competition and pricing: Laptop PC’s

The one element that I enjoy most about Apple computers is the simplicity. Their laptops are thin, smooth, fully integrated. You can have them in white, gray, black and you can count the number of different models on one hand.

This is how they manufacture computers:

Machines meeting the MacBook Air’s specification can be built cheaply enough; Apple’s managing it, and Intel’s price estimates probably aren’t too far off. But they require a different approach to PC building. For example, Apple’s laptops use custom-sized lithium polymer batteries. These allow Apple to make the battery exactly fit the space available, maximizing battery life and minimizing space, but there’s a downside of sorts: Apple can’t use standard battery modules. Similarly, the MacBook Air uses a highly integrated motherboard, with almost all functionality built-in. This makes the board smaller and cheaper to produce, but it means Apple doesn’t offer a wide range of processors, GPUs, WiFi adaptors, etc.

Yes, there are downsides – but the upside is simplicity, and simplicity is selling. Apple is doing very well with their laptops. So well, in fact, that the competition is being forced to reinvent their own wheels. Intel is now creating a $300 million investment project that will help to fund other PC makers [1]. The competition is falling away and it may be due to their complexity:

Consider Lenovo. Lenovo offers a range of different Wi-Fi adaptors in many of its systems. Instead of designing several different motherboards, each with a different integrated adaptor, it puts the adaptors themselves onto daughtercards and plugs them into a socket on the motherboard. The upside is that Lenovo can offer a lot of diversity, and the daughter cards can be standard Mini-PCIe components that anyone can use. The downside is that Lenovo has boards that are less integrated—hence larger—with more components and more complex manufacturing. Lenovo also has to buy smaller numbers of more adaptors than it would if it just picked one version and standardized. It also means that people buying Lenovo systems have to make dumb choices on the website.

The two quotes above are taken from this article on Ars Technica. The authors covers his experience in trying to find an alternative to the MacBook Air. Entirely, this piece begs the question: Why are there so many choices?

As I stated above, I like simplicity. Yet, it seems as if this is naturally opposed to choice. The daunting amount of computer models is enough to make anyone’s head spin. I hate to see it come at the price of making websites that are easy to use and technically capable.

Creating twenty models where the user is forced to move up and down the scale with each hard drive, RAM type, USB component, WiFi adaptor, and screen resolution is not efficient. At the very least, it is confusing. Why not have five models, instead? Mild to Moderate to High Performance. Build every computer well. Upgrade every component at each level.

A narrowed range of choices allows for easily navigable websites which, in turn, keeps customers happy and more willing to spend time shopping. Make my life easy and I will be back to purchase. Make my life hard and I might have to catch the MacBook wagon.

[1] http://arstechnica.com/hardware/news/2011/09/ultrabook-intels-300-million-plan-to-beat-apple-at-its-own-game.ars/1

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1 comment
  1. jskitter said:

    Using Apple’s model, there are no unknowns, there is no thinking, there is no uncertainty. It is a yes or no question. If one WiFi card is as good as another, why should you need to distinguish between them? In the PC market, cost and marketing and branding come into play. Differences in features, interface, compatibility, components and materials require increasing levels of prior knowledge to make an informed decision. Rather than fewer choices, I’d like to see better information, and informed opinions on what matters. Apple can simply claim their specification is the best possible. Is any manufacturer a big enough gorilla to give meaningful, rather than profit-driven reviews of hardware?

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