Law Office Technology–Value Propositions Pt. 1

Image sourced from Housing Works Thrift Shops' Flickr stream, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
Image sourced from Housing Works Thrift Shops’ Flickr stream, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

The Apple event yesterday got me thinking–again–about the Apple tax.  “Apple tax” is shorthand for “Apple products are overpriced.” Apart from the Watch Edition (starting at $10,000, and topping out at $17,000 depending on the size of the watch and the band you choose), and the stainless steel Watch (starting at $549 and going up to $1099, depending on size and choice of band), though, Apple products are generally no longer the obscenely overpriced machines they once were.  Current pricing strategies for Apple tend to have some rationale, and tend to be in the BMW / Mercedes category of goods. Yes, they’re more expensive than less capable competitors, but the components and build quality tend to “justify” the cost. (The same cannot be said about the Watch, which–apart from the Sport version–is a pure money play; there is no component-based justification for the pricing other than “Here is a luxury good that you will pay a lot more money for than it is worth; if you don’t like it, it is not for you.” And that’s okay. Maseratis cost upwards of $100,000 not because the raw materials that go into them cost that much, but because they are Maseratis.)

For example, while you can get an HP Stream 13″ laptop from the Microsoft store for $229 (the 11″ starts at $199), you are doing so at a substantial compromise: you get an Intel Celeron N2840 CPU (which is about equal to the Atom-based chips found in tablets like the Dell Venue 8 Pro–not great, not horrendous), only 2 GB of memory, and a measly 32 GB eMMC hard drive. The 13.3″ screen’s resolution is 1366 x 768, and there is no optical drive. It weighs 3.3 pounds or so, and it gets favorable reviews based on its anticipated use-case: its an email and Facebook machine, with some light word processing, perhaps. If you don’t expect much else, it’s fine.  It isn’t a workhorse, and it doesn’t try to be one.

By comparison, the lest expensive Mac portable is the MacBook Air, which starts at $899. At that price, you get an 11″ screen and for $100 more, you get a 13″ screen.  It also starts with a fifth-generation Core i5 chip, 4 GB of memory, 128 GB of PCIe-based flash storage, and better resolution. There is likewise no optical drive, and it weighs a few ounces less. It also gets very good reviews for its anticipated use-case: namely an ultraportable real productivity machine, albeit one that is a little cramped. You can easily edit photos and short videos on the thing and it won’t take you nearly as long to do so as it would with the Stream.

At first blush, it looks like there is an Apple tax, since the comparably-sized computers are nearly $800 apart in price.  When you compare directly competitive machines, however, the story changes. And that will be addressed in the next post.