For a long time, I’ve counted myself among the crew of online Apple defenders: people that feel the need to explain Apple’s ethos and decision-making process to strangers online. A lot of people are offended by what can be seen as aloofness, arrogance or obsession with details, and a variety of Apple apologists frequently rise to the occasion and attempt to explain how the company they love isn’t actually a terrible thing.
I still believe Apple is not a terrible thing. They make some of the best tech products out there. But it’s getting very difficult to explain certain aspects of their business strategy. The Mac line is kind of a mess. They’ve only just recently woken up to the state of their high-end hardware, which is only now getting rectified. But one of Apple’s decisions is absolutely impossible to apologize for: Apple accessory prices.
Apple’s prices are high and always have been. But when you buy an iPhone or MacBook Pro, you’re paying for quality in build and design. When you buy a USB-C cable from Apple, you are getting nothing worth more than the $15 the cable might cost online. It’s a commodity, and product differentiation are basically reliability and insulation design.
The Days of MagSafe Yore
For a case in point, we can consider their MacBook Pro power adapters. The story of the adapter is a microcosm of many of Apple’s poor and confusing decisions in relation to accessory pricing and design.
Apple’s MagSafe chargers were pretty good. The magnetic design alone was brilliant. Surely it saved countless devices from trip-based destruction. It was easy to attach and detach, offering the perfect amount of magnetic action. The “ears” that popped up to wrap the cable were super valuable, provided you didn’t wrap the cable too tightly.
The one major downside was the extension cable. It retained its packaged shape for ages and ages. It was a weird combination of too flexible and completely inflexible, meaning you needed velcro to wrap it effectively. And, on older chargers, the pop-out plug had a tendency to collapse when trying to plug in the charger. But as a whole package, MagSafe chargers were excellent examples of using design to make the customer’s life a tiny bit better.
The USB-C Charger
The new MacBook Pro chargers are a wreck. First, no more MagSafe. It’s possible to explain why they made this decision. Given that they needed the longer USB-C connector for power, using MagSafe probably wasn’t possible anymore. But using USB-C for everything was a choice Apple had complete control over, and we won’t argue the merits of that decision here.
Second, the lack of ears. Wrapping any portion of the cable at all requires a velcro wrapper: a distinct downgrade. The cable is also inflexible and annoyingly heavyweight, though again that might be a design limitation.
The worst part, however, is pricing for extra chargers. It costs $79 to buy an extra charger. That’s high, but in line with old Magsafe prices and with prices other laptop manufacturers charge. But that $79 only gets you the power brick. It does not come with the USB-C cable required to connect the power brick to your computer. That costs another $20 from Apple, bumping the price for an actually functional charger up to $110. Best of all, there’s no warning about this situation: you only find out when you open the box and discover you have to return to the store.
This is unbelievable, indefensible and outrageously short-sighted. Is the point to drive up the prices of accessories while keeping the “charger” price the same across generations? It’s virtually guaranteed to cause a negative customer experience. And Apple has always wanted to provide excellent customer experiences. It might seem like a small thing, but its an outrageously bad decision on what seems like such an obviously easy decision. Include all the pieces in the box! Charge more if you, for some reason, absolutely have to. But don’t do this disingenious jigsaw product construction. It is not a game that any customer would enjoy playing.
The Chaos of Acccessories
This is especially bad when you consider that Apple has recently exponentially increased the requirement for accessories. The new MacBook Pros demand dongles. A USB-C only ecosystem doesn’t exist to support the laptop yet. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t buy good USB-C accessories. So you’re stuck converting. And products that convert connection standards absolutely suck. You can get ten and have five work properly a year later.
Apple sells the premium end of that line, of course. This might mean higher reliability, but it’s hard to tell what the results are. Even if they never break, the prices are exaggerated. A single dongle will run you $20 to $70. Most folks need more than one. A copy with roughly the same performance characteristics is likely available on Amazon for one-half to one-quarter the price. Simple USB converters can be had for a couple bucks.
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