Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Cory's Blog


Quick Launch

Stenoweb Home Page > Cory's Blog > Posts > Cheap Mac Laptops
July 25
Cheap Mac Laptops

I often hear people talk about wishing that Apple would return to a philosophy of Macs for the Masses. The text of what's being asked for is essentially Macintosh LCs and Classics and IIsis, which themselves weren't particularly impressive, even in context. The discussion often gets included in some discussions about the desire for some Midrange Macs to exist. Perhaps ironically, if not in pure volume of units, the majority of the models of Macs all fell below "midrange." Macs also weren't all that mass in appeal.

At the time of Macs for the Masses, Apple had three models that were "for the masses" one that was arguably "midrange" and one that was "high end" with each system model having a few configuration options available.

The first system in Mac line up was the Classic, itself so inexpensive almost entirely due to the fact that it was using positively ancient hardware. It shared its 8MHz MC68000 CPU and 9-inch black-and-white CRT display with the original Macintosh from six years before, and despite having a newer platform, wasn't a whole lot faster than it. A configuration with 1M of RAM and no hard disk (nearly useless in 1990-1991) was listed at $999 and is probably the only affordable Mac in the lineup. A 2/40 config listed at $1,499. Both of these were, at the time, the only Macs to include a keyboard and mouse, in addition to the built in display.

An LC in 2/40 config and a slightly faster CPU with a color monitor would have run approximately $2,200.

At the time, average income was a lot lower than it is today. I've seen average knowledge worker incomes for the mid to late 1980s tossed around at about $12,000. I can't at all imagine that it was up much further than $15,000 in 1991. In inflation terms, something that cost $1,599 in 1990 would cost about $2949 as of this writing.

In terms of absolute numbers, the cost of Macs went down a lot in the 1990s at the same time that purchasing power and salaries did go up. Today, Macs are as inexpensive and "for the masses" as they have ever been, probably more. An $899 MacBook Air not only is inclusive of everything you need to turn on the computer and look at Mac OS, but Apple now bundles iWork and iLife with their systems. These productivity and media applications can be used offline with no trouble.

Without the need for portability, the Mac mini is also the cheapest desktop Mac that has ever existed. Both of these systems are modern and are relevant to today's needs. Something with a little more memory would be better, but it's an inexpensive upgrade of about $100, rather than $500 as it would have been in the early 1990s.

By 1993, Apple had an "inexpensive" laptop at $1599 or so, and it kept something along these lines until 1998 when it dumped the PowerBook 1400, which wasn't really replaced in the line-up until it released the original iBook in 1999. The 1400 itself was supposed to be discontinued in 1997 or so, but it remained available through early 1998, mostly because of Apple's less efficient logistics at the time. The 1400's selling points essentially involved being able to order it in a few different configurations to meet different needs. By the end of its time, it was available in a configuration for about $1750, which was a lot less than the PowerBook G3 went for.

The 1400 itself included some software, but by default it did not include any communications hardware (something that was becoming important in the late 1990s), but it was generally a good enough machine for its target price and market.

Apple's mass market appeal is ironically probably most of what draws them negative attention from the true super-fans who laud the Macs for the Masses strategy from the early 1990s, and yet both hate the Performas from the mid '90s and also the new appliance-like Macs and iPads (which themselves are almost better Macs than the Mac ever turned out to be). Perhaps it's less about Apple specifically and more about just rooting for an underdog, which Apple arguably no longer is. Perhaps it is a feeling of disenfranchisement as Apple's priorities have subtly changed over the course of the past several years. Perhaps it's just that people only want Macs for the Masses when they're included in a particular subset of The Masses, and they don't feel a need or desire to make computing available for a greater number of people.

As happens so often for me, it's uncomfortable to think about the possibility that people who like computers simply don't want computers to be more widespread, more popular, and more accessible.


There are no comments for this post.