Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Shocking Exposé!

Oh jeez.

Consider this Apple product, selling for $29:

Basically this is a 2x NiMH AA battery charger, with 6 AA batteries included. The batteries by their description sound a lot like (and may well be) rebranded low-self-discharge Sanyo Eneloop batteries. By "a lot like", I mean that the recharge cycle specs is very similar to Eneloop, and while Apple provides no specifics (such as capacity, discharge characteristics, behavior under load), the description sounds a lot like the "pre-charged" marketing message used by Eneloops.

Why, they're practically inviting comparison! Let's investigate.

Sanyo Eneloop 2x charger with 2 Eneloops, $13.18:

4x AA Eneloops, $9.15:

Total: $22.33.
Apple markup: $6.67, a ~23% premium.

For $6.67, you can upgrade to a 4x charger and still come in under Apple by a couple bucks.

Now, Apple's claiming a low standby load, which at least is a potential difference from the competitor. The problem is, their competitors don't publish standby loads (at least that I can find) for their chargers, and they themselves never define the "average" charger they're comparing themselves to. Did they test a good random sampling of chargers? Or did they test a hand-picked set of dubious chargers they picked up at a market in Taiwan or something?

So in other words, it's cute marketing, but it's a 23% markup for a product which has no actual, verifiable advantage over the competitor.  Although it does look cute I suppose, if you're into the whole Apple wall-wart aesthetic.

When Apple does this kind of thing with a Mac, you can at least point to the user experience and make non-specific non-falsifiable claims of enhanced productivity or lower frustration or better build quality or whatever. And that's fine; I don't have a problem if people find that those things make the difference for them in their daily usage. Human factors are very hard to quantify.

But when they do it with a battery form factor that was defined as a commodity in 1947, has been exhaustively characterized, is utterly well-understood, and can be trivially compared apples-to-apples (pun intended) with competitors, I find it kind of laughable and silly.

And honestly, if they apply the "Apple premium" to something as obnoxiously over the top as this, it makes me question whether there really is an Apple premium on anything they sell, or if Apple is just a giant snow-job.


A Guy on the Internet said...

You're paying for a) being cool, and b) knowing that it's Steve Jobs approved. Steve doesn't tolerate crap.

Now that you have cleverly informed us of the underlying facts, we, the cleverly informed, can all save $6. Thanks!

A Guy on the Internet said...

Oh, and on second look, the Sanyo charger is pretty clunky lookiing compared to the minimalist Apple charger. Maybe they have the same electronics inside, but lots of people value a clean look.

Anonymous said...


And bonus points for the (intentional?) "potential difference" pun.