A 17-in. PC may cost a lot less than a 17-in. Mac. But you get less, too, including security, multimedia tools, and, some say, satisfaction
I'm a sucker for a well-made TV ad.
by the Nike (NKE) "Just Do It" and "Air Jordan" campaigns of decades
past, I mentally mapped out storyboards of the spots I wanted to
produce. Nowadays I laugh at clever beer and soda commercials and get
mad or pump my fist in the air along with political ads.
cheered for Apple's (AAPL) 1997 "Think Different" spot that featured
actor Richard Dreyfuss reading the "Here's to the Crazy Ones" speech.
The commercial resonated in a house full of Mac users at a time when
Macs were widely considered an endangered species. Apple's more recent
"Mac vs. PC" ads lampooning Microsoft (MSFT) strike a different chord:
Macs are friendly, cool, easy to use, and they don't have the kinds of
problems usually associated with Microsoft's Windows operating system;
PC, portrayed by the hilarious John Hodgman, comes across as
ridiculous—not unlike the real-world, buggy Windows Vista.
Microsoft is fighting back with its own advertising campaign. I've
enjoyed some of its elements. The Seinfeld spots were weird. I was
intrigued by some of the "I'm a PC" spots that aired last fall,
depicting PC users engaged in a variety of jobs—teaching law, protecting
endangered species, blogging for Barack Obama. The message: You can use
a Windows PC and still do cool and interesting things. Not bad. Then
came the adorable little girls: Kylie, age 4, and Alexa, age 7,
e-mailing pictures of fish and stitching together pictures of a fort
into one. Microsoft, it seemed, had finally found its advertising voice.
came Lauren, the perky, red-haired twentysomething meant to represent
an average American shopping for a computer. She wants a notebook with a
17-in. screen, and if she finds it for less than $1,000, she can keep
it. Following her as she shops, we learn she considers the Mac too
expensive—that she's not "cool enough to be a Mac person," she whines.
From the Apple store, it's off to Best Buy (BBY), where she finds a PC
that meets her specifications for $699. Mission accomplished, she jumps
up and down clapping as though she won on The Price Is Right, ending the
spot by saying "I'm a PC, and I got just what I wanted." Aaaand Cut!
The Price Weapon
used earlier ads to defend itself suitably against Apple's nerdiness
allegations. Now Microsoft is on the advertising offensive, wielding
price as a weapon of choice. It's an effective approach during a
recession. But as is always the case with advertising, the full story is
Yes, $699 beats the $2,800 you'd pay
for a Mac with a 17-in. screen. But when it comes to PCs, there's still a
great deal more to buy.
First, there's security software.
The PC in question comes with a 60-day trial Norton Internet Security
2009 from Symantec (SYMC). After the trial runs out you'll pay Symantec
$50 a year to protect your PC (and up to two others in your home) from
all the nasty viruses, worms, and other malware lurking on the Internet.
That's $150 over the three years Lauren is likely to hold on to her PC.
No need for antivirus on the Mac.
Next, let's say
something goes wrong on the computer once the warranty expires and that
it requires the intervention of a third party. Geek Squad will charge
you $129 just for a diagnosis. A diagnosis from the Genius Bar in
Apple's retail stores? Free.
Then there's iLife, the
suite of multimedia tools that comes standard on the Mac. With iLife
you can organize photos and home movies and turn them into watchable
DVDs. Garageband helps you create your own music and another iLife
element aids in Web site creation.
Extras Cost Extra
hard to replicate that bundle if you're a Windows user. The
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) machine in Lauren's case does ship with discs for
Muvee Reveal, a video-editing program that usually costs $80, and
CyberLink DVD Suite, which runs $104. But if she wants Adobe's (ADBE)
Photoshop Elements, including a membership in Photoshop.com Plus, she'll
need to shell out about $140. Sonic Solutions' (SNIC) Roxio Creator
2009, which combines video-editing and DVD-creating tools, will cost
another $100. And the closest equivalent to Garageband on Windows is
Cubase Sequel and it goes for another $100.
Add it all up and it's not hard to imagine Lauren's $699 computer costing something closer to $1,500.
that doesn't include harder-to-quantify shortcomings. The HP's battery
lasts only 2.5 hours on a charge, compared with eight hours for the
17-in. MacBook Pro, which also happens to be 1.2 lb. lighter and boasts
substantially better screen resolution: 1,920 pixels wide by 1,200 high,
vs. 1,440 by 900 for the HP.
Even if Lauren doesn't
care about pixels and multimedia software, her machine still doesn't
measure up when it comes to overall consumer satisfaction. No less an
authority than Consumer Reports rated Lauren's computer fourth in a
class of six with 17- to 18-in. displays. The MacBook Pro was tops,
despite its higher price.
PC Makers Should Focus More on Quality
silent on such things, Apple did give me a comment on the Microsoft
ads. "A PC is no bargain when it doesn't do what you want," Apple
spokesman Bill Evans says. "The one thing that both Apple and Microsoft
can agree on is that everyone thinks the Mac is cool. With its great
designs and advanced software, nothing matches it at any price."
Microsoft declined to comment.
Microsoft and its
hardware partners wouldn't have to make this case had they focused less
in the past decade on driving prices down and more on quality. Forrester
Research (FORR) recently released results of a study of consumer
experiences with computer companies, assessing their view of a machine's
usefulness, usability, and enjoyability. Apple ran the table in all
three categories, well ahead of Gateway (now a unit of Acer), HP, and
PC makers in the Windows camp have done
everything possible to make their products progressively worse by
cutting corners to save pennies per unit and boost sales volume. There's
good reason Apple is seeing healthy profits while grabbing market
share. It refuses to budge on quality and so charges a higher price.
Rather than running ads that seem clever at first but really aren't, the
Windows guys ought to take the hint and just build better computers.