Why Apple Can’t Chase the Low End

on July 22, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

In a post here earlier today, Ban Bajarin dismissed the frequent criticism of Apple for failing to serve the low end of the computer market. Ben focused on consumers’ willingness to perceive, and pay for, value in Apple’s relatively expensive products.

But in wondering why otherwise knowledgable people keep hammering Apple on this point, it’s worth considering just how the company’s business model is working. Everyone else in the PC business depends on selling enormous volumes of product at razor-thin margins. This has steadily driven the average selling price of PCs downward, though NPD data show that the average retail ASP in the U.S. has stabilized a bit at around $600. Apple has exactly one product close to that price point, the $599 bottom-of-the-line Mac mini. In a world of $500 to $700 notebooks, the entry point for a Mac is $999 and goes up quickly from there.

And what has the refusal to chase the mass market done to Apple? It absolutely owns the market for computers selling for more than $1,000. As a result, with about 10% of the U.S. market and less worldwide, it is grabbing the lion’s share of industry profits. Apple’s operating margin from all products in the most recent quarter was 32.8% compared to 5.7% for Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group. HP, with total revenues of $127 billion a year, has a market capitalization of $76 billion. Apple, with just over $100 billion in revenue, is valued by the market at $362 billion.

With numbers like that, it’s just silly to argue that Apple should be chasing the profitless low end of the market (or, for that matter, offering low-cost, lower-margin versions of the iPhone and iPad.) The history of the tech business is full of companies that won large market share by cutting margins to the bone, or sometimes further. Apple is in the sweetest of all possible spots, and it would be lunacy to change the business plan.