Tue 19 Aug
The premium prices that Apple Computer charges for its hardware are hard enough to justify when it comes time to lay down the big cash for a new desktop or laptop, but it gets doubly hard to swallow when shopping around for commodity peripherals. Granted, wireless networking — Wi-Fi, if you prefer — can’t yet be said to be so ubiquitous that it can be classified as a commodity, but while shopping around for 802.11g wireless base stations, it seems hardly very far off. For literally days, I’ve been trying to decide between buying one of the more sensibly priced offerings, like the Linksys WAP54G, or spending nearly twice as much for the luxurious Apple AirPort.
What it comes down to is price. No, wait, what it comes down to is ease of use and administration. Actually, I want both, and that’s the debate I’ve been having in my head. Our home network is composed principally of Macintosh computers, so it would seem to make sense to buy an AirPort and guarantee smooth wireless interoperability. But the 802.11x specification which more or less defines every wireless base station, access point, router etc., seems to be so straightforward that I’m not convinced that there’s any real difference between the Apple product and its competitors. If there is, I can’t find anyone — anyone — that’s willing to make that statement unequivocally.
It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for anything bearing the Apple brand, and this is the part of that sometimes-irrational patronage that bothers me so much. Apple seems so willing to exploit not only my devotion, but my faith in the superiority of its products as well. Is the AirPort really 80% better than its competition, as its 80% markup over street prices for the Linksys might suggest? Rational consumers would probably scoff at this question — the difference is absurdly high for a technology that will soon become as commonplace as Ethernet — but Mac devotees like myself will probably find themselves on the fence: the Apple product may not be all that much different, but we’re not sure that it’s not that much different, either. That is, isn’t it reasonable to assume that Apple would add enough value to the basic 802.11g standard to make the markup really worth it? It doesn’t matter if it’s reasonable or not, really, because we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, for better or worse.