Apple cuts MacBook Pro prices up to 13%

13-in. Retina MacBook Pro now $400 less than in January

Apple earlier this week cut the prices of its Retina MacBook Pro laptops by as much as 13%, a move one retail analyst said was driven in part by increased competition from higher-end Windows systems.

On Tuesday, Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro line, reconfiguring the laptops with the latest Core i5 and Core i7 processors based on its Haswell architecture, replacing previous chipsets with an Intel graphics processor dubbed "Iris," and putting the new models on a modest diet.

The 13-in. MacBook Pro is 5% thinner and 3% lighter, for example.

Apple also reduced prices by $200, from $1,499 to $1,299 for the least expensive 13-in. laptop, and from $2,199 to $1,999 for the 15-in. model. Those cuts represented price decreases of 13% and 9%, respectively.

Since the start of the year, Apple has slashed the price of the entry-level 13-in. Retina MacBook Pro by 24%.

The MacBook Pro was Apple's second notebook line this year to see price cuts. In June, Apple rolled out tweaked MacBook Airs at prices 7% to 8% lower than their predecessors.

Historically, the Cupertino, Calif., company has rarely lowered Mac prices, preferring instead to keep those stable but swap newer, faster processors for older CPUs, add more memory or increase storage.

But times are different, said Stephen Baker of the NPD Group.

"Apple's very high premium pricing is getting more difficult to sustain in this environment," said Baker, talking about the historic slump in the personal computer industry, now into its sixth straight quarter. "They needed to bring the pricing more in line with the overall market."

Apple has been having a harder time selling Macs, just as has virtually every other computer maker. In the quarter that ended June 30, Apple sold 7% fewer Macs than it did during the same period the year prior, for instance.

The price cuts were also an admission by Apple that tablets continue to cannibalize sales of laptops, said Baker. "Apple's portion of the $1,000-plus PC market is not quite as big as it used to be," he noted. "They've had some cannibalization in their higher buckets."

That cannibalization has come from both tablets and lower-priced notebooks, including Apple's own MacBook Air line, said Baker. And also, in a small way, from touch-based Windows portables and the even more radical designs known as "convertibles," "hybrids" or "2-in-1s."

"In the past year, premium-priced Windows [devices] have seen pretty decent growth," said Baker. "They're starting from very low volumes, but that's still growth."

Unlike Windows OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), Apple has an advantage when it comes to tablet cannibalization: It can sell its own iPad and at least keep customers within its garden.

Apple has actually reveled in the trend. "I see cannibalization as a huge opportunity for us," said CEO Tim Cook during a January 2013 conference call with Wall Street. "One, our base philosophy is to never fear cannibalization. If we do, somebody else will just cannibalize it, and so we never fear it. We know that iPad will cannibalize some Macs [so] that doesn't worry us."

Baker thought that was smart.

"They get retail, and one of the key pieces of retail is that products get cannibalized," said Baker. "But it's always better to cannibalize your own rather than let someone else do it, even if it costs [you] some margin."

On Tuesday, Cook reaffirmed Apple's stake in the personal computer market, perhaps responding to talk over the last several weeks that Apple might -- and in some analysts' minds, should -- mimic Microsoft and force the iPad into 2-in-1 duty as a light-weight laptop by adding a keyboard.

"Our competition is different. They're confused. They chased after netbooks. Now they're trying to make tablets into PCs, and PCs into tablets," Cook said at the rollout of the new iPads. "[But] we have a very clear direction and a very ambitious goal. We still believe deeply in this category [of traditional notebooks] and we're not slowing down on our innovation."

Apple also dumped the 15-in. non-Retina MacBook Pro from its sales list on Tuesday, leaving only the 13-in. model as a not-with-Retina choice. That notebook relies on a 500GB platter-style hard disk drive rather than an SSD (solid-state drive) and is the last of Apple's laptops to include a built-in DVD drive. The 13-in. MacBook Pro starts at $1,199, now just $100 less than the bottom-end 13-in. Retina MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro
Apple this week cut the prices of its Retina MacBook Pro laptops by as much as 13%. (Image: Apple)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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