MacHeist

Daringfireball has been linking to a number of opinion pieces about MacHeist lately, and it had me thinking. Opinions on MacHeist seem to fall into two camps: it’s a great deal for customers and a lousy deal for developers OR it’s a great deal for everyone. One obvious camp is unexplored: it’s a lousy deal for everyone except MacHeist.

In my opinion, there are three kinds of software that benefit from MacHeist: (1) stuff that would never have sold very many copies because it’s fundamentally a silly product, (2) stuff that’s actually surprisingly good but doesn’t get as many users as it should either because (i) the userbase doesn’t exist (e.g. not that many people really need it), or (ii) they’ve already bought something that obviates it, and (3) good, fairly successful software that’s about to receive a major upgrade.

Examples of the first kind (basically useless) include most of the stuff in every MacHeist bundle. E.g. iSale, Picturesque, SousChef.

Examples of the second kind (good but unknown or in a saturated market) this time around includes Acorn, Kinemac, Wiretap Studio, Espresso, and arguably World of Goo. (It’s also possible that Acorn and Kinemac are type 3, but I doubt it. Kinemac’s user forums have about ten posts in them, and Acorn seems to have been swamped by Pixelmator — and deservedly so.)

Examples of the third kind not in this bundle would be Cheetah 3D (which was in a bundle last year when the developer was hoping to have version 5 out within six months, although it’s still not out) and Unity Indie (which was in the same bundle just before v2 came out).

I don’t know enough about Phoneview and LittleSnapper to categorize them.

So the value proposition for customers is basically, look at the stuff in the list, figure out which ones you’d actually use and try to guess whether they’re about to receive costly upgrades. Then factor in the value of what you’re getting relative to the bundle price. Most customers probably vastly overestimate the use they’ll get out of the software in the bundle and buy a bunch of stuff that they never end up using. But, they feel good so no major harm done. And maybe they start using a package they’d never have found otherwise, so that’s cool.

The value proposition for developers is basically… am I getting anywhere with this product? If not, this is a win. If so, then do I think I can gain more exposure than I will (potentially) lose in license sales OR can I grab customers and make money off them with upgrades? If so, then this is a win. Otherwise I’m just screwing myself.

It seems to me that developers probably think longer and harder about this value proposition than customers do. At least they probably do now. Back when MacHeist first arrived on the scene, I think that the bundle was essentially a bad deal for (almost) everyone. By now, MacHeist is paying a scaling royalty (I believe) and developers know what the deal is and have made better decisions. So it’s only customers screwing themselves.

Caveat Emptor.

Early 2009 Mac Pro: Update!

Bare Feats has some interesting benchmarks of the new Mac Pros. (Could they have labelled their charts any more confusingly? I doubt it.) It’s also nice to see they’re using Geekbench instead of the lamentable Xbench, although Geekbench doesn’t try to do the many things that Xbench does so badly.

As I expected, the new “base” 4-core Mac Pro is slower than the old base 8-core Mac Pro, so that for the $200 you save over the old machine’s price you lose significant CPU performance, albeit not as much as you might think (it looks like ~10%)! The new CPUs have double the memory bandwidth of the old, and with their considerably superior graphics cards in the end are probably better balanced machines. Oh, but the memory requirements are annoying (you need to buy your RAM in sets of three for optimal performance with one 4-core CPU, and six for two 4-core CPUs).

I’m using a (borrowed) 2008 8-core Mac Pro and it very seldom makes use of its extra cores. So I guess the new machine looks like it’s probably slightly better value, all-told, than the model it replaces. Nothing like the value proposition of the new Mac Minis though.

Apple’s New Models

It’s a strange time to be raising prices, but Apple has just done it. The new Mac Pros are priced at $2499 vs. $2699 for the older model, but the older model had 8 cores, while the model that “replaces” it has 4 cores. Apple’s website is conspicuously silent on the relative performance of the two obviously comparable model, preferring instead to show that the new top-end model is over twice as fast as the old top-end model. That’s nice, but the new base model is only a shade cheaper than the old mid-range model, and probably (we can’t tell) slower, while the old base model (which was $2199) is gone.

There is some good news. Apple has finally put the nVidia 9400M chipset into the Mac Mini, so the Mini is truly a headless MacBook. This means that the Mini’s performance for games should be, at least, acceptable, and makes the Mini surprisingly attractive.

The one thing that might explain the new Mac Pro pricing is if Apple is opening a space for the long-wished-for xMac. In terms of headless Macs, there’s the $599/799 Mac Mini then there’s nothing until you get to the $2499 Mac Pro. I might add that while the Mac Pro has the new “i7″ architecture chip (i.e. hyperthreading support, which treats each core as two virtual CPUs) none of the new Mac Minis and iMacs do.

In iMac land, things are somewhat, although less, strange. The base iMac used to feature an integrated CPU (I think it was the good old GMA 950), now the bottom two iMacs (20″ and 24” with 2.66GHz CPU) have the 9400M chipset (which is integrated but much better). It’s an interesting change where the $1499 price point has gone forwards in screen size and backwards in GPU quality. Or something.

So, in summary, the Mac Mini now seems like a very attractive machine. The base iMac offers some minor performance tweaks relative to the Mini, but (especially if you already have a monitor) the Mini is very close.

The Times Have Changed

It seems to me that Apple is running the risk of seriously alienating a lot of its customers with its continuing high price points. In a time when most of the computer manufacturers have moved from pushing $1000 configurations to $500 configurations, Apple persists in selling an entry level desktop for $1200. Because Macs have longer useful lives than PCs, many Apple customers who bought (then) reasonably priced Apple systems will soon be upgrading in a world where $1200 buys you a lot of PC but not very much Mac.

It’s worth noting that the pricing on Core i7 (“Nehalem”) CPUs seems to be an attempt by Intel to gouge early adopters which is merely being passed on by Apple (and Dell). I imagine that as CPU prices drop, Apple’s Mac Pro prices will fall (or its base model will gain a CPU) accordingly.