Does Buying New Make 'Cents' These Days?
Recent MacBook Pro Refresh, iMac Speed Bump Perfect Examples


by Joe Leo, Columnist


OPINION: 4.29.08-- The marketing tool for selling Mac OS X Leopard was "Add a new Mac to your Mac." Clever. It really did, in a sense, make your whole Mac experience refreshing. But on the topic of refreshing, with the rapid advancements in technology these days--what with a speed bump always lurking down the road--does it make "cents" to buy things brand new?

What's the point of buying new technology today, be it from Apple or any other tech-related company, when you know that by tomorrow (an exaggeration of course), it'll already be "old"?

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Yesterday's release of even faster new iMacs, just nine months after they first debuted in August of 2007, has got to have everyone scratching their heads. I've always wondered if Apple and all companies that sell technology, already know their product road map months in advance (they probably do) but don't sell you top-of-the-line right away and wait until later on.

Let's take the iPod touch for example. The touch came in two forms. The 8GB and the 16GB models. I had an inkling that sooner or later--more sooner than later--those would get refreshed. They did. There were no price changes, but just an addition, with the newer 32GB model released two months ago in February, just six months after the product's launch.

Logic dictates that six months from now, in Apple fashion, the 16GB will become the low-end model with a huge price cut, the 32GB will become the middle of the road model, and a new 64GB model will be released, with even more features than ever before. For the same price as the 32GB when it rolled out. (And then the 8GB one will be real cheap for those who waited!).

As I've said here before, when I bought my first iPod ever, it was during the week (don't ask why, impulse and attraction to that tiny aluminum device) that rumors abounded of a refresh/upgrade to the mini line. I bought a high-end 4GB mini, only to find the next week, rumors indeed came true, and for almost the same price, I could have had a new high-end 6GB mini.

Which I did, for the same price. And returned the former high-end now demoted to low-end 4GB mini. The former low-end mini at 2GB was now cheapest of them all. Discount-tinued.

One of my students (in my primary job... read my mini bio on the index page), who knows I like all things Mac, shared with me the other week that they had just gotten a new iMac to replace their old and slow PC. They finally got everything all set up when yesterday, I had to break to them the sad news that their brand new iMac was now? An "old" piece of technology.

The last time I bought a new, meaning, brand-new-out-of-the-sealed-box Mac, was in 1997 when I got a PowerMac G3 "All-in-One" (education customers only). That was $2000+ out of pocket. It was very much needed then, and very powerful at the time. (233MHz... "Wow.")

In 2002, I bought my next new PowerMac, this time a Dual G4. It was "Apple Certified Reconditioned Product" which has since been termed as just, "refurbished." It was good as new with a one-year limited warranty with a savings of a few hundred dollars over a totally brand new unit, so I got it. It was about $2100+. Still a workhorse today!

Scary how only five or so years later, though I wouldn't have held out that long, for roughly the same $2100+, you get a PowerMac now known as a Mac Pro with two 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Harperstown" processors. I bet Apple knew this back in 2002. (I kid).

Since then, every other Mac that I've bought has been? Used, either from someone I knew, from an internet reseller, or on eBay, because I learned that buying new didn't make sense.

My newest, "newest" baby? This 15-inch PowerBook G4 Double-Layer SD model which debuted in October 2005 and was discontinued in January 2006. Replaced (new insides and all) and renamed the MacBook Pro just four months later. Both models, the final version of the PowerPC-based laptop, and the new Intel-based notebook that replaced it started at $1999.

People wanting a new Mac portable and just had to have it in early January were sure not partying like it was 1999 come month's end. That's what they get for always buying things new.

Me? I paid less than $999, forty-nine less than that to be exact, for my "new" PowerBook G4. Albeit 28 months later (according to Apple's records on this machine). And if you do some intense searching on eBay, you can find them in mint condition like I did. Thanks to the previous owner who took such great care of it. Looks like it came straight from the factory, only at 50% off!!

And this Mac's still a new Mac to me. I didn't have to pay a penny more than I had to. Had I bought it new back in late 2005 or early 2006, I'd have kicked myself and wanted the MacBook Pro. The new MacBook Pro. Which, would've very quickly become the old new MacBook Pro. "4x as fast, but now 4x as outdated."

How many revisions of the MacBook Pro have come out since then? I counted four. Whoever has a Rev. A, B, or C, MacBook Pro will probably have upgraded to February 2008's multi-touch version. Why? Because you had to buy it new when it was new, but now that new is old, you need the newest model to solve your fix for all things new.

When I finally make the jump to the Intel-based Macs, it'll surely be a refurbished MacBook Pro from the "Special Deals" section of the Apple Store online, or a mint condition two-year old unit off of eBay. Kind of like this PowerBook G4 I'm working on right now.

So, does buying new make, "cents" these days? Yes and no. Just remember that in days, weeks, or months--hopefully not the first on that list--your new Mac will only be as new as the day Apple decides to hit the refresh button.

(Then again, if you're looking for a way to spend your economic stimulus plan from the government--you may get anywhere from $600 to double that if you're married--hey, who are we to stop you from putting it towards a new Mac from the Apple Store? Or 600 songs on iTunes?).