The Apple PrivilegeOr how I never had money for expensive products
Wauw, I used to say when I saw an Apple product at the store. And reasonably so, the allure of using a product with a quality unlike any other had me dreaming. But unfortunately, our family didn’t have that kind of money, so we never got anything.
Beijum & my first relationship with a brand
Growing up in Beijum, one of the somewhat poorer regions in my city of Groningen, was a reality I was unknowingly faced with everyday. A neighbourhood mostly being composed of lower income households had the reputation of being relatively unsafe and having troubled youth roaming the streets.
I wasn’t part of that youth. No, I was at home playing videogames or fiddling with my Windows 98 computer. The only way I interacted with the troubles of my neighbourhood was through storiesm interactions with my classmates or seeing a neighbourhood friend of my mother stocking up on cheap beer, finding out he’s an alcoholic. This reality was two-faced; the comfort of my home and my mother shielded me from this a lot. Being a naive kid, even the most blatant suffering under our then more dorment , but now dominant ideology passed me by like it did any other kid.
A number, when expressed in money was too big for my 9 year old head to comprehend.
My relationship or love for Apple started a long time ago, in the kitchen of my wealthier aunt, an industrial designer, who had more disposable income than my mother. My aunt, her husband and my nieces came back from what turned into an annual trip to New York City, where they went to this weird place in Central Park. All these places where new to me, but they showed me really nice pictures they took, on a device I had never seen before: the original iPhone. Their pictures started in Central Park ,because of their just purchased iPhone at the iconic Apple Store there. The value of this product was unlike anything else I’d seen up until that point in my life. On our way back home, I politely asked my mother why she didn’t have one, she would answer that “we don’t have that kind of money”. “How expensive is the iPhone?” I asked my mother, completely having missed my aunt mentioning it. “500 euros” she replied. A number, when expressed in money, was too big for my 9 year old head to comprehend.
Why is this important?
Well, because everything is. My past and environment has had a huge influence on me and who I am as a person. My income, ways of thinking, health and more are largely and sometimes even statistically based on where I was born and where I grew up. Interacting with my much wealthier cousins and aunt was one of the first places in my life where I noticed the difference between poor and rich. The difference between my mom’s cheap HP laptop and my aunts MacBook Pro is a big part of the developer I am today, and of my (irational) problem with buying Apple products.
As a software engineer I usually get asked where my shiny MacBook Pro is. I sometimes even feel kinda weird or poor being in a room with creatives or other engineers where I’m the only one with a Thinkpad T470, and the rest has their beautiful Apple lit logos on the back of their screens. As some of you might smartly notice, a Thinkpad T470 can be just as expensive as that MacBook Pro and mine is. But because of Apple’s obsession with design, user experience and aestetics, there is a lot to be said about a big difference in value between these two products.
Perceived vs actual value
Everyone knows that Apple’s prices are kinda bullshit. Even the hardest fanboy will admit that they could probably be cheaper or that the upsell on harddrive doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps the fanboy would hit you with the argument that you also pay for the OS, and the software that comes with default, and that pricing these components higher makes sure that there is a bigger margin for those things. Perhaps that fanboy would be right, but the point remains: what is the actual value of the product that you’re buying?
I could go back to my T470 and claim that the M.2 is faster then the Apple and the fact that I can actually access the RAM modules is somehow a feature that I want. But if I have to be honest, a straight-up black-box has its selling points too, primarily that I don’t have to worry about anything or that an Apple product is just “fast”. It’s also nice that most of the software that comes from Apple is actually relatively good, Garageband can be a useful way of learning DAWs for beginning musicians. All of the added products like Apple TV, Apple Music & iCloud are actually additions to what consumers look for in their electronics. All of these things together with other tricks that Apple pulls to uphold its high class aestetics and brand makes you think that their product is actually worth the money you’re paying for it. What is the hardware worth? How much can you actually do with the software? Isn’t a T470 of the same price more performant?
A few months ago I was talking with a bussiness partner/client about a product that we needed to ship on iOS as well. For the developers amongst us, you know this, but for the uninitiated, it means buying an Apple computer that has Xcode so that you can use to compile whatever you need. As a contrast, if I want to develop for Android I need to pay a full $0 to get started; a somewhat agressive tactic by Apple to make sure that all their development has to be done on their own platform (outside their developments with Swift) and that developers are forced to buy their products.
The cheapest option was a 500 euro Mac Mini from ~2 decades ago
I didn’t own an Apple product; looking for a cheap alternative like a refurbished computer was my first attempt trying to cheat Apple of a purchase. But our previous chapter carries an additional consequence: Apple products keep their value over time (for some reason). This meant that the cheapest option was a 500 euro Mac Mini from ~2 decades ago. I don’t know how these products work, I don’t know if that machine was gonna be compiling any good. I didn’t know if that is actually a smart thing to do. Looking at the new lineup, I was clearly getting more value by buying a new product instead of purchasing an old one.
So I bought a 2019 i7 MacBook Air.
It feels like walking into a walled garded, guarded by social economic privilege.
I felt like I sold my past. Even though there is no reason to feel like purchasing a more expensive laptop is betrayal in any way, shape or form. I didn’t feel good and it still doesn’t. Even as I’m typing these last few paragraphs on the Air’s weird Apple keyboard keys, it feels like walking into a walled garden, guarded by social economic privilege. Walking into that garden makes it harder or more likely for me to lose touch with my roots in lower social economic position, even though I haven’t been in touch with it in a long time. Using Apple products is like saying goodbye to the kid that bootstrapped parts of different broken laptops to make his first home server. But the reality is: I don’t lose that identity if I use different products, and I had already lost that identity by the time I worked as a professional software engineer. The money that I made back when I was 18 working in SaaS was enough for me to elevate me to the privileges that I needed to enter Apple walled garden.
It’s until today that I have finally entered.
I love elegance. I love higher aestetics. I despise elitism and I hate gluttenous consumption of wealth. I love Apple products for their style, but usually dislike their users. Apple has always been a symbol for the elite, even though people of lower economic position use their products too. And I have joined the group of people that look like they have too much money when they go and sit in a public space, seemingly studying.
Does it even matter what laptop you use or have? No. Is it worth thinking about these things? Perhaps. My most comfortable thought is that of a plausible future of a nationalised version of Apple where their products are the default for everyone rather than a privilege. Will we get that someday? We’ll see.
Thanks for reading
Hey there! My name is Bram Dingelstad and I'm an entrepeneur, developer, game designer and activist.
I write articles sometimes.
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Photo by Phillip Larking