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Buying the new MacBook Air (virtualpants.com)
325 points by virtualpants on June 18, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 270 comments

I worked at an Apple store for over a year as a "salesperson" (we called them Mac Specialists at the time). Let me input my two cents:

I was trained to do this. From day one of dedicated 8-hour training sessions, we're trained to find customers the right "solution" rather than get the most money. This requires using the APPLE technique (acronym, google it). The second P stands for "Present a solution for the customer to take home today." It was common knowledge at the time (4 years ago) that consumers were brainwashed to thinking faster/more is always better. But when we can save them hundreds of dollars, this isn't the case. There were many many times I talked someone out of a $2,000 MacBook Pro for a $1200 entry-level iMac with double the specs because after probing (the first "P") I learned they didn't need to be mobile. This was really, really common.

And note, this isn't about trying to convince people to spend less. Sometimes after probing, we learned they needed _more_. It is about the RIGHT solution.

To add to this: specialists don't earn commission. We weren't ranked based on financial sales numbers (there are other metrics, however). There is no incentive for specialists to sell more expensive or less expensive things. It is about the right thing.

So, this guy was just doing what he was trained to do. It is Apple store standard.

I came here meaning to be all snarky and cynical. I was going to say there's no way Apple trained him to do that, and they'd probably fire him when they caught on to what he was doing.

Thanks for posting this and letting me know I was wrong. I still am puzzled. Apple is not shy about squeezing the bucks out of consumers. But this shows a level of customer-orientation that I didn't expect to see.

You can make more money from lifetime customers than you can one-time customers.

One thing Apple has excelled at over its history is building a base of lifetime customers.

> You can make more money from lifetime customers than you can one-time customers.

Exactly. And not only that, as TFAA did you may well get free advertisement to friends, family and the internet at large about how nice and human the experience was likely bringing in multiple lifetime customers.

That is why it is annoying that people used to say that the only reason Apple is popular is because of marketing. Apple does so many things well.

Yes, it's similar to how some people claim Android is just a cheap knock-off of iOS despite the obvious philosophical differences. There's always a very vocal minority that put so much ego into their tech choices that make it very unpleasant to try to have a public discussion about the pros and cons of various platforms.

Yeah, unfortunately, it's just tribalism, a natural human inclination. Much of the discussion space of the internet seems to be devoted to this same sort of investment = identity problem; "fanboyism" is a common label for it, but it stems from the human need for group identification, and is alas a very easy, though shallow, way to achieve it.

People say this? Apple's products are clearly well designed and engineered.

I think Samsung is doing phenomenally well because of marketing and getting the telecoms to push their phones hard (financial incentive?)

I'm not sure about this. I think Samsung is doing well because they have great products for fair prices, but I'm continually let down by their marketing. They could take a page from Apple in this dept.

Example: Their Smart TV can be controlled with your hand in the air! I've been dreaming of this since I was 5 back in the 80's and when I saw the commercial they put out the only thing I could think was 'meh'. Even when Apple does something incremental like the iPhone 5 their marketing still leaves you with a sense of awe.

To be fair, their smart tv's motion controls were pretty tetchy when I tried to use it (at a Best Buy, so clearly not the intended scenario, but at least a foreseeable one).

I've not had a chance to try it out, shame that it's not as good as it could be. All the more reason to market it effectively :)

> Shame that it's not as good as it could be.

This describes my thoughts on all Samsung phones... littered with half-working, buggy features that would not be put into production at any other company who's primary goal isn't to check off a slew of features.

There's a common refrain below the fold on tech websites that people who use Apple products, or even like them, have been brain washed by a mass marketing campaign and that's the only reason why. 'Sheeple', 'iSheep' etc are often thrown about. Mac fanboys don't get a reprieve on that, but in general there's a theme that Apple only does well because of marketing.

Like customer service such that customers perpetuate said marketing.

This is marketing.

[not trying to detract from your wider point]

"You can sheer a sheep many times but you can only skin it once."

Great point. Give your customers something of value and make sure it is what they need, not just what you want to sell them.

When people feel they have been treated fairly they will come back over and over. Not being taken advantage of as a consumer is such a unique experience that it will stick out in their mind!

Apple really gets that in their stores. too bad they also try to hold you with non-standard things and lock-in tactics.

maybe they now that too well.

But for people that research before reaching for the wallet, it's all the same.

Google does this as well. My dad's small business was shelling out thousands on AdWords per month. Their rep reached out to us, without solicitation, and offered to optimize our ad campaigns. They did so, and saved us at least $1,000 a month. This was a few years ago but I hope they're still the same.

So does Amazon, someone reached out to us and told us that we could save around $10,000 on our hosting costs if we went with reserved instances

My bank did this to me.

Called me to say if you close and re-open your internet based savings account you will get the higher "intro" interest rate for 4 months. I explained that I had always wondered about this loop hole... Before I even got around to visiting a branch close/re-open, I read on my statement that the bonus interest rate has been applied.

This sounds more like someone boosting their personal numbers than company policy.

This can go both ways, often the reps don't have enough domain knowledge to offer you anything that will actually improve ROI. Assuming you already know your way around the adwords basics.

They may actually suggest broader terms and higher bids which will cost you more.

It also gives the sales person a genuine feeling that draws customers to interact with them for help instead of the typical kind of confrontational relationship in a customer/sales person interaction.

Across the entire customer population it probably sells more stuff in aggregate than if the confrontational approach is used...

Apple is most definitely shy of squeezing the bucks out of customers and they've proven that they have been willing to go to bat for customers to get a reasonable price. Not the lowest, not the best, but reasonable enough to keep things within reach of as many people as possible. They've even fought tooth and nail to create whole new economies that might not have existed at all even if it means kicking the doors open for competitors. Not just for you and me, not just because there's competition, but because their strategy as a whole demands it and I think it's proven very effective for them. If they really wanted to bleed customers to maximize their profits you can bet that we would have seen SIGNIFICANTLY higher prices for things like music and iPods etc. They work hard to keep prices as low as they can without sacrificing quality.

It's not like it's some nefarious plot to create lock in either. It's simply a long term business strategy that I don't think the industry as a whole ever truly understood or appreciated until things really got tight. Apple's not the only one playing the satisfied customer game either, nor is it some novel concept, which is why it's always baffled me that folks who are interested in the long game don't bother to do the same thing on a consistent basis. Looking out for and providing customers with the best/most cost effective solutions you can offer to solve their problems creates a virtuous cycle. Sure, you may never see them again, but treat a person well and chances are very good, especially in a market like hardware and software, that you will and/or you'll see their friends.

Actually it's a long-term strategy. Happy customer is returning customer.

Likely a long-term customer satisfaction thing. Someone who buys a Macbook Air and comes back and buys another one two years later is worth more than someone who buys a Macbook Pro, and, feeling ripped off, gets a Dell next time.

Happy customers are repeat customers. Apple understand that perfectly.

"Squeezing the bucks out of consumers" leaves them dry.

Apple wants them to stay customers. There are a lot more bucks in the long term.

Really anything else is an extremely short-sighted business model.

Another former Apple retail specialist checking in. This is pretty much dead on. I redirected people to different models than they thought they wanted plenty of times after talking with them to dig up their needs. Sometimes cheaper, sometimes more expensive, but always to better fit their needs. Having also worked at Best Buy, where bleeding people dry was common (at least at my store), I can tell you it's a much different atmosphere.

Another interesting point, which echoes what others have said about life-long customers and word of mouth advertising, Apple collects customer surveys. Only extremely high scores count positively for the specialist. Those people are considered to have had such a good experience that they would actually promote their experience to others that they know.

I agree that Apple, as the case is at every brick-and-mortar store that I'm loyal to (B&H Photo has often talked me out of expensive purchases), has a great incentive to not oversell an unneeded product.

However, I think we need more data on recommendations before we can argue that the intent is entirely altruistic. As others have said, the low-end model is also the same model as the "Vanilla" build, i.e. the model that Apple has plenty of in stock...and a purchase in-store (with the possibility of upselling on other accessories) is more valuable than a purchase from the web. If it's the case that Apple sells a disproportionate amount of its Vanilla stock in-store, then is it coincidence that the Vanilla stock happens to be the perfect fit for so many customers? How many slightly-upgraded (but not in-stock) models are customers convinced to buy...because there has to be at least a few customers for whom the MBP is not ideal, but a slightly upgraded MBA is needed.

And if you want to be totally cynical, you could argue that Apple is ensuring that the customer returns in the nearer future by selling them a less future-proof model. Yes, customers have loyalty based on the reliability of the brand...but if the compassionate-sales-job is so effective, then that alone may be good enough of a memory for the customer to overlook that he/she is replacing a new laptop a year earlier than expected.

This is a beautiful case of win/win. Apple wins by having a lower cost of good (on the "vanilla") and the customer wins by spending just enough to get what they need (not more).

The more we can find these win/win situations, the better our economy will be. The closer we can match consumer costs to the the economic costs of their consumption, the more accurately the existing "Free" market will match the ideal market.

Altruism is not a required part of the explanation.


Approach and welcome the customer.

Probe to understand their problem.

Present your solution to their problem. (And make sure something happens now.)

Listen for lingering issues.

End with a polite good-bye and ask them to come back.

Thanks for this insight from your experience. I was going to comment question this takeaway from the OP:

"Apple recognizes what few other retailers do: customer satisfaction starts even before a product is purchased, and it is customer satisfaction that makes companies great."

I had expected this was just an idiosyncrasy of that particular salesperson, but you make a good case that Apple intends for this behavior to be common. Thanks!

So to be clear about this you're saying that if you walk into an apple store and have already decided to purchase a particular model that Apple says that you should ask the customer why they need that particular model? Or just if they ask you?

A sales rep at the Apple Store did this with my wife, actually. When the unibody 13" MacBooks were released, she was dead-set on getting it. However, she assumed that the sales reps would try to up-sell her to a 17" MacBook Pro, so she tried to downplay her typical computer usage as much as possible. She went to the Apple Store and explained that she wanted a laptop for basic word processing, web browsing, and viewing photos, but, to her dismay, the rep directed her to the older, white plastic MacBooks and insisted that they would be the best fit for her! My wife had a great time trying to explain in the least superficial way possible that she was willing to pay more money for the better-looking computer, lol.

Yes, you're supposed to try to probe the customer to learn more about their use case. This doesn't need to be rude or abrupt, it can be a casual "So what do you do?" or "Tell me more about what you're going to use this machine for while it is pulled off the shelf for you."

If someone is dead set on getting a model, you aren't rude to them. Ever. But you do your best to make them happy.

Out of curiosity, if a customer came in to buy a $1,500 machine, but what they really need is a $200 Chromebook, what would you do?

EDIT: thanks for the down votes, but its an honest question. What if the customer comes in, and the solution that is best for them is not something sold by Apple? In particular, Apple only sell high end products. I have jad salespeople tell me to go to a low end competitor in the past, and some will just try to sell you the high end stuff.

When I worked Apple retail (in a shopping mall) back in 2005, I walked a customer out to the Dell cart and helped them pick out a laptop because they had some Windows only real estate software that wouldn't run very well on Virtual PC.

Wow, impressive! More high margin places should operate like that.

I often direct people interested in my saas product to competitors when the fit is better.

Love that approach. You aren't losing a sale — you are (1) preventing what was almost guaranteed to be a dissatisfied customer and (2) winning over a potential future customer for life. If there is any need for your service in the future it is a guaranteed sale from a customer that already holds you in high regard.

Well done.

Please, tell me why stores should get in the business of working against their best interest.

Because in the long term it is not working against their best interest. If I know that a store will not try to sell me stuff that is a poor match to my needs, then I know I can trust that store. When I go into a store that tells me to buy a piece of equipment that doesn't match my needs, or a T-shirt in a colour that looks terrible on me, I often find out later and tell my friends.

People rave about Apple downselling and Amazon allowing low score reviews on their products because in the long run its good business.

Please keep in mind though that it is a well known technique to try to build loyalty by doing something that the customer doesn't expect that isn't in your best interest.

The problem is this doesn't always work and isn't applicable in all situations.

The customer that you sell a laptop to may or may not return. But the salesman selling oracle would get fired for pushing a competitors product under the guise of building loyalty.

The problem is that practices like this are specific to certain places and situations.

Lastly, if you are a local small dealer you simply can't afford to easily lose a sale with the hope that the loyalty is paid back for years to come. You generally have to make hay while the sun shines.

As far as this thread goes, rednukleus did specifically say "high margin places". But yeah, it's just an often-overlooked angle on a (still) hard problem.

I'm not sure about your example of the local dealer. The "local" part implies to me that personal relationships and long memories will play a relatively large role in someone's business. It could be extremely beneficial to at least be seen as looking out for others to your detriment, and it would probably be easier to do for real than to fake convincingly for a long period unless your customers are ignorant.

If a company sells a product to a customer who needs something different, that customer will assume the product is bad. Saying "my company failed because my software didn't run on those Apple machines" is nonsense to us, but your average consumer will take this as a sign to actively avoid Apple products. If that customer never had a bad experience with Apple, it's less likely they'll complain about them.

You're right in that case.

However in the case of trying to get a customer to buy something more powerful than they need, the product will work just fine from the perspective from the customer; it's just that it still would've worked fine for them and they would've retained more money if they went with something less powerful.

There may be some economic dynamics I'm missing out on (aversion to buying Apple products in the future for being too pricey, maybe), but it seems like it'd generally be in a company's best interest to try and get their customers to purchase their most expensive projects. That is why the article linked seems so unusual yet refreshing.

Because maybe next time the customer will come back shopping for a personal machine instead of one they need to run some Windows app. And they’ll remember the great service from round one.

Oh I don't know, we might end up with a better world...

nah, never mind.

I was at a trade show last week for a company which sells 3D printers of Makerbot-style besides R&D. Next to us was a company selling 3D printing as a service but on professional machines, thus finer resolution and larger objects. I referred several people to them and one visitor was simply astonished that I sold 'another company' to him. To me it was a matter of common sense because he'd been unhappy with our printers.

I think it is reasonable for a sales person to only sell products by his employer.

If you walk into an Apple Store, wouldn't you expect to get the best Apple solution for your problem? Same in a Microsoft store, just with a Microsoft solution.

I don't think it is unreasonable for an Apple salesperson to try to sell the Apple product, but I think its even better if they choose and are allowed to recommend competitors when they have the more appropriate product. I was just curious to know which way Apple staff did it.

What they do nowadays is to suggest to grab an iPad instead. In the Apple product line, that is the cheap computer for people that don't really need a computer, or wouldn't be able to operate it properly.

Or an iPod touch with a cloud storage option.

I've never been an Apple employee, but read enough about their sales tactics. Probing <> Underselling.

If you know you want to buy a MacBook Pro, they'll be glad to take your money. But if you demonstrate that you're not sure about which model is more appropriate for you, or you seemed uncertain about the differences between a MBP and a MBA, that's when the "[P]robing" and the "[P]resent a Solution" make sense.

It's a lot better to have a happy customer today (even if for a lower ticket price), than an undecided and confused customer for the rest of the week/month. (Or, worse, with buyer's remorse for years).

That's the opposite approach of most other retail shops. The sales person usually pushes for the most expensive item first, usually motivated by the direct commissions model. Good for him/her and for the store, but not always in the best interest of the customer.

Yes, they'll inquire about your needs. I asked for my iphone with maximum memory and was asked about it. I'm a digital packrat and willing to pay extra to not have to unclutter my music, movies, media, and apps as often. I briefly explained this and we moved on with the purchase process.

Yup. I just upgraded to an iPhone 5 and I was asked why I wanted the 64gb model. My 32gb 4S was full. :)

The employees also had decent knowledge of how AT&T's service plans worked and were as to answer all of my questions. The service at the AT&T store at the same mall was a slap in the face.

I agree and have seen this in action. My last MBP I had to buy in store to get a certain discount. At first I was annoyed that the salesperson kept probing while waiting for the other salesperson to get my MBP. After a bit of back and forth he explained exactly what you did here. He wanted to make sure I was getting what I needed and if it saved me money in the process so be it. So props to Apple and it's another reason why I've stuck with Apple laptops since the G4 Powerbook days.

If a customer requires more RAM, how do you 'sell' a ram upgrade knowing that its so much cheaper elsewhere?

I always told them to get it elsewhere if they were comfortable with installing it on their own, exactly because Apple charges so much. Specifically, I recommended OWC. Apple is completely okay with this, as long as you make it clear that the RAM is _not_ covered by AppleCare.

The reason Apple's RAM is so expensive is because it undergoes very thorough RAM tests to verify it is 100%, and is also covered by AppleCare. So if your RAM goes bad, they'll replace it. Of course there is a large upsell $$$ here, but you're paying for stability. Some people just feel better going 100% Apple, despite the charge.

Of course, I never had an issue with RAM from OWC, so I always recommended it. I even helped a few customers purchase it in-store using the display units.

Totally fine.

Another cool story: You may or may not know, but new Mac computers used to (may still do) come with a $100 rebate towards a printer. The entry-level printer is exactly $100, so it is essentially free. There really is no catch here except you have to wait 4 to 6 weeks for the check to arrive. We (Apple store employees) knew that most people forget to file for their rebate, and manufacturers bank on this. So we were all officially trained to help file the rebate form in the store as part of the checkout process, to make sure the customer got it.

Also, even if the customer didn't want the printer, we'd usually try to sell it (for free, remember), and tell them to sell it on Craigslist, because they could get an easy $20 to $30. shrug Again, this was encouraged.

>The reason Apple's RAM is so expensive is because it undergoes very thorough RAM tests to verify it is 100%, and is also covered by AppleCare. So if your RAM goes bad, they'll replace it.

Isn't that second thing the case with OWC RAM too? That it's covered by some guarantee and that if it goes bad, they'll replace it?

OWC will definitely replace faulty RAM free of charge (example: we bought 2-4 sticks for each of 6 computers a while back, and three of the sticks were bad - very simple return process and they sent out replacements before the originals were returned).

I think the OP's point is that buying RAM through Apple (at a hefty premium) is a significant convenience for some people: if there's an issue - any issue - with the computer, take it back to Apple and they'll sort it out. Buying third-party RAM isn't quite as convenient.

Of course, in my experience Apple will happily look at your computer even with third-party RAM, but they obviously won't fix any issues caused by it.

OWC and Ramjet will both replace RAM. Ramjet has a page on their testing[1]. I have had great experiences with both companies.

1) http://www.ramjet.com/pages/mac-memory

I think the rebate program is discontinued. Not sure — third party hearsay.


For the record, you can't manually upgrade the RAM on a Macbook Air (it's soldered to the motherboard), so selling a RAM upgrade on them is reasonable. On the other computers it is important though.

APPLE technique: (?)

- Ask

- Pause

- Probe / Pick

- Listen

- Elaborate

per http://www.exforsys.com/career-center/facilitator/core-skill...

"An effective facilitator does not just end at asking effective questions. Proper timing and accurate delivery are also important. For a good and effective facilitation, the APPLE technique might work best. APPLE is the acronym for asking the question, pausing to allow the participants to comprehend the question and think of an answer, picking a member to provide an answer, listening to the answer provided, and expounding or elaborating more on the answers given. More importantly, listen to the answers of the questions you asked."

I don't disbelieve you and that's fantastic, but here's some anecdata:

I recommend to my sis-in-law that she get a Air for her 13 year old son because I knew that the SSD makes a BIG difference.

The Apple shop sold her a MBP because quote "it's faster".

Yes, the cpu has a higher MHz but please.

Did he or she tell the salesman they liked to play games? Such as statement could swing a recommendation (especially if interpreted as "Call of Duty" rather than "Minesweeper").

You know better than the Apple guy, but if your sis does not trust your opinion and did not tell the Apple guy what she needed then what do you expect?

Or maybe you were wrong?

When was this? The current MBP has an SSD, too.

Well, that's great. Could you send some of your colleagues over here (Spain)? Cause I definetly think they didn't follow the same training sessions as you did.

Also South Africa, here its just up sell, up sell

Note that the article talks about Apple Retail Stores, i.e. he stores owned and operated by Apple itself. Right now, there aren’t any of these in South Africa: http://www.apple.com/retail/storelist/

There are no official Apple Retail stores in South Africa, only stores run by Core Group which is the official distributor. That's why they're called 'iStores' and not 'Apple stores', they're not the real deal.

With few exceptions, the sales staff at South African iStores are utterly awful; the smarmiest, smuggest and most deceitful bunch I've had the displeasure to buy from who will most certainly not try to find you the solution that suits you best but will try to upsell you on the option that boosts their commission the most.

It would do wonders for Apple's damaged reputation in South Africa to establish an official presence and set up real Apple Retail stores.

From your perspective, how do you think they were able to get all the Mac Specialists to be trained so well to making sure it's customer satisfaction that's maximize and not sales? Like what makes their training so different? Was it because Mac Specialists truly believed in what the company stood for? How was in the incentive scheme different? Thanks! I'm just curious as I'm in business school part-time and of course, Apple is the outlier when it comes to customer satisfaction - especially since they go against the idea of commission.

The "other" metrics are customer satisfaction and volume of AppleCare attached. No wonder these very metrics define the behavior described by the OP.

This isn't just an ethical way to do business--it's also profitable. The OP seems to be a very satisfied customer. Apple may have lost $750 (gross) on this one purchase, but over the next 10 years will likely make much, much more than $750 on the OP's future purchases, which the OP might not make if he/she were a dissatisfied customer.

This seems obvious, but many businesses don't seem to understand this.

It just occured to me that this a reason to favor corporate sales offices over dealerships. Dealerships have a much smaller incentive to play the long game and so try to squeeze every last penny out of you whether you need that option or not (or through shady practices like weird processing fees).

I hope tesla wins over the car dealerships...

Are you at liberty to expand on what the other metrics are?

Apple seem to have completely stopped carrying anything but the base models of the Macbook Air 11" and 13" in their stores, which may at least partially explain his pushing you to downgrade your choice.

Use the "check availability" sidebar link here to see what I mean: http://store.apple.com/us/configure/MD712LL/A?

I remember picking up my fully-loaded 13" from the store a couple of generations ago, so this is likely a new decision (or temporary while they figure out supply and demand). I strongly recommend the 8GB RAM upgrade, RAM gets eaten up really easily and is definitely worth the extra $100.

Ideally, he would have told you that the extra RAM might be useful, and also let you know that any upgrades would require delivery to the store or to you directly.

" I strongly recommend the 8GB RAM upgrade, RAM gets eaten up really easily and is definitely worth the extra $100."

While I absolutely and totally agree with you that the 8GB of ram for $100 is a good deal - OS X (at least in 10.7.5) is astonishingly good at making use of shared libraries.

I have 30 applications running right now on my 4 GB 2010 MacBook Air, Including VMware running Windows 7, and Aperture (two hogs) - and the laptop runs really well - even though I do have about 14 GB of pageouts. I think the SSD/Flash Drives finally makes virtual memory useable again.

I'm looking SO forward to upgrading to the 13" Macbook Air (12+ Hour Battery, Insanely fast SSD compared to the 2010 (already pretty fast SSD) - and obviously I'll get the 8GB (I run a lot of VMware instances - and, after about three or four client OS's running - Aperture starts to have trouble cacheing) - but for 90%+ of the population, 4 GB is probably more than enough.

I stuck a 512GB SSD in my (8GB RAM) 2010 MBP maybe a year(?) ago. The general speed boost was incredible, of course, but the thing that made the biggest impression was definitely seeing several GB paged out, with little performance degredation.

I have had some weird experiences when pushing it hard, though. At one point when I got up to ~15-20GB swapped out, I encountered a kernel panic. I wasn't doing anything fundamentally weird, just loading a large amount of data into "RAM".

I should try it again and see what happens. I wonder how hard Apple stresses this functionality in QA?

All of my kernel panics and spinners of death were due to running some Java IDE or XML tool loading up 100MB files and the like (sometimes in-memory parse trees for those sized files can push the heap to multi GB levels).

Were you using a JVM when you ran into the system glitches?

No, the memory-hungry process I was running was reasonably simple C that I'd written myself. It was semi-contrived, reflecting the extreme of an internal use case, but fundamentally I was just moving around/massaging bytes in big, boringly-malloc'd blocks of memory.

I can't swear that there were no Java processes running on the machine at the time, though. And I often have a Windows or Linux VM running in the background.

I stuck an intel SSD in my 2011 mbp, as well as 16gb of ram (it was really really cheap..).

I disabled the pagefile completely, and things are as snappy as ever - I can't think of an application I use that would use up so much ram that I need to page to disk.

Well, 8GB of RAM also future-proofs you a little bit, and 4GB is starting to reach the cusp... 6GB would probably hold you over for the foreseeable future, but convention dictates 2GB => 4GB => 8GB.

It's also about dual channel configurations. You get better performance out of two identical memory sticks.

The effect is minimal though, 2-3% improvement if I recall.

Might be the OS X version but my work 2012 MBP, 10.8.4, has 4 GB RAM and a 500GB HDD. With a text editor, an email client, a couple of terminals, a couple of chrome tabs and an IDE open, the RAM gets loaded and the swap starts to trash. I get huge slowdowns all the time.

With my own MBPr (10.8.4), I have 8GB and never get into similar cases. And having a SSD instead of the HDD, I don't fear nearly as much the day I'll hit the swap.

The OS itself takes over 1.2GB of RAM, add to that ~1GB for the IDE (IntelliJ), ~1 GB for Chrome tabs, that's already > 3GB. Add the terminals, email client, various other processes and daemons... 4 GB is not much.

Re: Work MBPr - just curious, but did your work load down your native image with a bunch of Security Crap? I know a lot of people who have complained that once IT gets ahold of the MBPro, the systems become effectively 1/3rd the performance. Also - the SSD makes an insane impact on performance.

But - Yes, I think everyone on HN can agree - we'll all get 8GB when we have to make the decision.

My work MBP has a spinning drive and FileVault 2 (whole disk encryption) turned on. Anything I/O bound (booting, starting applications, paging) is super slow.

Yup it is, that sheds some lights on the huge gap of performance.

Does the work machine have a 5400 rpm drive? I know that a 7200 wouldn't touch the speed of an SSD, but I'm wondering if slightly more rotational speed makes any difference with swap/otherwise. I'm starting to see quite a bit of slowdown on my 2010 MBP and the worst offender is always when it has to hit the HDD, yet I already have maxed the RAM.

Spinning rust + low RAM in OSX = not a nice time. Is there a reason you can't just upgrade your work laptop to have 8GB?

I've asked for 8 GB, I think it's on the way.

Off-topic, but I'm curious about why you use VMWare instead of VirtualBox.

I actually use VirtualBox when I'm running Dynamips (it has good hooks when launching network connected clients) - but for day-day productivity, Windows 7 Unity Mode in VMware is pretty great.

I can double click on a .vsd file and have it launch in Visio as a close-to-native app. Also, (and this may sound stupid, but it's handy) the little "Double-Arrow Start Icon" on my Menu Bar is handy for launching Windows Apps.

On my Windows Desktop System I use VMware Workstation because it reliably shuts down and restarts my linux guests, without me logging in to windows. (Though it took me a while to find out out how to do that). I.E. on a windows restart, VMware workstation gracefully shuts down the Client Operating System, and after reboot (and prior to me logging into the Windows Environment - I.E. Before I get to the office) - it restarts VMware Workstation service (not the app), and then restarts whatever Linux Guests I've selected in the "Shared VMs" panel.

This is important, as my Windows 7 Desktop System is now being rebooted by Microsoft two-three times a month for security updates - which I'm fine with as long as my Linux guests are there when I want them.

I can't speak for the OP, but my office chose VMWare over VirtualBox after finding VMWare to be about 3x faster running the unit tests for our main code repository, which are both I/O and CPU intensive.

I had similar findings in my office, with Parallels actually topping the list. I'm not sure if that was a fluke or not, as it was a windows VM that I needed to run, but VMWare definitely surpassed VirtualBox for that and some other tests.

I've used both on my various Macs, and I find that VMware Fusion generally seems to perform better. Parallels Desktop seems to have better virtualized 3D, though, so I've found myself moving more to that.

>> Off-topic, but I'm curious about why you use VMWare instead of VirtualBox.

Faster, integrates much better into OS X, seamless mode, 3D acceleration, better linux guest tools, easier updates, lots of reasons actually.

VirtualBox is pretty good by itself, but I found that VMWare Fusion more than makes up for its (very reasonable) price.

My office as well was a heavy user of VirtualBox until Vagrant 1.1 hit, and then we dropped a pretty penny on VMWare licenses.

One of the biggest things we noticed was a big bump in IO, especially with shared folders. We also experienced random mysterious crashes and hangs with VirtualBox, seemingly related to sleep/wake.

Less technical, but the VirtualBox interface looked like complete ass on OSX for the longest time.

VMware definitely seems faster (I'm running Windows 8 as a VM inside Linux), but seeing as it's a paid product, there'll be choice-supportive bias all over the place.

Unless it has changed, the really crazy thing is that you can't upgrade the RAM later. (Though, surprisingly, you can upgrade the SSD, even though it comes in an unconventional form factor)

Yep, I think that still is the case. Generally Apple products are terrible for repair and upgradeability.

Somewhat tangentially, iFixit's self-repair manifesto is great: http://www.ifixit.com/Manifesto

If only Apple realized that allowing people to repair and upgrade their devices is worthwhile. If they really cared about their customer's best interests, they'd publish detailed repair manuals and make their devices user-repairable and upgradeable.

And the "making our stuff beautiful/sleek adds difficult design constraints" doesn't cut it: they could at least make an effort. There are many, many ways they could make their devices more user-repairable without compromising on the aesthetics.

Not just Apple, but most UltraBooks suffer from not being upgradeable these days.

That's not surprising, since the whole concept of an UltraBook is to replicate a MacBook but with Windows.

My old Sony VAIO 505g claims otherwise.

Apple has guides for some of the easier-to-upgrade MacBook parts. [1][2] Wonder if they've ceased the practice because upgrading isn't as easy as it used to, or because iFixit's guides are generally of a higher quality.

[1] http://manuals.info.apple.com/en_US/MacBook_13inch_HardDrive...

[2] http://manuals.info.apple.com/en_US/MacBook_13inch_RAMdoor_D...

> Generally Apple products are terrible for repair and upgradeability.

This has become true, especially recently, but was not always true.

The white plastic macbooks were really great for user repair, very easy to breakdown. It was clear that they actually spent some resources on increasing user-repairability with that model.

But obviously do not anymore. I am curious what changed in Apple decision-making too, have some guesses.

It definitely varies, with glue holding some products together, while others are extremely elegant inside and easy to upgrade.

Yup. I just ordered a 512GB ssd + 1TB spinning disk + 8GB ram for my 2009 MBP to try and squeak some more life out of it. Like 12 screws and it's done.

yeah it's soldered to the board. and i'll guarantee you're gonna regret going for 4gb.

When I worked in telco, if a customer came in knowing what they wanted I would not offer alternatives unless we did not have stock of what they were after. If you do, the moment something goes wrong, the salesperson is immediately the person to blame (in the same way that if you help someone who is computer-illiterate with their PC, everything that goes wrong in the future is because you touched it). Customers will come back, sometimes multiple times a day, to harass you because you 'made them buy this damn phone'. It never happened to me, but I saw it happen to many of my coworkers (especially the few who were happy to talk customers out of an iPhone purchase for an Android one, back in the 2.x days of Android).

He may have been trying to be helpful, but like you said, I suspect it was because they didn't have stock and he wanted to make a sale for his KPIs.

Yes. Not to disappoint anyone, but several of my friends actually had problems buying higher spec machines in Europe. To the point where they had to either convince the sales guy or go trough corporate sales to and often wait several weeks to get it. And as you say, you do want the ram upgrade because not having it will decrease the lifetime of the product and you can't updrade later.

I think this might just be the fact it's a new release (unless they just don't sell that many maxed out Airs). My work just got me a maxed out MBPr on Thursday. Was in/out in 10 minutes without reserving it online or whatnot (we're three doors down from our local Apple store.

Maybe that's a bigger store. Tacoma WA, my 15" RMBP was only available in-store in the absolute base, no customization models on the online store. Anything else had to be ordered in.

While he is right that you may not ever need the CPU resources, the RAM I would argue is necessary (plus it's only $100 and will overall make a HUGE difference).

Ram is one of those things you can almost never get enough of. I am a heavy chrome user (and general system user), and I cringe anytime it's less than 8GB because it requires much more tab management for me. Which may be better for me to do, but I keep a large amount of misc work in various chrome windows and tabs, and closing it isn't necessary for me.

Along with that, I'm often running a bunch of other apps. CPU is never usually a problem, but RAM definitely is.

That being said, you're probably fine with the base model, but I certainly would at least max the ram. :)

Also, it isn't upgradable after the fact in the MBAs.

Yeah there really isn't a reason to not get more RAM in a PC. Everything else is debatable. The CPU in particular the guy was right on. I'd say the SSD is a wash.

You mean getting an ssd generally is a wash? Because SSDs are crazy good. I just had one installed on my work MBP (2012) and the performance is astounding.

Oh no definitely not, I mean the bigger SSD. You could probably get away with 256 if you didn't want to pay more. But yeah SSD over spinning disk - no contest.

It's more of a 'wash' because you can do it after the purchase. Processor and RAM upgrades can't be done.

The only option for the MBA is between different sizes of SSDs.

The only PRE-BUILT option.

If you're willing to wait for a built-to-order, you can bump the processor, memory, and storage. I'm typing this on a brand new 13" with twice the default RAM and SSD; I didn't feel most of what I do is CPU-bound enough to bump that as well.

I was quite disappointed to see that after the latest upgrade the air still doesn't support more then 8 gb. If I buy a machine for the next few years, I want more ram than the current 2008 MacBook Pro I have...

especially with OSX, where ram is guzzled like no other.

You sure it's not just the caching tricking you? It's been a long time since I used a Mac but I'd be surprised if it didn't cache as much as possible. Unused RAM is wasted RAM.

Lion (fixed in 10.8 AFAIK) has a bad habit of preferring to page to the disk instead of freeing up RAM that is being used for caching.

I was able to remedy this by using the terminal command "purge" occasionally, and also disabling the dynamic pager[1]


Lion was absolutely broken in terms of memory management from 10.7.0 through at least 10.7.3sh. (Beach Balls during pageouts, constant memory pressure, weird page-out while using Safari + Aperture - really made me miss 10.6.8) Things got much better in 10.7.4, and 10.7.5 has been so reliable and well balanced that I'm afraid to ever leave it.

That paging drives me nuts, but nobody seemed to have the same issue. Thanks for posting the helping pointer!

(I'm afraid of disabling the dynamic pager, though, as I hit max physical RAM rather often.)

Buying what you need today and no more


Upgrade unfriendly hardware


Faster obsolescence cycle.

Apple isn't doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. They're doing it because it will make you buy their products more often. It's a smart way to do business.

Buyers remorse is also bad for business. If you feel the extra $700 you spent on top of the, relatively, high sticker price of your laptop* wasn't worth it, you're not as likely to be a return customer. That's my experience from the days I spent selling swords ($300-$5000 range for reference) in a martial arts supply shop.

*I feel like Ultrabooks have helped Apple's image by making the Air seem about the right price for a nice laptop.

I'd expect cognitive dissonance to have the higher effect - "I paid so much for this, it must be good".

Reassuringly expensive.

For some people yes. My best friend is that way. Charge a lot for it and he'll love it forever. I point this out to him but he remains unfazed. I'm not so easily convinced that price = quality ;).

Yes, but unlike with PC laptops there is a real resale market. I upgrade my macbook every other year or so, and it usually just costs me a few hundred dollars after selling my old machine. Upgrading just the RAM or HDD would be cheaper, but wouldn't also be much of an upgrade compared to getting a new machine.

Some PCs have a good resale market too. Thinkpads hold their value well enough to use the same technique.

Isn't the resale market a strong reason to upgrade the RAM and HDD as the upgraded machines have higher resale value?

Only if increaseInOriginalCost - increaseInResaleValue <= valueDerivedFromBetterSpecs.

I'm not sure that's true.

I suspect the MacBook Air is as successful as it is because most people want portability a lot more than they need raw power. I wouldn't build a render farm out of 11" MacBook Airs, but I bet they're a lot easier to pull out on a crowded flight than my 15" MacBook Pro.

This does raise an interesting question: how often do normal users grow past their hardware's limits?

I'm not a typical laptop user. My machine serves as a portable desktop replacement, and I spawn virtual machines to work on software for Linux and Windows. Even so, my 4-year-old machine is serving me pretty well. It wasn't the base model, but its specs are pretty pathetic by modern standards.

It doesn't take a mini supercomputer to maintain a photo collection and edit documents. Some people will be satisfied with a base model MacBook Air for a good while.

Though I admit, buying a machine with 4GB RAM today is a bit sketchy. Maybe the SSD cures it, but OS X does not take heavy swapping well at all.

Sure, in theory. However the upgrades the OP listed are in fact unnecessary on an MBA (i7 vs. i5, 512 SSD vs. 128 SSD).

Er, what? How can you say "more storage is unnecessary" as a blanket statement of fact?

I wouldn't think of buying a 512 GB SSD for a workstation, let alone a Macbook Air. That's not future proofing, it's a waste of money.

It's also not about "storage". It's quite simple to get "storage" with external HDDs, as noted in the OP. What we're talking about here is paying for premium onboard flash storage, which is unnecessary, particularly on an MBA.

I've been using an Air as my sole computer since 2010. I just upgraded to a new one, and spent the $300 extra for a 512G SSD. My old 256G machine has been hovering close to full for the past few months, which has been pretty annoying when I tried to do things like "prepare a 120p graphic novel for printing" or "edit a video for that GN's Kickstarter campaign". I dug out an old external HD for those purposes, and really hated that I was using one - I had to do these things at home now.

I want to have all my data available when I go on a trip, or out to a cafe. And I don't want to hassle with carrying external drives or finding power for them; that completely negates the "lightweight" and "has a long battery life" features of the Air. Which were the major reasons I switched to one.

Obviously you don't have any need for that kind of space - but trust me, there are people out there who do.

Have to disagree. Different people have different use cases and different budgets.

In particular, some people might like the mobility of the MBA, but have a lot of photos, music, or movies they want to take with them (i.e., different use cases). And many people have the means to shell out for large internal storage because they don't want to manage the external drives. Some people like Kias, some like Lexus.

Actually, I would argue that external USB disks are more annoying to use with a MacBook Air than with a workstation. I couldn't even have my MBA on my lap right now if I had to connect an external disk for music or apps.

not memory though

I suspect this is because they just keep the vanilla baseline models in stock at the store. If you wanted to max it out, it would mean mail order.

Going into the store and finding out you can't get what you want right there on the spot means you will likely walk out empty handed.

If the sales person can convince you that you really want the vanilla model that is actually in the store, that's money.

I don't know why this wasn't voted up higher. There's loads of rationalizations we can get in to re: training and satisfied customers and such, but really, he was pushing what was available, because likely that means the store makes more money that day. Their numbers go higher, and everyone is happy right then. Web ordering means the person might not do it when they go home, unless they're convinced to do it in store right there.

Meh, I bet they have a process in store where they walk you through customization and the sale gets recorded for the store's figures. There are people who aren't into delayed gratification, but a computer purchase is still serious enough that people will wait a week or two for what they want.

He walked into the store, self-selecting as someone who prioritizes immediacy. Otherwise he would have simply ordered from the website from the comfort of his home, no?

And if you went to a store and they then walk you through the website...that would be very offputting to many people -- all of the disadvantages of both mediums.

I, too, suspect that the sales rep was simply pushing what was available in stock, and while this is completely typical of all brick-and-mortars, it is by no means selfless or in his interest, and I think it will turn out to be a very expensive decision to go with just 4GB.

"And if you went to a store and they then walk you through the website...that would be very offputting to many people -- all of the disadvantages of both mediums."

You just described Gateway stores! And this is exactly why they failed. And it's all the funnier because people said Apple stores would fail because Gateway failed.

My wife went back to school this year, and she needed a laptop, so I got her one for christmas. I went with the base model 11" air because that's what I would have bought if I was getting it for me.

She hated it. I couldn't believe it. "The screen is too small", "I can't play warcraft 3 on it" (ok legit gripe, war3 doesn't work, and she still plays that game!) "I don't like the way the track pad works"

Admittedly, the track pad default settings leave a little to be desired. I made a few tweaks to her setup, and it worked a lot better.

I asked her the other day how she feels about her laptop now, with 6 months use under her belt. She loves it, as I knew she would.

Next laptop I buy for myself will be a 11" air. I'm no apple fan boy, but it is the highest quality laptop you can get. But if you've found a better one for the same price, please let me know

I'm very happy with my Samsung NP900X1B (other than the ridiculous name). It's super-light, very tough (survived a >1m drop onto concrete - which put a bit of a dent in one corner but kept it fully working), runs my large collection of old windows games, has a very handy microsd slot for extra storage, and does HDMI out without an expensive apple-only cable. What's so good about the air?

Actually I've never looked at Samsung as a vendor for a laptop. They make great phones, I loved my S3 until it took a bath when I was drunk (hah).

If it doesn't creak when you hold it at the corners, I could be sold. The airs aluminium case makes it "feel" sturdy, and silent.

I also really like the feel of the keyboard when typing. Most laptop keyboards I fat finger constantly. The air (and probably MBP) actually feel good to type on

edit: Had a look around for Samsung laptops similar spec. MBA still can't be matched price vs perf

>If it doesn't creak when you hold it at the corners, I could be sold. The airs aluminium case makes it "feel" sturdy, and silent.

It's a duralium casing, it feels very solid. You do have to manually switch the power profile (at least, I found the automatic power balance unreliable) with a keyboard shortcut; in low power it's quiet, in high performance the fan whines.

I very much like the keyboard, and use it a lot, but my taste in keyboards is known to be weird.

I'm very surprised to hear of apple being cheaper for the same spec, but I'll admit I didn't really buy by the numbers. It's powerful enough to run eclipse or play supreme commander forged alliance, which are my use cases.

How is minidisplayport Apple only?

MBA's really are the best ultrabooks money can buy right now. I'd say the X1 Carbon from Lenovo comes close, except if you want comparable specs you'll have to shell out a lot more cash, and that's pretty much the same story with all other ultrabooks out there right now - if you want comparable form factor and hardware to the MBA, it's going to cost a lot more.

If you want a trackpad that doesn't suck balls, don't get the X1 Carbon (well, it does get me using the Touch feature more). Otherwise it is a great laptop.

Why is Apple the only company capable of creating a decent touchpad + driver (even under Windows)?

I've been thinking about this for a while - you think they would have figured it out by now, right?

Then I took a look at how my clients use their Windows (Dell) laptops.

When they got the first laptop ever, their trackpad was a hilarious joke. Take a look at what we considered normal back around 2000-2005 - you were lucky if you got something larger than a postage stamp.

Fast forward to today (though only through one or at most three upgrades), and the average non-technical Windows user believes the trackpad is an accessory, an emergency device only to be used when your Logitech's batteries are dead. I've seen people outright refuse to use a trackpad, most likely out of a lack of experience.

If I was a PC maker, I'd know this, and wouldn't bother spending a dime on making things any better. Hell, I'd sell matching mice right next to 'em in the store.

Does the dog wag the tail or the tail wag the dog. That PC trackpads are notoriously horrible makes it reasonable that PC users would avoid them. This isn't true on the Macs, where they actually work...even in bootcamp! So a reverse switcher like myself (note I work for Microsoft) has much higher expectations for trackpads on a Lenovo that aren't being satisfied.

I bought my first Mac today after following MSFT from Windows 3.11 to 7. Laptop died today and after much hurried research, really wanting to avoid having to make the switch right now, I kept finding that almost every PC laptop had quality control issues. You have to look into the user reviews, not editorial reviews. Almost every ultrabook had trackpad complaints, especially the Samsung Series 9, which is a shame, because it's a beautiful machine otherwise. PC manufacturers can't seem to get their act together (or maybe they don't want to bother because no matter what they do Apple will always be considered superior quality by the consumer?)

Anyways, I'm happy with the switch so far but I think I'll always feel at "home" with Windows, given that I've been using it every day since I was 8 years old.

Running OSX it Windows - maybe you can have the best of both worlds?

While I find this option very attractive from what I've read the drivers aren't very well optimised for Windows and battery life in particular takes a rapid nose dive on Windows Vs. OSX.

I mean a Macbook Pro has better battery life than a Thinkpad Txx with a 6 cell battery (worse than 9 cell) but if you put Windows on the Macbook Pro instead of OS X then the reverse is true (@ 6 cell).

Your battery life will suck, but IMHO, Macbooks are still the best Windows laptops you can buy (but avoid the rMBP, since high res is troublesome under Windows).

Yeah, the X1 looks slick! Does get pricey when you try and get it up to the same (albeit low) specs of the baseline Air. It's definitely second on the list

If you're still trying to get WC3 working, I'd suggest PlayOnMac (http://www.playonmac.com). It's basically a frontend for Wine, but I've found it works very well and is easy to setup.

Blizzard not bothering to create a new (non PowerPC) installer for Mac is poor service from them.

I might give that a go (if it resolves the missing texture problem), but I'm also hesitant to do it now given that she actually does work on her laptop now ;)

Just as sort of an aside because I'm thinking about one--why doesn't WC3 work? I still play it occasionally on a slightly older Air, so this is a troubling development.

And on that note, here's a shoutout to Blizzard for doing things like releasing Intel binaries for ancient games like WC3.

Unless I'm mistaken. the installer and updater for Warcraft 3 as well as Starcraft and Diablo 2 are Rosetta apps, even though the games themselves are universal. Since 10.7 removed Rosetta you can't install the games or update them any longer, though if you have a preinstalled copy you can continue to play.

The installer isn't the issue - I have an old mac mini I installed the game on to.

Half the textures don't load. The game menu is basically a whole lot of black buttons without labels, and if you get a game running by muscle memory, pretty much most of the screen is black. I spent a good couple of days trying to find some sort of resolution, all I found was other users complaining about the same issue.

This is what I meant when I complimented Blizzard -- they updated WC3 and the expansion to Intel, and the intel installers can also be downloaded from battle.net now.

He asked what applications I use most and I replied, "Vim, Panic, Terminal, and Git" in which he replied, "I'm sorry, what?"

And if he responded, "you should be fine—the i7 is only necessary for emacs"?

I'd say who paid you to say that? :)

Sorry, tried to look it up but too many false positives; What is Panic?

Really? But they have the most obvious url: http://panic.com/ :P

Yeah - But you said you were asked what apps... then said Panic -- I saw that co - but thought, "this isn't an app, so Ill go ask for clarification"

Yes but that's a company, not a single application. I thought the original commenter might be referring to an obscure command-line tool called 'panic' or something.

Yikes....mystery meat buttons.

Fair enough, though, at least they have tooltips and are screen reader accessible. (I work in accessibility and a lot of things make me cry. :( )

What application is "Panic"?

Assuming Panic Software products, or the whole suite. Most popular likely being Coda: http://panic.com/coda/

I am not sure if this is the same Panic but there is a company called Panic that makes great Mac Applications: Transmit and Coda are their most famous apps.

It's like when someone says their web browser is called "Mozilla".

> Plus, Apple’s scheme makes it so easy to upgrade.

I think this statement is some local maximum of the reality distortion field.

Being able to only upgrade at the vendor's shop at a premium rate is "easy", yes. But "easy" is certainly not the first term that comes to mind.

Yeah, I had the same experience, but in my case it was pretty negative actually. My fiancé went to the mac store with me looking to buy a mbp and while i was perusing accessories etc... mostly wandering around the store, she struck up a conversation with a sales guy. The sales guy's read was "this girl needs much less than she thinks" and he proceeded to try to downsell her to an air. Now I'm sure the air works just fine, but in her case, she's a web dev and works with video editing in her spare time. Not absurd to want a mbp. Anyway, the guy just thought GIRL = Macbook Air. No further analysis needed. Only when I showed up and talked to the guy did he back off... We talked about how strange it was that we needed to strong arm a salesman into paying more. Truly hard selling us on less. It was downright offensive for him to read her so poorly on account of her gender and it put us off. Not that it's changed my fan-boi status...

He's a great salesman because he sold you what they have available in-store.

You might not be better off for buying the lower-spec model. Especially on RAM, which at today's prices doesn't make sense not to max out. You may actually find yourself needing to upgrade your machine sooner than you previously would have (which has non-financial costs in data migration).

That said, I think the Apple Store employees know when someone is dead set on exactly what they need (which the OP obviously wasn't). I walked in and stated the exact machine I needed and they said, "just a minute" and got it for me without another word.

They were probably out of the $1749 model.

so I thought!

I bought a base level MBA 13" 2 years ago. 5 weeks before the refresh to Core i series, and I've lived with it since and it's been an interesting experience.

At the time it the specs seemed reasonably good, but a 1.86Ghz C2D with 2GB of RAM and 128GB SSD aren't exactly fantastic in modern context. However, I've found I need significantly less resources than I used to think I needed and in general I only bump up against it when I've got multiple XCode windows open, with the iOS Simulator running, with Sublime, Spotify, a fully stocked Chrome and so on.

I'm buying a new MBA some point in the next few weeks, and with the exception of the SSD (I don't really need the 500GB option) I'll most likely max everything else. I know I don't need the headroom now but I'm going to spend somewhere in the region of £1.4k on a machine for me now, and then I'll have a new laptop for my girlfriend in 2 years time, and she'll get 2 years use out of it. I don't think 4GB of RAM in 4 years time is going to cut it given that just web browsing alone these days uses so much.

The great thing about Apple products is that for the most part, they're very, very hardy machines. I have a MacBook (plain, old boring MacBook) that's nearing it's 7th year in service. With no upgrades. Spending £210 now adds another couple of comfortable years of use, and that's worth it to me.

As somebody who's really feeling the squeeze now from skimping on RAM / SSD from my MBA purchase in 2011, I'm tempted to say he should have stuck with his first instinct. You can't upgrade the damn thing later, so do it right the first time!

BTW, by "optimizing" laptop to customer needs, they sell machine less future-proof, which will result in sooner upgrade. I always believed that companies make more money on entry-level models than on professional ones. (not just apple)

I don't have numbers or sources to back it up, but in my experience at least, people who were satisfied with an entry-level model didn't keep track of newer models and weren't interested in "upgrading" unless the thing was about to die or there were substantial benefits.

I must say, as an iPhoto user who currently is drowning in a mountain of around 30k photos, this salesperson did you a great disservice by recommending you get a standard platter external HDD instead of opting for the larger built-in SSD (or even a thunderbolt connected external SSD). iPhoto absolutely starts to crawl with enough photos and videos thrown at it, to the point where the speed of an SSD is all but required.

What makes it 'start to crawl'? I'm inexperienced in dealing with iPhoto and large datasets.

I'd agree more with you if you said the sales person did a disservice by not recommending the RAM upgrade as thats not possible to do after the purchase. The author can still upgrade the SSD from OWC in the future.

RAM isn't going to help in the case where you have a massive iPhoto library. I'm not exactly sure what causes iPhoto to perform poorly when dealing with massive quantities of photos, but it is nearly unusable on my 3.4 GHz i7 iMac which has 16GB of RAM unless I put the library on an SSD.

I use Lightroom instead of iPhoto, but I get the same thing when processing gigabytes of RAW files. Lesson learnt: split my library up (in Lightroom's case, a catalog) to minimise disk IO.

You were lucky, most of them are really stupid.

I once witnesses a woman deciding between $2,000 and $2,500 machine, and one of the differences was something about graphics. So she asks "is graphics important for Netflix" and the sales guy goes like "oh yeah".

But yeah, it's also a problem of American consumers who have so much money they don't know what to do with them. :-/

So much borrowed money, that is.

Ugh - I am constantly at the limit of my 256GB SSD and it is very annoying. Unfortunately in the MB Air there is no way to swap the SSD for a bigger one... So I'd go with the 512GB any day. Before the Air, I used to always upgrade HD and memory at least once in my computers before getting a new one.

True, the main problem might be photos, and presumably even 512GB would fill up quickly these days. But external HDs just seem like an ugly solution. Also I already have an external HD attached for backups most of the time, which means I should carry two external HDs (one for backups, one for photos - and backup for photos is especially important)?

Maybe cloud services are the only solution? Have to look into that 1 TB option on Flickr...

OWC sells 480GB replacement SSDs. [1] The SSDs in a MacBook Air are user-replaceable [2]; it's the RAM that isn't.

[1] http://eshop.macsales.com/shop/SSD/OWC/Aura_Pro_Air_2012 (I'm using MacBook Air 2012 as a reference point, but there are SSDs for the other versions too.)

[2] http://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Installing+MacBook+Air+13-Inch+M...

Very cool!


I agree that you don't always know when you purchase something what you're going to use it for. I got the 16GB iPad and never ever expected to run out of storage space. I didn't know about all the great games you could play on it, and how that (together with ebooks and other stuff) really adds up. If someone had asked me what I'd use it for back then, I would have answered "web browsing and reading ebooks". That changed in the first couple of months though. In hindsight I really wish I had at least 32GB.

A similar thing goes for the laptop/desktop example given above. I recently bought a laptop for my parents and the salesperson tried to talk them out of it as well, because they weren't going to travel with it. I think a laptop (with an external screen if it is used a lot) is so much more useful for most people than a desktop, simply because of it's portability inside their home, even without any travel. Now they can sit next to their partner instead of in the separate computer room upstairs. Or (if there was no computer room upstairs) they can put it in the closet when they're done and don't have a big computer taking up space in the living room all the time. And it's way easier to take it with me on public transport if there's something wrong with it. I really felt that the "are you planning on taking it with you while traveling" is the wrong question when it comes to deciding between desktop and laptop, especially for most people when the extra power that a desktop gives is totally insignificant for word processing and web browsing. A laptop (not a top of the line one) was definitely the best option for my parents, and I'm glad I was there so that the salesperson did not succeed in talking them out of that with the best of intentions.

While waiting for Genius appointments and friends to get something done in Apple stores, I've seen salespeople talk customers out of higher priced items more than once. And they do it the right way: asking what you want to do with the computer and then finding the right level of machine for those needs.

I suspected that this was part of the training programme, precisely because it creates happier customers with a good story to share.

Separate issue: You're not always helping people and doing the right thing but telling them to not spend money. [1]

Some people derive quite a bit of pleasure from buying "the best". They simply aren't interested in hearing that what they are doing is wrong. Or ways to save money.

The key here is:

"Instead, this guy asked me why I needed the i7 processor and 512GB SSD. "

That's not really his business to stick his nose and interrogate you (like a parent would) to try to prove your thinking wrong (not saying that some people wouldn't like this or be appreciative of course). On the surface seems like a great loyalty builder. But maybe not.

Take the lady that wants a fur coat. You're going to tell her she's stupid and should want a good cloth coat?

Take a guy that wants a fancy watch or a fancy car. In their mind there is value that extend way beyond the real benefit of the device. A guy wakes up and wants the Porsche Turbo. He doesn't want to hear that at 160k he is wasting his money. Now if he asks your opinion that's another thing of course.

There is no question that with some buyers you will gain good will by following the path described in the story. But please don't assume that everyone wants this, appreciates this, or that it is some just so above it all business ethics that everyone should emulate.

By the way having an external drive has advantages and disadvantages. (Personally I would never travel with my photo collection but on the other hand having it on a drive means you have to also protect the drive which becomes easier to steal or lose.

[1] We don't even know how important the money savings were to the buyer in this case. Perhaps he had millions I would guess that the store salesman had no clue to his financial condition at all when deciding he shouldn't "waste" his money.

"That's not really his business to stick his nose and interrogate you"

You don't think it's a salesperson's job to make sure that the Apple store is selling the right product to the customer? If you read the entire article, it turns out that this user was super happy with the solution that he ended up with, and saved about $750. I'd say the salesperson did a good job.

(Re-read my comment.) The fact that the customer was happy does not confirm it's the best business decision in general which takes many things into account. I also acknowledged that some people would like that this was done.

Going a step further (with my same argument) what if the man was visiting the store with his wife and his wife already thought he was spending to much money "on this stuff". Now the salesman sticks in his nose and confirms her thoughts. Think he will be happy then? Would you? Would most guys or flip sexes and example girls?

So - your idea of a salesperson, is an order taker/facilitator then. Fair enough, reasonable people can disagree.

If a salesperson can make you feel buyer's remorse before you even purchase the item, then perhaps you were doubtful that you wanted/needed the item to begin with.

That said: You don't have to do what the salesperson suggests. Do your research and tell them politely, "Thank you for your advice, but I'm going to go with my first choice."

>That's not really his business to stick his nose and interrogate you

Come on, it's not an interrogation. You can refuse to engage in the conversation. You can stop it at any time, and you can get the laptop you wanted after the sales guy rendered his opinion.

Take the lady that wants a fur coat a few sizes too big.

When is the new Macbook Pro coming out? I've been researching everywhere but there's not date for the non-Retina. This is relevant because based on this article, I'd be more apt to buy the Air now. For web development, medium resolution photo manipulation on photoshop, and light video editing, is the Air good enough?

IMO, Retina is mostly useful if your job is creating Retina enabled assets for iOS devices. Personally I would recommend a maxed out air over a MBP. I do iOS development, web development and music production on a 3 year old MBA. That said, I was disappointed there wasn't a retina MBA. It may be worth waiting to see if the fabled MBA-looking MBP comes out at the end of the year.

I have a fully loaded 2012 Air and happily do all those things on it.

> Apple recognizes what few other retailers do: customer satisfaction starts even before a product is purchased, and it is customer satisfaction that makes companies great.

I'm not sure you can really claim that from the actions of a single employee, which even in Apple's ideal world don't mirror their parent company's ideals.

I worked in Apple Retail through April of last year, and this was the specific policy advocated during training, with the argument that goodwill from being down sold outweighed the incremental profit. The canonical example was MacBook Pro -> air after getting into the customers needs, but extended to air -> ipad if the person had truly limited needs.

I honestly expected this to be basically a charade dropped during training, but throughout my time there, all of the interaction with managers revolved around the feedback score given by customers and no attention was paid at all to $/hour in sales.*

*somewhat frustratingly for me, since I sold a lot of computers and received no benefits for it.

This is still anecdotal, and that's still a retail store. Attitudes are very different there than in the board room.

As you say, it's anecdotal. But my wife's supervisor (an older lady) recently went to an Apple Store to purchase a Macbook. She came away with an iPad, extremely happy with the result and spending much less than she anticipated. Unlike her previous Windows laptop, she actually uses the iPad.

It makes financial sense to downgrade customers if you suspect they will use the product more / it suits their lifestyle better / makes them happy. This keeps them in the ecosystem and keeps them coming back.

My point being, they could easily make customers much happier for little effort. Say, by helping people root their own iPhones if they want to void warranty. But of course it's not in their business interest to do so.

Customer satisfaction may be at Apple's core, but producing the products that would make their customers the happiest is not.

I agree with the comments below. I went into an apple store recently and asked the technician for some advice. He openly admitted when I questioned his sales techniques that they are not paid on commission. He said that he would rather me not buy a product then buy the wrong one.

After reading the first paragraph I thought someone had a nice trick to save what I'd spend on an entire laptop (for $750 I get a new one, although indeed not an Apple one). Then it turns out the trick is just "don't buy more than you need". Go figure.

Getting the MBA with only 4GB is a mistake even for web browsing, if you open a lot of tabs.

Is this a joke? I have Firefox with loads of tabs, Safari, Photoshop, Xcode, Mail, Playing a movie, BBEdit, and torrent all running at the same time, on my 2011 13-inch i5 with 4gb of ram. When I but the new machine this year, I might not even get the 8gb, it is really no necessary. I only want the new one for the battery.

I have a 2010 MBP17 8/512(aftermarket ssd) and a 2011 MBA13 i7/4/256, and it's amazing how much better than 8GB machine is. I got 8GB because of VMs, but now what I use a desktop box for most VM stuff, I still get much more consistent performance for Chrome/Firefox, Lightroom, etc. For editing RAW files or video, more RAM is also nice, as is fast disk. Xcode mostly seems to do fine in 4GB though.)

(I also have a late-2008 MBP15 4/500 for home theater/hooked up to my projector, and it's obviously far far sadder than the MBA, mainly due to the drive. Once it starts swapping, it's game over, whereas on an SSD, swapping just sort of sucks.)

I pretty much wouldn't buy a Mac with less than 8GB again. Certainly true in a year, so buying one today with 4GB cuts lifespan a lot. I tend to buy fairly loaded machines for anything built-in, then upgrade to max all the aftermarket stuff a bit later once prices have dropped, and keep machines for ~3-5 years in some capacity.

No, its not. I have a 13" MBP 2011 and I swapped out the 4GB RAM with 8GB and noticed a huge difference. Earlier it used to beachball all the time but its much better now. Right now, Chrome alone is using 3.5GB+ memory.


I've got a 2011 15" with 256g SSD and 16gigs. I still get beach balls far more than I think I should. They never go away, just get less frequent. :/

Have you tried running a hardware test? You shouldn't get beach balls at all while waiting for something. They're not called spinning balls of death for nothing.

hardware test at the genius bar is 'fine'.

Doing a clean reinstall (not just restoring image) seemed to solve similar problems for me in the past; I probably could have debugged exactly what files were messed up, but a fresh install was a whole lot easier. I've had this happen a few times, particularly on systems which were 10.7 and then various 10.7 and 10.8 Developer Previews finally updated to release 10.8.

I'm having a weird problem right now where iMessage doesn't work on an iCloud account for a system which had iMessage installed separately (on what, 10.7? I forget), then upgraded. Presumably the same fix will work.

What is "loads of tabs"? Just curious as my experience with Firefox and many tabs was rather displeasing. Tab Mix Plus helped with usability, but the responsiveness was not great. This has been in the single digit versions though.

When did you last use FF? The memory impact of lots of tabs has decreased considerably lately.

Your anecdote is meaningless when we don't know whether you're swapping to disk or not.

How are you handling photo backups with the iPhoto library on an external drive? Do you replicate it? I'm always fighting drive space on my iMac due to iPhoto, but with time machine running, I'm hesitant to move it off the main drive.

This so very much. Remote libraries on iPhoto are so awful it hurts. And every so often it opens into some new library it just made up, I don't notice and load in a load of photos. Several weeks later I realise when the drive fills up. Ditto for iTunes - but iTunes is worse as it shows the thumb nails of the missing content and fools you into transferring files even though they are going local, not remote like they are supposed to. If remote storage with default apps was solved by Apple (or even just made better) I'd be considerably happier with the Air choice.

Another reason to buy the stock model: My partner needed a new laptop, and I was sick of fixing the PC's he was used to using.

His requirement were using MS Office (mostly for word and powerpoint), surfing the internet, and watching videos while traveling. Macbook Air was a perfect solution (even the stock one without upgrades).

Besides showing him how to use a mac and the initial setup of buying and installing msoffice, I haven't had to fix his computer in almost a year.

If I can get more of my non-tech friends and family to switch, I will, not because I'm a fanboy but to cut back on my free tech support for MS products that I stopped using 10 years ago for all my friends and family :)

I've helped a lot of people buy laptops over the years based on description alone (I eventually wrote a wiki page to help people decide on factors). Mostly it boils down to portability - after I explain what it's like carrying around a 15" item, most (not all) start looking at 13" or smaller. Being guided on screen size is the sole attribute that people mention after the fact (usually 'thank you' or 'I wish I had listened'). The rest is much of a muchness and varies on more detail in the use case.

Sometimes a 15" or bigger is warranted, but I've only seen it suitable for the rarely-mobile, not the always-mobile.

I had a similar experience in a Sony Center last year.

I walked in to buy the most expensive and pimped out Sony Vaio S at the time, and the salesman tried to convince me that I didn't need the higher specs and could be fine with a cheaper, lighter model that was coming out a few weeks later.

I bought the higher end machine though. I do use the faster CPU and large memory capacity - shaving 10 minutes of an Android build is worth a little money, and being able to run multiple VMs concurrently is also something I'm willing to pay for.

The salesman didn't fully understand why I needed the resources, and insisted on getting a lower end machine.

I held a part time job at Staples as a sales associate for the technology section. We were always told to make recommendations to people based on what they need and not what they think they need. Although once you "down sold" them you were told to offer insurance and other extras which is really where Staple's margins are at, so it makes sense. In a way it helps the customer but at the same time it was deceptive because the insurance rarely ever made sense to buy unless you thought you were saving money.

When I first bought my 11" Air, I went with the base model, too. Mostly because I was impatient. But 128GB filled up fast, even with a 1TB external drive. Photos on another drive is one thing but if you have a sizeable music or movie collection, putting it on an external drive is a huge hassle. And then you're travelling with the computer and drive.

Thankfully, I bought the Air the year where you could still upgrade the drive. I bought a 500GB drive to replace the 128 and have been very happy since.

I got a 1TB WD passport drive to pair with my 128 MBP after a POS Lacie from a few years ago failed on me and am very happy with it. It's tiny!


I had a similar experience whereby I basically walked in to buy a screen cleaning solution. Upon checkout, the agent flat out told me "You know, this is really pricey and you could get a cheaper one for more value at the target just off a block from here".

I must say, I was quite surprised and thrilled at the same time. Sure, I could get an inexpensive one.. But for that kind of thoughtful service, I actually just felt like buying it! I didn't though, still a college student..

"With my photos all on the external drive, I have almost 100GB of free space. "

Of course, there is another external drive which is kept syncronised with the laptop and the iPhoto drive using automatic backup software, and then a third, much larger, external drive that is a backup - never deleting anything - rather than a sync.

I wonder how many photos the original author takes a month? How long is that 100Gb going to last?

Fully agree with the processor/RAM comments!


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