Follow-up to “It’s Called Progress, Folks”
A common theme among responses to yesterday’s piece is that I was wrong about the RAM bit. I wrote:
How many people outside of the tech and computer industry regularly upgrade their RAM? Especially more than once? Most people I know who are not in the tech industry–all of whom are smart folks–haven’t upgraded their own RAM since around 2002. RAM is cheap these days, even from Apple. Sure, soldering it to the board means you have to make your RAM decision at point-of-sale, but anyone shelling out over $2,700 USD is probably going to be capable of deciding which amount of RAM they’d like. Do consumers care about this? No. Do companies who sell third-party RAM and installation services? Absolutely.
A lot of people claim they still want to buy after-market RAM and install it themselves, and that they wish to do this at some point down the road. But I think the truth is even simpler: People want cheaper RAM.
Most people who buy after-market RAM and install it themselves months after purchasing a computer and do so to both save money on RAM and lower the initial sticker price of the computer. If you’re spending over $2,000 USD on a computer, saving $200 can be quite helpful. A consumer might think about getting a lower initial RAM size and plan to spend $85 a few months later to upgrade. What I’m trying to get at here is that users probably wouldn’t care at all about Apple soldering in the RAM if it was extremely cheap. Would people buying a Retina MacBook Pro complain about having to choose a RAM upgrade at point-of-sale if the difference in price between 8GB and 16GB was $40? Probably not. I don’t think the issue here is the ability to upgrade RAM later, I think the issue is users feeling like they have to spend more right up front.
These days, Apple treats the POS of a consumer product much like the automobile industry does. When you purchase a car, you have to make certain decisions up front: Do I want all-wheel drive? Do I want a standard transmission or automatic? What about safety features? You wouldn’t walk into a Toyota dealership and expect to purchase a 4-cylinder Camry and then later convert it to a 6-cylinder. And while cylinders on a car are obviously more complex than installing RAM chips, I do genuinely believe Apple solders RAM into the board for reasons more interesting than trying to screw John Doe. To make RAM swappable requires more vertical space (for the attachment apparatus), a relatively simple way to get to that slot without making it easy for the average user to destroy something, and plenty of other technical things too complicated for me to understand. It means making a beautiful, sleek case less beautiful and sleek. It means more customer support when people do stupid things to the logic board. And when you add all that overhead, what do you truly get for your trouble? 5% of your users will install RAM six months after buying a computer.
(I had this whole additional point I was going to make about how the automobile industry is headed in the same direction as Apple with regards to its serviceability, but then Ole Begemann went and did a beautiful job of it for me with his post comparing the engine of a new Mercedes to that of one from the 1980s. Thanks to John Gruber for the link.)