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Are Apple machines really overpriced?

Joe Wilcox on the Price differential between Macs and PCs:

“On Saturday, Aug. 2, I got to wondering about Mac versus Windows PC pricing after seeing two HP notebooks on sale at the local Target. One of them, a 14-inch model, the HP DV2946NR, sold for $699.99 and packed 4GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive. Capacity for both features is twice that of the $1,299 MacBook—and shared graphics is 356MB compared with a meager 144MB for the MacBook. I wondered: If Vista notebooks are selling for so little and packing so much, how does this compare with Mac desktops and notebooks?

Today I contacted Stephen Baker, NPD’s vice president of industry analysis, about computer average selling prices at retail. That HP notebook is right on mark: ASP for retail Windows notebooks is $700. Mac laptops: $1,515. Yeah, right, they’re more than twice as much. But there’s more: The ASP for Mac desktops is more than $1,000 greater than for Windows PCs, and Mac desktop ASPs were higher in June than they were two years ago.”

I’m not surprised by this, because Apple’s pricing is always cyclical. It introduces a new, upgraded model which evens things out, usually to the point where people are paying a premium of 10% or so over equivalently-specced Windows machines.

However, it then maintains those specs until the next product rev, rather than continually incrementally upgrading them, as, say, Dell does. That means that over the lifetime of a product, the price differential increases until the point where Apple’s machines are really overpriced for what you get – which is where we are now.

Of course, none of this seems to be damaging Apple’s sales, which have shown excellent growth.

But in an economic downturn, will Apple be able to maintain this in the face of fierce price pressure? Even though I can’t imagine buying another Windows PC (except in markets where this is no Mac, like ultraportables or tablets), I would be reluctant to buy an Apple at the moment, as the hardware you get for the money just isn’t that great.

Even if, for example, my MacBook Pro broke down I probably wouldn’t buy another one – I couldn’t justify the expense, given that the hardware I’d get just isn’t all that leading edge. I’d probably buy a MacBook instead – and curse its crappy graphics every time I wanted to play games.

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