleasing, but there are also big things that aren’t obvious at first. Apple’s complimentary iWork suite, particularly Pages, has helped me in many ways that I don’t think having Microsoft Word on Windows (or even on Mac) could’ve - for example, I designed and formatted two entire issues of a magazine using mostly Pages. Not to mention Keynote, a totally underrated app which has been vastly superior to PowerPoint for almost a decade now - it confounds me how PowerPoint is still the standard. While having used it for presentations, I’ve also used it to create unique formats for personal revision notes.

A typical MacBook user would probably resort to commending the trackpad above all else. I haven’t used a mouse since being on a Mac because of how intuitive and responsive the gestures are - and yes, that includes using graphics software. It’s surprising that Windows trackpads are still as sub-par as they are.

And that’s just the Mac. There are also things like this regarding the iPhone, and the iPad, and maybe even Apple Watch when compared to similar devices in their respective markets. It’s all a result of stressing the details and good design. In that way, Apple’s devices are reasonably priced - expensive, yes, but still very much reasonable. But their accessories, particularly the essential ones like cables and chargers, are absolutely not reasonably priced.

Let’s take the Mac’s MagSafe charger as an example. These things cost about $100 on average. (I’m not sure if there are other price tiers for different wattages, but all the one’s I’ve come across are this price, even MagSafe 1.) That should instantly prove my first point - it is expensive. So expensive that you could just buy an Apple TV or an iPod shuffle and have a lot to spare. But as I pointed out earlier, it’s okay for something to be expensive. However, unlike Apple’s devices, there aren’t any intangible capabilities here. Its single purpose is to charge your MacBook. There isn’t a lot of value to associate with the high cost - my second point.

In addition, the absence of at least one of these chargers within your reach renders the MacBook that you already paid a lot for completely useless. Granted, it’s a limitation that you agreed to by purchasing the device as opposed to a desktop like an iMac, but it wouldn’t be particularly egregious if the one that came in the box wouldn’t last as short as it does. MagSafe chargers, and even Lightning cables, are notorious for fraying easily, in some cases (like mine) not even lasting a year. So that detracts value from the initial purchase of the device (knowing you might have to buy another MagSafe charger eventually), and it detracts value (from the little value it even has to begin with) from the purchase of the second MagSafe charger itself knowing its propensity to break easily - my third point. (I can see MacBook users just sucking it up just to keep using a MacBook, but I don’t really know the case for iPhone users when almost every other phone is powered by ubiquitous, cheap, and comparatively durable Micro USB cables.)

But you don’t have to buy the one from Apple, right? Wrong. In MagSafe’s case, the chargers from Apple are literally the only ones available. What about Lightning cables - they license to third parties, so that’s better, right? Well, barely. They still float above the $20 price range because of high Mfi (Made for iPhone) licensing costs. If you come across anything cheaper than that, I’m not so sure it’ll work as advertised (especially if you live in Asia). Basically, there are effectively no third-party accessories that are reliable and cheaper at the same time - my fourth point.

All things considered, I don’t think there’s really any high-minded or strategic reasoning behind Apple keeping prices high with such accessories. I think it’s just because they think they can… and they can! It’s not like they need the profits made from MagSafe chargers to fund R&D for MagSafe chargers in particular - they can just pull the money they get from elsewhere like iPhone profits. It’s just that there are almost no forces working against MagSafe chargers being so highly priced, so there’s no reason to make it any cheaper from Apple’s perspective.

So far I’ve only looked into chargers and cables, but another area this can apply to are the storage tiers between their devices. I think it’s okay for Apple to charge a lot more money between tiers, as long as the added value justifies the price. The MacBook Pro comes to mind - sure, the additional or improved components might cost less than the price differences between tiers, but value can come from the additional capabilities now enabled by those components, e.g. a faster processor and added storage making your Pro a fast and functional video-editing machine compared to a lower tiered Pro.

This doesn’t apply to the iPhone tiers, however - the only difference between them is the storage capacity. It seems disingenuous for two reasons: one being that storage doesn’t cost nearly as much as the price differences, and two being that Apple continues to sell the 16 GB model of their phones knowing that it’s less and less of a viable option as they add more and more space-consuming features like 4K and high-FPS slo-mo video, which forces users to buy the 64 GB model at a $100 premium. Sure, users could resort to iCloud given how cheap it is (they offer 50 GB for just a dollar monthly), but then there’s also cellular data usage to consider, which differs around the world, but still expensive on average, especially when needlessly transferring large chunks of data that could be more easily stored natively.

 

The big point I’m trying to make with this is that just because Apple knows they can charge a lot for their products and people will still buy them, doesn’t mean they should charge them for whatever they want. As Apple continues to amass the literal metric tons of money they do quarter after quarter, year after year, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify paying the incredibly high mark-ups that no one can really do anything about.