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Low end theory: Apple could do better to price its products more evenly

John Moltz | Oct. 23, 2014
Apple's lineups are plagued with low-end models that just aren't worth the money.

Storage isn't the only uneven price-for-feature ratio in the iPad line. The base iPad mini will run iOS 8, but with an A5 chip and 512MB of RAM, it doesn't run it very well. The next model, the iPad mini 2, has an A7 chip, 1GB of RAM and a Retina display for just $50 more. The difference between the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3--Touch ID and an additional color option--is not nearly as significant, but it'll cost you $100.

Pushing you up
Are you sensing a pattern here? Because I am. That's my mutant ability: sensing patterns that I'm deliberately trying to point out. In most of Apple's lineups, the difference between the low-end model and midrange model is huge while the difference between the midrange and the top end is much smaller. When it was just the iMac I shrugged. Not literally, of course. I mean, I've been working from from home for a few years now and I already talk to myself. If I start shrugging what's next? Interpretive dance? That's going to look weird through my office window.

But now that it's almost all of Apple's lineup it's starting to look... unseemly. I'm not completely naïve, I do understand that Apple's looking to make a profit here and, hey, that's what capitalism is all about.

But does it seem right that Apple--this is Apple we're talking about, remember--is selling devices you wouldn't recommend? Because these are not great machines. They might do fine with next year's software update but, then, they might not. These devices are only an viable option in very limited circumstances. And that's not Apple's usual modus operandi. Apple makes premium devices that appeal to the largest portion of the market possible and gives you software updates for free. What good is a free software update if it ruins your user experience?

The problem is not so much that the low-end devices are underpowered. If Apple wanted to offer very cheap low-end machines, that would be fine. The problem is the huge gap between the low-end and the midrange. This seems like a gimmick to me, a trick designed to allow Apple to tout a low entry-level price and then drive everyone to buy the midrange device.

There are some outliers. The iPad mini 3 is the one device at the top of a lineup that doesn't seem worth the money. Meanwhile, the low-end MacBook Air is a terrific value. Across the entire set of product lineups there is plenty of value, but it's almost all at the middle and high end of each product line.

Tim Cook has said, "Our North Star is always on making the best products." In general, I think Apple does. Personally, I'd rather have even these half-hearted low-end products than those of their competitors because of Apple's focus on hardware and software integration and its superior ecosystem.

But are these low-end offerings the best products Apple could offer at these price points? I don't think so.


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