The price of a Leopard

Matthew JC. Powell
21 October, 2007
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Shill. Lackey. Crony. Apologist. Lap dog. Fanboy. These are just a selection of the more publishable things I’ve been called by readers in the past few weeks, since the last issue came out. And that’s just from the ones with the guts and decency to contact me directly.

And what set off this tirade? A post-postscript response to a post-postscript question in last issue’s Mailbox. To refresh your memory, Michael Moore of Florey, ACT asked me “Why is Leopard going to cost $A229 here when it’s going to cost $129 in the States? Does Apple know something about the exchange rate future that we don’t?” to which I replied “Apple has set its OS pricing to be consistent and predictable for people’s budgets. Sometimes it will be unfavourable versus the US exchange rate and sometimes it won’t, but the important thing is that Apple and its customers know what to expect.”

Cue flying feathers.

What I should have written was “I’ve asked Apple this very question repeatedly, every time a new version of OS X comes out, and the answer I always get is …” followed by the above. But it was just a PPS and I didn’t think it needed that many words. I was repeating Apple’s view, not stating my own, and I failed to make that clear. My bad.

The fact is, Apple’s international pricing for Mac OS X was set back with the release of OS X 10.1 in 2001, when the exchange rate between Australia and the US happened to be at a low ebb and looked like getting lower. From memory it was something like $0.65 to the Australian dollar, and at that rate it was a fair exchange. In 2000 the Aussie hit its all-time low around $0.55, so there was reason to believe in 2001 that the rate would remain in that range. The price was set and there it stayed.

Of course, the future has a habit of not resembling the past, and the trend for the Australian dollar has been to gain value against the greenback as the US dollar has slumped steadily on world markets. But still Apple has not adjusted the Australian price of Mac OS X.

This means that, at current rates (as at 5 September 2007) $129 equals $A156. Add ten percent GST (remembering that the US price is before any state-based sales taxes) and Australians should expect to pay $A171 or thereabouts — a $A58 rip-off, in the eyes of many readers of this magazine.

(Looked at the other way, $A229 is $A208 without GST, which at today’s rate equals $171 or thereabouts so the rip-off is $43.)

Should we feel aggrieved by that? Of course we should. Have I asked Apple about it yet again? Of course I have. Is Apple going to change the price because I asked?

Don’t hold your breath.

It’s possible to explain the differences in hardware pricing between Australia and the US in terms of shipping costs for a widespread population and intangibles like “market conditions”. We can’t expect the price of a Mac here to be the same as the price in the US, as much as we might like it to be.

But with software things can be much fairer. Take iWork ’08 for instance. In the US it’s $79, which is $A95.50. Add GST and it’s about $A105. The actual price is $A99 — so we actually save a few bucks. If the price of Mac OS X were converted at the same rate as the price of iWork, it would cost us $A161 including GST. $A229 just looks more expensive by the minute, eh?

So what’s the solution? Pirate it from BitTorrent? No way — stealing software is never justified folks. What about buying it from overseas? Interesting question.
In the UK, Mac OS X costs £89, which is $179 — so the Poms are getting shafted by $50. However, it’s only $A216, so less than us but you’d pay about the same as buying it locally once shipping’s taken into account — not worth it.

Over in Sweden, where they make cheap flat-pack furniture, you might expect to get cheap flat-pack software too. There, Mac OS X costs kr1195, or $173, or $A209. Same story as the UK more or less, plus you’d have to put it together yourself.
What about Canada, America’s chilly neighbour to the North? There the price is $C149, which is $141 — even their closest buddies don’t get mates’ rates. However, that means $A171, so even with shipping you’d save a bit.
What about just buying it from the US, you wonder? Well, that might work, but I have a better idea.

In Japan, Mac OS X costs ¥14,800, or $127 — that’s right, cheaper than the Americans get it. ¥14,800 is only $A154 too, and it’s not far from here so shipping shouldn’t be exorbitant.

So the moral of the story is, shop around if you don’t like the Australian price of Mac OS X or iWork or iLife, but for pity’s sake don’t pay what the Americans pay. They get, like, totally ripped off.

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