The Myths of Apple and Business Users

With the growth in popularity of the iPhone, there’s a lot of questions about how suitable it is as a business tool. That question alone has once again raised the issue of how suitable Apple is in the Enterprise in general. Most IT departments are not deploying Macintosh systems in large numbers and those that are are deploying are usually in niche spaces such as graphic arts, multimedia and publishing. The truth is that Mac OS has changed quite a bit in the last few years and today’s Apple systems offer a reasonable alternative for Windows systems for many mainstream uses OS X Leopard is rock solid UNIX at the core with Apple’s elegant user interface on top. Once again, I’ll address the three biggest myths that still surround Apple and the platform.

The first myth is that Apple’s computers are expensive relative to their PC cousins. While Apple is certainly not a discount brand and will almost never be the cheapest computers that can be purchased, they are certainly price competitive with most PCs coming from tier one vendors. While we can debate the specifics of pound to pound pricing, there’s really not much of an “Apple tax” these days. Yes, there’s some premium for both the Apple brand and the innovation that goes into Apple’s often hardware and software designs, the premium is not out of line with that users already pay for name brand systems from vendors such as Sony, HP or Lenovo. In many cases, comparable Apple systems are priced similarly or in some cases are even cheaper than their competition. And yes, sometimes they will cost a little more.

The second myth is that there is a lack of software available. While OS X does not offer the same sheer number of titles that Windows offers, there is an abundance of business software for Macintosh. In some markets, such as content creation, there is actually more software available for the Mac. In addition, Microsoft offers a complete and compatible version of Office for the Macintosh so knowledge workers can easily share documents and communicate with colleagues across platforms. Apple’s support of web based Internet standards mean that most Internet base applications will simply run without modification. While there might be a specific application lacking that can hold back some deployments, most organizations might never hit that wall.

The third myth is that Apple architectures are based on proprietary protocols. While that was certainly true in the past, it is not an accurate portrayal of Apple today. Today, Apple is one of the most standards driven operating systems you can purchase. From MPEG 4 support in Quicktime to full TCP/IP support for networking and WiFi protocols for wireless access. (Apple was actually the first OS vendor to bundle TCP/IP support into a commercial operating system).

Apple systems can be a seamless fit for many organizations. Time to get over the myths and take a closer look.

20 responses to “The Myths of Apple and Business Users

  1. I’m not sure that you’re right about there being no “Apple tax” these days, for two reasons.

    The first is that comparisons tend to be made between Apple and Windows models immediately after the launch of new Macs. At this point, Apple is always price-competitive – usually to within 10%. Sometimes, it’s even actually cheaper to buy an equivalent-spec Mac than a Dell, Lenovo or HP.

    Fast forward a few months, though, and the price differential changes. The ceaseless competition in the Windows market drives the price down, while the price of Apple hardware stays the same. This process continues, until just before Apple launches new hardware – at which point, the differential is much wider.

    The next time Apple launches a new pro laptop, I’m going to actually track this (probably using Dell as an example). My educated guess is that the differential just prior to the launch of a new Mac will be between 20-30%: which, on a pro machine, is a lot of money.

    The second, and possibly more compelling point is one that I ran into when I last bought a laptop: the limitations of Apple’s product range. Apple’s range hits very tight marketing sweet-spots – but if you’re outside those sweet-spots, buying a Mac can be a very expensive option.

    In my case, for example, I needed a machine with a 15in screen (13in is too cramped to use every day) and plenty of storage. The only Apple option was, therefore, a MacBook Pro – which meant spending at least £1600. However, for my uses, a MacBook Pro was just overkill: I simply don’t need two graphics cards for the level of work I do. The most taxing thing my machine has to do is occasional image editing, a bit of video, and World of Warcraft :)

    With Dell, on the other hand, I could get a machine which met all my needs for half the price – £850, with more storage and memory and a more than adequate processor. Of course, it’s not as powerful – but for my needs, it’s a perfect fit.

    For me, the “Apple tax” was huge – not because a Dell with *identical* specs wouldn’t have cost almost as much as the Mac, but because to buy a Mac which met my needs would have cost me twice as much. I would have had to buy a machine which was capable of a lot more than I will ever do with it.

  2. @Ian,

    Two comments:

    1) You are in the UK, I gather, where there actually is an Apple tax. Not by Apple, but by you’re government. I’m not sure what exactly (tax, customs?), but over here in the US the Apple tax is pretty much non-existent.

    2) You’re whole practical anecdote is based on a “13 in is just too cramped” premise. Have you actually used a 13″ MacBook? I’m typing this on one, and it does not feel cramped at all and perfectly everyday capable — unless I run Windows. Mac OS X handles screen real estate much better than Windows.

  3. Ian Betteridge is missing the point and not understanding the concept of the “Apple Tax.” A concept created by Microsoft PR people to propogate the myth that Macs are more expensive.

    Ian is saying that a 15in screen MacBook is too expensive for his minimal needs and a “good enough” Dell with a 15in screen with less power and features is better for him. That is consumer choice, but not an issue of the fake and so called Apple Tax.

    And Ian is saying that Dell, HP and Lenovo computers will continue to drop in price as new models are announced while Apple Inc. computers stay consistent in price. Steve Jobs addressed this by saying that Apple Inc. doesn’t know how to make a cheap computer. The Dell’s of the world try to make a profit by selling a lot of cheap computers, while Apple Inc. chooses to make a profit by selling fewer full featured computers. If you look at what Dell is worth today and what Apple Inc. is worth today, you will see that Apple Inc. has made the right choice.

    If you read the news today you will also see that Dell and others who sell cheap computers are being adversely affected by the temporary interest in Netbooks. This won’t affect Apple Inc. and this should make Apple Inc.’s shareholders very happy.

    In conclusion, Ian’s comments are the reason why this myth continues. People are buying into Microsfot’s PR spin, not the truth.

  4. In response to Ian Betteridge:

    Or maybe you aren’t doing more because you haven’t bought computers that could do more, which seems to be the case for most people. They simple accept that what their computer or computer OS can’t do is unnecessary or uninteresting. It’s like the iPhone. Before it came along, no one thought they would ever want to surf the web from their phone or need photo software in their pocket or want to find a restaurant with the phone or ….. They just wanted a phone.

  5. You forgot to mention that intel Macs can run windows… either as the main OS.. or virtually. As a result, Macs can actually run more software than any other hardware company because it runs every major operating system (Linux, Unix, Windows, Mac OS).

  6. I have to agree with Ian on the “Apple tax” for a very similar reason. When I needed a laptop last year (enough power & graphics to run some basic trading software, but no video editing or anything so power hungry), I could have bought a MacBook for over $1,000 at least, or I could get the $600 HP (albeit with rebates) that I did. It was not a very difficult choice.

    I appreciate that Apple has peripherals that “just work”, but if I’m not mistaken, they are overpriced (nee have an “Apple tax”) too. I guess where I’m going with this is that the cost of ownership for an Apple is luxuriously higher. By that I mean, if money were no object, sure, I might not think twice about getting an Apple. Of course, I live in the real world and this horrific economy, which means no Apple for me.

  7. For some reason, people seem to forget that there is something called Total Cost of Ownership. When you add up all the costs associated with owning a personal computer, Apple’s products are cheaper than other Wintel Computers of the same quality. Apple’s products have a longer useful life and don’t become obsolete in a very short time!!!

  8. Apple products may seem overpriced compared to the other companies’ offerings, but they are very well made and are a pleasure to use most of the time. Because of this, I will gladly spend a little more money on them rather than waste it on cheaper products that invariably failed to meet my satisfaction.

  9. PCs and mobile phones have often been valued mostly on their specification lists. This habit has become very ingrained in the market but it is one of Apple’s strengths that they have seen beyond gadgets as just boxes of bits. If you imagine what return on investment means for a consumer, not just financially but in terms of your time well spent, feelings of frustration, being encouraged to do new things, Steve Jobs has understood this very well. Also all organisations look at the total cost of ownership. Users of Apple’s previous OS (Tiger) generally saw a speed increase when moving to leopard, and i look forward to my new unibody macbook speeding up when I move to Snow leopard. The rock solid case and build-quality, ever faster OS, stable non-rotting system and ease of backup and restore all give a Mac a much longer lifetime and i expect to handover my macbook to my Mom after four years of good use.

  10. @George

    Actually, don’t discount the power of good materials. You may be able to buy a similarly powered laptop to the MacBook but what you won’t get is: a uni-body aluminum enclosure and a slick bright glass and glossy screen. Plus they use first tier parts that other manufacturers reserve for ‘premium’ models.

    Digging around a manufacturers website for UL specs and material data sheets is though, and even sometimes impossible, but they will provide them if you ask; and they do prove the point that Apple uses better parts in general for things like: hard disks, LCD screens, transformers, cabling, etc…

    That aluminum, glass, and better materials in general obviously cost more; and I challenge you to find a more solid notebook of that size, weight, and beauty from the Windows camp.

  11. Ian and George- you’re missing the idea.

    The Apple tax is the idea that Macs, specced to be the same as an HP or Dell, will cost more. That is false. Ian’s observation that prices drop more rapidly in the non-Apple world is accurate, but that is an entirely different notion. Apple, having no competition in the Mac market, doesn’t have as much downward pressure on prices. Fair enough.

    But, as stated, when a new Mac is released it is on a par price-wise with Windows-based offerings, even cheaper by a bit.

    So, no, Apple does not compete in every market segment. So when you go looking for a laptop with a 15 inch display with modest horsepower, no, Apple has nothing for you in that segment,

    That is nothing like an “Apple tax”.

  12. George Armsgtrong spreads FUD.

    Macs use the same peripherals as other computers. Same monitors, printers, mice, USB thumb drives, etc. Where is the “Apple Tax” there?

    When you try to give away your cheapo HP laptop in a few years, you may not find a taker. Meanwhile, your used Mac laptop will still be worth hundreds of dollars.

    Enjoy your HP.

  13. My small business enjoys an Apple Discount: I save time with a new machine and avoid the Microsoft Tax of Windows Update(s) and deleting unneeded software when I set up. That same Apple Discount has kicked in over and over again with plug and play networking; where the Microsoft Tax always eaten up the clock. My Apple Discount, currently & using GAAP, saves me time and money from the futz and worry of buying and maintaining AV. Macintosh may love me for my money, but Windows is always there for my time.

    As my work requires them, the machine’s non-shovelware, built-in content creation apps also get an Apple Discount; they’re a low $80/yr upgrade. The same Discount for integrated cloud services–admittedly without QoS, but with smart shopping–is a reasonable $70/yr. I’ve yet to find a peripheral I’ve had to spend more for because it was plugged into a Mac. Another personal dividend of the Apple Discount is the oasis of order and cleanliness OSX and its hardware lend to my wildly messy office (Esther Dyson’s got nuthin’ on me).

    Of course there’s some 3rd party stuff I have to shell out more for, including access to the dwindling number of web sites that force Windows+IE. But the Apple Discount still accrues because my Microsoft Tax (stagnation & corruption: paid) copy of XP is just a partition away.

  14. Elgarak: ““13 in is just too cramped” premise. Have you actually used a 13″ MacBook?”

    Yes. Next question? You seem to have missed the entire point of what I posted, which is that fundamentally what is right for me for me is not necessarily good for you. That, after all, is consumer choice. Apple’s one (or rather, two) sizes fits all approach is not the be-all and end-all of market choices.

    @Jay: “Ian is saying that a 15in screen MacBook is too expensive for his minimal needs and a “good enough” Dell with a 15in screen with less power and features is better for him. That is consumer choice, but not an issue of the fake and so called Apple Tax.”

    My needs aren’t minimal. I don’t need a £300 machine which is only suitable for word processing (although if I did, Apple wouldn’t make that either). I need a machine which has a good, high-quality screen, good performance. What I don’t need is a machine which delivers high-end video editing performance – which is what the MBP delivers. There is a *huge* space between between the MB and the MBP.

    @DavidO: “Or maybe you aren’t doing more because you haven’t bought computers that could do more”

    I bought a first-gen MBP on the first day they came out. I’ve used Macs since 1986. I’m fully aware of what “computers that can do more” can do.

    “Before it came along, no one thought they would ever want to surf the web from their phone or need photo software in their pocket or want to find a restaurant with the phone or…”

    Oh, *please*. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. You do know that, for instance, BlackBerry had Google Maps and GPS before the iPhone even existed?

  15. Ian, if it’s the same Ian, was editor of Mac User in the UK, so he knows of what he speaks.

    Currently, Macs are cheaper in the UK than in the US. Prices on the store include VAT. Prices on the US store do not include sales tax.

    Take off 15% and convert from £ to $. The £719 MacBook is $889. With VAT, It’s $1022.

    I don’t think there’s any point trying to kid ourselves that there’s anything like parity. Apple’s pricing is utterly different to the rest of the market.

    The rest of the market, due to volume, sells 13″ laptops at a premium. 15″ is cheap. 17″ isn’t much more.

    Apple basically aligns laptop price with display size, but adds a premium if it can too. The Air, for example, sells at a premium over the MacBook simply because Apple gets away with it. It has the same manufacturing process, and any additonal costs in components (smaller processor form, hard drive etc) will be made up by the lack of other components (RAM sockets, plethora of ports, optical drive).

    There’s no reason to charge more for the Air other than there are enough people willing to pay the premium.

    Ian’s taken a long hard look at his use and decided to switch away from the Mac. I have too, and decided to stay. If all I did were the things Ian does, I’d might switch away on my next purchase too.

    It’s not a tax, but it is a premium, and when we pay it, we decide it’s worth it. We make choice. Ian’s just made a choice too.

  16. In relation to the so called “Apple Tax”, and Ian’s comments, firstly, if you track the price of Apple equipment, over the course of an item’s life between refreshes, there will usually be a price drop or two. You also need to compare like to like. Do that and you’ll find that Macs are great value compared to the competition.
    Secondly, Apple doesn’t sell rubbish, which is why they have no product to ‘compete’ with computers from the lowest of low priced brackets made by tier one manufacturers such as Levano, HP, Dell, etc. Apple does not make junk, that isn’t who they are. Apple gear is also so long lasting, I don’t think inbuilt obsolescence is in their vocabulary. And don’t forget that each new Mac OS gets FASTER on the same hardware, the absolute opposite to Microsoft’s OS efforts.

    Sure you can get a laptop for about $600, but what are you really getting? Those PCs can’t run OS X so you’re already missing out on the best operating system available plus all the amazing software that is Mac only or best on Mac (such as Adobe design suite and, ironically, MS Office). Those cheap PCs are also so under-powered that you will unlikely be able to run the Vista Aero UI and no doubt will need to upgrade the memory and storage. So with installation, there’s another $400 to make it somewhat usable. And how do they get these low, low prices? By cutting corners. By using cheap materials and no-name components.
    You get what you pay for and I’d rather pay for quality.

  17. The question is value. For some a cheaper PC is a better value. For others it’s a Mac. Most people don’t consider the Total Cost of Ownership, they just look at the up front costs.
    For many, the Mac turns out to be cheaper over its lifetime. For me the value of the included software, the higher resale value, the less hassle of maintaining the Mac OS, the savings of not using AV software and other factors that are harder to quantify add up to a cheaper system.
    Others have different needs, their time maybe less valuable to them,
    and other factors make a PC a better value.
    Do your homework before you consider the “cost” of a new computer.

  18. One aspect the blog omits is Apple’s server licensing policy: this is all about desktops and laptops, but a commercial organisation would surely want to look at server as well. I’m not competent to do the comparisons, but if I recall Apple offers site rather than seat licenses, which could be a major cost saver.

  19. “You also need to compare like to like.”

    No you don’t. For generalisations, maybe, but for a real purchase, you need to compare what you need with what it costs. The PC that met his needs was nearly twice the cost og the Mac that met his needs.

    Personally, I’d have compromised on the screen size purely to get a decent trackpad, (before even mentioning the OS), but that’s me.

  20. “Most IT departments are not deploying Macintosh systems in large numbers and those that are are deploying are usually in niche spaces such as graphic arts, multimedia and publishing.”

    This is also a myth. Mac laptops are widely used in business because employees want a system that “just works” so they can get their work done.

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