The Apple Tax

posted by on 17th November 2009, at 10:13pm

The idea of an Apple Tax is expressed in many ways from the traditional “z0mg!! MacBook costs $300 more than HP!!1!1!!” to cost analyses of the components going into each machine. The Apple Tax is often seen as an arbitrary price increase on hardware bought from Apple. The tax rate has fluctuated over recent years overall and on a product to product basis. Apple’s customers primarily don’t worry about the tax because they’ve either used Macs for all their life or feel that the tax is justifiable. This article will attempt to lay out the present U.S. Apple Tax and outline what this tax pays for. I will attempt to offer arguments from both sides, however, at the end of the day it is your money that you are spending.

I’ve decided to do the tax analysis on two comparable models offered from Apple and Dell. I’ve decided to go with two 13″ notebooks as most people prefer to have them due to space constraints or mobility needs. The two machines are Apple’s mid-range 13″ MacBook Pro and Dell’s 13″ Studio XPS. The MacBook Pro is stock configuration, meaning no changes made. The Dell Studio XPS 13 had its processor upgraded to the 2.53GHz model, memory was upgraded to 4GB, and the screen upgraded to a LED backlit version. It’s also worth noting that the Dell screen is likely a 16:9 version with a 1280×720 resolution instead of 1280×800 (I do expect Apple to shift their notebooks to 16:9 this January.) There is one feature I was not able to fully equalize, that is the hard drive. The Dell ships with a 250GB 7200RPM drive while Apple ships a 250GB 5400RPM drive. This will make a marginal difference in load times of the OS and software.

Here is a full breakdown of the systems:
Apple MacBook Pro 13″

  • 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo
  • 4GB DDR3 1066MHz Memory
  • 250GB SATA Hard Drive (5400RPM)
  • GeForce 9400M with 256MB memory
  • 8x “SuperDrive”
  • 90 days complimentary Apple care with 1 year hardware warranty

Dell Studio XPS 13

  • 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo
  • 4GB DDR3 1066MHz Memory
  • 250GB SATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
  • GeForce 9400M with 256MB memory
  • 8x CD/DVD Burner
  • 1 year hardware warranty

It’s time to reveal what everyone’s been waiting for, the price. Apple’s MacBook Pro 13″ sells for $1,499 while the Dell listed here sells for $1,234. The difference of $265 we will call the Apple Tax on the 13″ MacBook Pro. $265 is not that bad, the only reason I say this is that the tax has been worse in the past.

With the extra $265 it’s only natural that we look at what the MacBook Pro offers over the Dell. First and foremost what has come up in the majority of conversations I’ve had with other mac users is that they chose to buy their computer because of the operating system. Other reasons range from using Macs for a long time in school or not, the user wants an easy to use operating system with a relatively smaller risk of malware, or there is some piece of software that must be used (Final Cut or iLife software.) My reason for sticking with OS X in this era of Windows 7 is that it provides an easy cost effective way to record RSBANDBUpdate! and it is a Unix based operating system which makes various web/software development tasks easier.

When you buy the MacBook Pro you get OS X which as stated is one of the main reasons people I’ve talked to have moved to the platform. You also get the iLife suite which is superb, there is no free alternative on Windows that comes close to iLife. There are also lots of nice features built into OS X that make life easier such as quick look and built in PDF viewing. With this comes the Unix aspect of OS X which makes it appealing to developers as it’s the most user friendly Unix based operating system. With the MacBook Pro you also get the elegance of both OS X and the hardware, while some people care about this, it is secondary to me. This also pays for the build quality of the enclosure. The reason enclosure is mentioned that once all the dust settles a MacBook Pro is made up of ordinary parts which are still subject to failure, specifically the debacle of the 2007 MacBook Pros and their faulty NVIDIA graphics. Finally, it can be argued that you pay for the experience you get at the Apple store when you go to check out one of their products. Overall the Apple Tax pays for the operating system, software, engineering, and user experience. Whether this is something you want to pay for is up to you in the end as the consumer.

Apple’s prices abroad are significantly higher than they are in the U.S.. Most Apple price outside of the U.S. correlate to the exchange rate of your respective country. This means that if your dollar moves closer to that of the U.S. Apple prices will decrease. An extreme case can be seen in New Zealand where the same MacBook Pro profiled above starts at $2599 NZD. Using present day conversions ($1 USD = $1.34 NZD) this equates to $1934.70 USD. This will also weigh into your decision about what to buy if you don’t live in the U.S., the same happens here in Canada except it’s much less noticable.

At the end of the day it comes down to personal preference and your financial situation. If you are interested in having a computer that will require very little maintenance and has a great multimedia suite you should probably go with the MacBook. If you feel confident in your abilities to maintain a Windows computer and you don’t need an easy to use editing suite, the Dell XPS will work nicely. Or if you don’t want to pay the Apple Tax, just go with the Dell XPS. On a final note, both machines are equally powerful and can be tailored to any individual needs that exist. If you have any questions or suggestions for future articles, send me a PM on the forums.

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  • Shwan Says:
    2nd December 2009, at 12:13pm

    I have many reasons why i would choose windows over apple that i may get into later. the main reason being that i can’t play games on a mac! paying extra and not getting that ability i just cant justify. When i was using Vista the Mac was a bit more attractive because of the OS but now that windows 7 is out i have no problems with my windows machine. As for the viruses as long as you keep win7 up to date do a scan once a week and just not be an idiot on the internet you will never run into any problems. however i would rather my aunt have a Mac as she is less tech inclined and always calls me to get rid of her viruses 🙁

  • Aquw 776 Says:
    8th December 2009, at 5:22pm

    The two major common topics when conducting a Mac-PC debate are build quality and OS. Since all Macs are made by Apple and PCs are produced by any number of companies, the argument that Mac is a better quality product (from a hardware point of view) is totally void.

    That leaves just software. I guess in the end, your decision to get Mac OS over Windows is a matter of preference. But it’s not just the OS to bear in mind. There are considerably more programs that run on Windows that Mac, and this choice of software is a deal-breaker for a lot of people. As Shwan said- Windows is better for gaming that Macs.

    Personally, I’m a PC guy. As far as I can see, you either have to have very specific requirements from your computer, or really love the OS to go Mac and be able to justify what can often be a considerable amount of money more than the PC equivalent.

  • Deeje Says:
    10th December 2009, at 6:00pm

    I guess I’d have to say a PC and a Mac are two different machines. Well, that’s obvious, but what I mean is that they both have different purposes for me. For instance, I’d use a PC for gaming (Crysis>Mac Chess) and browsing the web (Firefox>Opera). But for web design, graphic art and music production, I’d much rather use a Mac.

    So (PC=Mac) in my opinion.