Apple: The Myth of Too Expensive

[Updated July 31, 2015]

I often have friends approach me asking for purchasing advice for consumer tech products like computers, TVs and home theater gear, and home automation gadgets. I try to be as objective as possible. But my advice often involves recommending an Apple product.

Typically, the first response I get is “But Apple stuff is so expensive.” I’m not claiming this is a wholly undeserved reputation on the part of Apple. But one doesn’t get a Porsche for the price of a Prius. Better gear costs more. Period.

Proving It

apple tv for blogHowever, the perception that Apple’s products are vastly more expensive than the competition is, for the most part, a myth. In this short blog post, I’ll prove it.

First, let’s take a look at the increasingly crowded market for streaming media set-top boxes. One can choose from Apple TV, three Roku models, Amazon Fire TV, and others. All of which are priced at $69. I’m not going to argue that Apple TV is the best in this category; that’s for you to decide. But it’s certainly as good as the others. One’s particular lifestyle and the entertainment and hardware ecosystem into which they’re vested really determine the best choice.

I probably receive the most proclamations of Apple being too expensive in terms of personal computers. Yes, you can spend thousands on a MacBook Pro with Retina display (optioned out, one of these little beauties sells for more than $3,200) or a Mac Pro (the 6-Core model with dual GPU starts at $4,000). But these models are at the top of their classes—and are probably the best available in their respective categories. They’re extreme examples from Apple’s catalog.

237844-apple-macbook-air-11-inchMacBook Air

A more reasonable consideration is the MacBook Air. Apple’s svelt and most popular thin-and-light notebook computer (it’s barely thicker than the iPad) starts at $900. Apple quality and reliability for under $1,000 is quite a deal. I realize it doesn’t work if your budget tops out at $500 or $600. But remember the value of your time when that discount Dell or HP model croaks and you’re faced with hours invested in tech support, returns, and maybe exchanges. Not to mention lost productivity and sheer frustration. Time is money.

Mac Mini

For desktop computing, there’s the Mac Mini. Beginning at $500, this dependable little PC is the least expensive way to jump into the OS X universe without breaking the bank. At only 7.7 inches across, this cold aluminum square can deftly handle the computing tasks of the vast majority of consumers. Yes, you still have to add your own keyboard, monitor, and mouse or touchpad. However, this can actually save you money by allowing you to use peripherals you already own or less expensive competing models—although I recommend Apple across the board for these items also. (The exception is the monitor, where a much wider variety of non-Apple models can be had for a fraction of the cost.)

iphone5c-gallery2-2013iPhone 5S & 5C

And then there’s the iconic iPhone. I realize everyone wants the latest and greatest in mobile gadgets. But technolust aside, there are some great deals to be had. You can get an arguably superior Apple phone for less than many Android models. For example, take last year’s models, the iPhone 5S and 5C. On a two-year contract (the way the vast majority of consumers in the United States obtain smartphones), the 5S can be had for only $100. And the 5C can be obtained for…wait for it…free.

The next time you hear someone complain about the absurd prices of Apple’s products—and especially if they use it as an excuse for purchasing or recommending inferior products from competing companies—kindly inform them that they can have their Apple and eat it, too.

And, for goodness sake, stop imagining bloated pricing where it doesn’t exist. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my work done on my Mac Mini so I can binge watch Deadwood on HBO NOW this evening using my Apple TV….

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Curt Robbins

[For more of my Apple rants, check out Back to Apple, Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot, and Need a Computer? Think Apple.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

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Need a Computer? Think Apple

A friend recently approached me with a request for help in purchasing a new laptop. She knows that I’m a technical writer and said she wanted the best bang for the buck—and that she wasn’t afraid to pay for quality. Knowing her needs as a grad student and being familiar with her overall lifestyle, I immediately recommended Apple’s Macbook Air (it should be noted that she owns a desktop iMac, of which she’s very fond).

She then admitted that she had her eye on a Levono Yoga. Although I’ve never owned a Lenovo product, I cringed. It wasn’t just because I had no experience with the company or its relatively new schizophrenic laptop-cum-tablet. It’s because she wanted something that wasn’t from Apple. But, lest you think I’m simply a bigoted fanboy, let me explain….

macbook air for blogI’ve owned laptops since 1988, when I got my first grayscale Zenith SupersPORT 286 in college. More important, I’ve experienced nightmares with quite a few brands and models. Topping the junk list are Dell, Toshiba, and HP. I’ve owned desktop and laptop computers from all, many of which experienced serious problems. [Because my blog doesn’t accept advertising revenue, I can actually be honest about these products.]

Forget Toshiba

A certified repair tech confided in me that Toshiba had a known design flaw that resulted in overheating in the particular model I owned—which caused the unit to spontaneously shut down (always nice when I’m in the middle of document or video editing). Instead of fixing the design problem, Toshiba chose to simply replace the motherboard. Twice. Each repair resulted in similar headaches; the problem never really abated.

Forget Dell

After purchasing a top-of-the-line Dell XPS laptop in 2011, I had to spend countless hours fighting the Austin-based company to get two—count ’em, two—replacements (very similar to the Toshiba nightmare). The second replacement’s Blu-ray player died after only a week; the tech who replaced the drive couldn’t get it to work and cited a bad motherboard. Even the second replacement (third overall unit) experienced problems.

Can you say quality in the crapper?

If I wanted to consider myself a good person, I wasn’t going to allow my friend to walk into a similar situation. However, to save a few bucks—and because she was intrigued with the Yoga’s design—she went ahead and got it. I cringed a second time. Oh boy, here we go, I thought.

Sure enough, after only a week or so, she experienced problems with the Yoga and decided to return it. Thankfully, she made this decision within the 30-day return window and didn’t experience any hassles from the reseller.

And with what did she replace it? A MacBook Pro. I smiled and breathed a sign of relief, knowing she would have several years of dedicated service and a great user experience.

Proof in the Pudding

When I was consulting for USAA in San Antonio, I produced a ton of training videos for the company’s IT department (we created nearly 700 in just over three years, in fact). I don’t cite that number for bragging rights; I mention it to reveal the intense dependability and reliability of the two computers I used to do most of that video production: A late-model MacBook Pro and a 27″ iMac.

(BTW, video editing is basically the heaviest lifting your computer can do. It’s the true test of the reliability and power of a PC.)

Prior to the instructional designer/video producer gig at USAA, I had never owned a Mac. Many of my friends had, though—all of whom raved about their precious Apple hardware as if they had drunk a gallon of the Cupertino Kool-Aid. Their zealotous enthusiasm for their Mac computers was almost frightening.

One friend described how her late-model Mac laptop, one of the old white plastic models, had literally not been turned off or rebooted for years. She worked long hours as a nurse and simply closed the lid when she left the house (Apple’s operating systems have always been based on Berkeley UNIX, the most stable, solid OS in the world).

apple logo for blogI now own a Mac Mini. My kids log some serious hours on this machine and give it a strong workout with all the streaming video they watch on YouTube and Netflix. The Mini is rock solid, has been rebooted only a few times in the past two years, and basically never experiences tech glitches. It’s so problem-free, in fact, that my kids pretty much forget it’s even there. The “computer” seems to be the display and mouse. Ah, a computing experience the way it should be: Trouble-free.

Hello MacBook Pro

My laptops, unfortunately, aren’t Apple products. They’re still functional and get the job done, so I can’t justify the purchase of new units yet. But when one of these Dell POS laptops bites the dust (which you know won’t take all that long), I’m headed directly to apple.com or my local Apple Store and picking up a Mac.

While most known for its iconic and ubiquitous iPhone and iPad lines, Apple makes the best computer hardware (and software) in the business. Period. The slight uptick in price is well worth it. (One of the hallmarks of failure in life is the inability to understand the value of one’s time; servicing and replacing defective laptops is no walk in the park.)

The next time you or one of your friends is in the market for a new laptop or desktop computer, seriously consider a Mac and stay away from the HP, Toshiba, and Dell models. If the slight increase in price concerns you, realize that a MacBook Air can be had beginning at $900. Under $1,000 for a brand new MacBook Air that’s barely thicker than a freaking iPad.

Don’t allow uninformed friends and co-workers to talk you out of a Mac because it’s “too expensive.” That’s just culture war crap and haters talking. Sometimes-immature Apple fanboys boast about having superior hardware and software, while Windows users do the same. It becomes a pissing match comprised of 12-year-olds.

Then again, if you’re a masochist, jump on that discounted Dell and smile knowing there’s a good chance you’re in for a bumpy ride. It’s your money. It’s your time.

Spend both wisely.

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Curt Robbins

[For more of my Apple rants, check out Apple: The Myth of Too ExpensiveBack to Apple, and Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Personal Data Security: Password Basics

securityThis post is an excerpt from my new book Understanding Personal Data Security, which covers centralized data, backups, strong passwords, and malware protection. The following is from Chapter 4: Passwords.

Also check out the previous posts in this series, including Personal Data Security: Backups, 3-2-1 Backup Rule: Get Offsite, and Personal Data Security: NAS.

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Curt Robbins


Basic Password Rules

There are some basic rules that will help prevent hackers from stealing your passwords, gaining access to your online accounts, or stealing your identity. While following these rules doesn’t guarantee that your accounts won’t be compromised, it vastly improves the resiliency of your online accounts and protects you about as much as possible.

You’re creating what is known as a “strong password,” meaning it has a mix of letters (both lower and upper case), numbers, and symbols and is of a minimum length.

  • Make a Strong Password: Use a minimum of 16 characters that are a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Don’t use easy-to-guess phrases, such as “iloveyou” or “MaryHadALittleLamb.” While “MaryHadALittleLamb” has both upper and lower case letters and is of appropriate length, it lacks numbers and symbols. Also, hackers look for common phrases, using dictionaries and even terabytes of Wikipedia and Bible content as a “check against” list. Guess it’s time to change that “yabbadabbado123” password.
  • Change Your Password Frequently: You should change your password/passphrase every six months. This is the rule few people follow (simply because it’s a hassle), especially if all of your online accounts feature unique passwords. Nobody ever said protecting your accounts and data was a total cakewalk.
  • Use a Unique Password on Each Account: Nobody likes this because it’s such a pain (especially when you should change all passwords with such frequency). This is where password vault software comes in handy. In 2014, nearly no one has only one or two online accounts. A dozen or more accounts is not uncommon. As you’ll learn below, password vault apps that store all of your passwords in a single password-protected program or app are a solid strategy for keeping several long, strong passwords at your fingertips.
  • Tell Nobody: This means nobody. Putting effort into creating strong passwords that are difficult to crack and then simply giving them away to a friend or co-worker is stupid. Even if your friend/family member has no malicious intent, they can easily get sloppy and expose your password to others (like by writing it on a sticky note and slapping it on their computer monitor!). There’s no reason for anyone else to know your passwords. It’s simply antithetical to the cause!

Even if a hacker doesn’t get your password from you or your devices, the bad guys can compromise a password database held by a service provider (your bank, email service, large retailers like Target or Amazon, social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, etc.). Once the hacker has gotten into the password database (often by breaking its encryption), they then have to guess the passwords. Something like “P@ssw0rd1” will be guessed in mere seconds. Regardless of the quality of your home or office firewall or the security of the individual devices you use to access your accounts, the password itself must stand up to the most robust cracking attempts that will most likely be perpetrated on the organization with which you have an account.

Strong Passwords

You have already learned that the strength of your passwords is determined by their length, complexity, and lack of predictability (why you don’t want “maryhadalittlelamb” or “ILoveNY”).

The password “Tr0ub4dor&3” seems like a relatively strong password on the surface. Although it’s too short (only 11 characters), it features both lower and upper case letters, numbers, and a symbol. However, a hacker with a computer capable of producing 1,000 guesses per second (an old computer can do this) will require only three days to guess this password. Compare this to “correcthorsebatterystaple,” a passphrase that requires 550 years to crack (at the same rate of 1,000 guesses per second). And this passphrase doesn’t even include upper case letters, numbers, or symbols! By adding these elements, you would have a passphrase that, for all practical purposes, is nearly impossible to crack (unless it’s the NSA trying to get it) and relatively easy to remember.

Longer, more complex passphrases are also more difficult for others to steal through simple observation. Sometimes, passwords are nefariously obtained by the act of observing the owner type them. Short, simple passwords and passphrases can be learned by watching the owner input them only once or maybe a few times. If someone really wants your password, they may even use a wi-fi-based webcam or security camera to record your keystrokes! Don’t underestimate the lengths to which a hacker or enemy will go to steal your information, identity, or money.

One of the best ways to understand strong passwords is to consider weak examples. Weak passwords include those that:

  • are shorter than 16 characters
  • include personal details such as your name or the name of a family member, a pet’s name, your street or address, your birthday, etc.
  • include complete words or sequential number strings (like “qwerty” and “12345678”)
  • lack a mix of upper and lower case letters
  • lack numbers
  • lack symbols

Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.