The Consumer Reports survey of 56,000 subscribers established, without a doubt, that MacBooks are more reliable than Windows machines. Is it because MacBooks cost more? I asked CR. Here's what they said.
Apple sold over $25 billion worth of Macs in their 2015 fiscal year, giving an average selling price of $1,237, quite a bit higher than the average Windows notebook price. Is that why MacBooks have half the rate of serious problems?
That average price includes a tiny percentage of Mac Pros, and a larger percentage of iMacs, but something like 75 percent of all Macs are MacBooks. Looking at MacBook retail prices, which range from $899 for the bottom of the line 11" MacBook Air to $3199 for a loaded 15" MacBook Pro, $1200 is probably close to the mark for an average MacBook price.
There are plenty of $500 Windows notebooks, but that is a price point where Apple doesn't compete. Looking at ultrabooks though, the pricing is similar to Apple's. So, is it the cost of the systems that determines their reliability?
Consumer Reports, in this particular survey, doesn't ask about price. But James McQueen of CR noted in an email response that:
. . . [W]e found that reliability isn't necessarily related to how much money you spend on a laptop. HP's premium ENVY line is near the bottom, with a 20 percent failure rate, while the company's less-costly Pavilion line fares better, at 16 percent.
Okay, so price ≠ reliability. Gosh darn it! Life is so-o complicated!
But better (for MacBook buyers): the price you pay for MacBooks comes with a jumbo helping of reliability.
CR defines serious and catastrophic breakdowns in a way that, perhaps, long-time computer jocks like us may not. In a comment on the CR web site, Mary Elizabeth Bernal, who works at CR, noted that
. . . [O]ur laptop reliability survey is designed to capture the ownership experiences of "everyday" people, as they perceive it. . . . [T]his survey allows our organization to provide the general public with a holistic understanding of what they can expect from the laptops currently available for purchase on the US market. Furthermore, let us assure you that . . . we do define what we mean by "serious" and "catastrophic" breakdowns in the survey.
When I left Silicon Valley for the mountains of northern Arizona 10 years ago, I was startled at how differently "everyday" people saw computers. It's binary: work; or, not work.
They don't say - "oh it's a hardware problem, no bad on Microsoft." No, they say "my Windows notebook stinks 'cause it broke." CR is doing the absolute right thing.
The Storage Bits take
For me, and I suspect for most people who lug them around, notebooks are a tool. And when it doesn't work it is a problem.
That's may be why at tech conferences I attend, MacBooks are way over-represented - typically 40-60 percent - among highly educated and sophisticated users. They are tools and they're good ones.
If I were running Microsoft's Windows customer sat group, I'd be on this like a dog on a bone. MS is only supplying the software, but their OEMs are killing the MS brand with reliability that is half of what Apple achieves.
Which has to be one of the reasons that Microsoft is getting into hardware like the Surface. They know what MacBook users like about their machines, and they know that their current OEMs are't providing it.
Advice to Microsoft: take a close look at Tim Cook, supply chain guy extraordinaire. Apple insists on quality and - this is key - they get it.
The Mac's growing sales in a declining PC market shows that customers do as well.
Comments welcome, of course. How would YOU advise Windows vendors to improve quality?