Apple’s SSD Pricing is Bizarre

Apple has a Solid State Drive upgrade option for its newest MacBook Pros, but the pricing scheme is bizzarre. Here are some theories on what may be happening.

If you want to buy one of Apple’s newest MacBook Pros (MBP) with a 256 GB Solid State Drive (SSD), here’s the additional cost for each model.

13-inch, 2.3 GHz, 256 GB SSD option:       $650

13-inch, 2.7 GHz, 256 GB SSD option:       $600

15-inch, 2.0 GHz, 256 GB SSD option:       $600

15-inch, 2.2/2.3  GHz, 256 GB SSD option:  $500

17-inch, 2.2/2.3  GHz, 256 GB SSD option:  $500

The smaller the Mac and the less you pay, the more Apple charges for the upgrade. The largest difference is US$150.00 in the chart above. That appears bizzare.

MacBook Pro (early 2011) family

MacBook Pros, early 2011

First, I asked Apple public relations if there’s an explanation, and they declined to comment. Next, I asked a source, and the source said that it just could be the science of the pricing algorithm and didn’t know of anything special.

At TMO, we speculated that it might be due to the fact that the smaller case of the smaller MacBooks required a different kind of SSD that is more expensive. So I contacted a source at a company that sells SSD upgrades for the Mac. That person said that all these MBPs use the same 2.5-inch SSDs, and available space inside the case is not the issue. Scratch that.

My next theory was that Apple was blatantly trying to extract more money from those customers who were trying to spend less. I hoped that wasn’t true, but then I got another idea.

Apple is very much into product differentiation by price in order to avoid cannibalization and to preserve a sense of brand and proportional cost across its product line. So I started comparing to the MacBook Air and discovered the following:

MacBook Air, 13-inch, 2.13 GHz, 4 GB RAM, 256 GB Flash:   $1799
MacBook Pro, 13-inch, 2.30 GHz, 4 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD: $1849

If Apple hadn’t charged that extra US$150, the roughly equivalent 13-inch MacBook Pro would be less expensive than the corresponding MBA. But that wouldn’t make complete sense because the 13-inch MBP has an optical drive, additional ports like FireWire, and a much faster processor than the MBA. So the theory here is that Apple feels that customers should pay a premium for the low weight and small thickness of the MBA, but when it comes down to hard specifications, they’re not that confident that customers would (pun intended) buy into that.

The result is that Apple is artificially adding a price increment to the MacBook Pro SSD option to prop up design differences that didn’t fall into the “right” kind of schema. So the customer ends up paying for either Apple’s design shortfalls or marketing compulsions.

That’s a rather extreme way of looking at things, but not out of bounds for Apple.

Of course, one could argue that the retail price of the 320 GB on the 13-inch HD MBP is less than the price of the 750 GB HD on the 17-inch.  So you pay the difference. But, seriously? $150 difference? That’s also part of Apple’s inflated pricing scheme. By comparison, one can buy a TB internal drive these days for less than $100.

My final theory, saving the best for last, is that, based on information from one of my sources, SSDs are getting very popular and demand is going up. That’s creating a shortage and raising prices. Now in the case of Apple’s MacBook Pros, perhaps Apple knows from experience that they’ll sell more of the smaller 13-inch models than the more expensive 15- and 17-inch models. As a result, if the same percentage of people upgrade to SSDs across the line, the increased sales of 13-inch models means Apple must charge a larger premium for the SSD to maintain the desired profitability. Higher demand = higher price for a scarce commodity.

That doesn’t make complete sense to me because while some people who buy the 13-inch model are focusing on size and weight, I suspect (but I’m not sure) most are trying to keep the price down. And so I don’t believe that the same percentage of 13-inch buyers will opt for an SSD as the larger models bought by people with more money to spend.

However, maybe Apple isn’t sure. Or maybe I’m wrong about customer motivations. The net effect is that a premium is charged for SSDs on those models that are expected to sell the most and the 13-inch pricing scheme is also put into sync with MBAs. Welcome to the science of product pricing.