The Apple Monitor Stand That Broke the Internet

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Well, maybe not the whole Internet, but definitely the parts that cover technology and Apple, specifically. Since WWDC was so good in every other respect, this one negative story has had to carry the hopes and dreams of click-baiters everywhere. Now, I’m not saying that everyone who has a negative opinion of Apple’s new $1,000 Pro Stand for their Pro Display XDR is click-baiting. However, we all know that when Apple bleeds, it leads, and there are sites like Forbes that are predictable with this kind of story. Even good journalists can fall prey to piling on Apple to bring out the haters.

I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way now. I think Apple’s decision to break the Pro Stand out from the Pro Display XDR was a huge public relations mistake. It isn’t an example of how greedy the company is, or at least not more so than any other product they make. This isn’t an example of Tim Cook ruining the company or a “what would Steve have done” moment, either. Let’s not forget that Jobs went on stage and extolled the virtues of the Cube and the iPod Hi-Fi, so even he had his missteps. If you want to knock Jony Ive for over-designing and over-engineering the Pro Stand, yeah, I probably agree with you on that.

So I’m not here to defend Apple, the Pro Stand or its price tag. However, there is a big difference between blindly railing against the product as “everything that’s wrong with Apple,” as Devindra Hardawar of Engadget said, and disagreeing with it but understanding the context of it. So what is that context?

Standing alone

First off, you have to understand that this monitor stand was obviously made to work with one product and one product alone- Apple’s new Pro Display XDR. It isn’t going to work with anything else unless Apple creates follow-up monitors with the same design. They were obviously designed together and I would bet the house that they were originally intended to be packaged and sold together.

There is the first problem. A decision was made to de-couple the monitor from the stand at some point during the process of their creation. Whoever made this call probably had what felt like really good reasons for it, too. They probably went over very well in email and Keynote format and in product meetings. As both we and they now know, whoever proposed this was dead wrong.

Forgetting the Public part of Relations

Again, it is my opinion that this whole monitor mess is a result of a failure in public relations. Someone, probably on the marketing side, made a suggestion to decouple the monitor from the stand not knowing how tone deaf it would come off to the majority of the tech world.

Again, this decision probably had some good intent behind it. By separating out the stand, users who already had an existing setup could buy a VESA mount for $200 and keep using what they already have. If you want to gripe about the price of the VESA mount, go ahead, but this isn’t any different than the markup that other Apple products have. You likely just perceive it differently because the stand’s $1k price tag set you off.

All that said, this was not an altruistic PR decision. More than likely, the primary motivator was reducing the base price of the monitor as much as possible. By cutting $500-$1000 from the price, Apple could draw an even sharper contrast between their new Pro Display XDR and the extremely expensive reference monitors they are comparing them to. I mean, buying a $4999 monitor that is 95% as good as a $40,000 model is a steal, right? Who cares if you have to throw in an extra $199 or $1000 to mount it? Well, when you are one of the biggest companies in the world and the tech press is scrutinizing your every move, yeah, people will be looking for things to care about at your expense and someone definitely lost sight of that.

Tone deaf as a post

The people who made this call missed out on the fact that, if their new monitor had cost $5499-$5999 in comparison to a $40k reference monitor, no one would have cared. An extra $500 to $1k didn’t strengthen their argument. The reverse greatly weakened it. Sure, a few would have grumbled at the high price or that Apple was aiming too high with its new machine, but that would have been the end of it. And there are always a few of those when Apple is involved.

Being that this mistake came at WWDC, the mainstream press was also watching and piled on along with the tech press. And Apple never saw it coming. The presenter seemed genuinely surprised at the murmurs over the price of the Pro Stand. That one bit should land at the feet of Tim Cook, in my opinion. At some point, the CEO needs to be able to see mistakes like this in advance and make a command decision to stop them.

About that price

I talked about the fact that the Pro Stand was designed exclusively for the Pro Display XDR at the outset. Here’s where the decision to de-couple them ultimately comes back to haunt Apple. People don’t seem to understand products from a manufacturing perspective, but that has a massive impact on how they are priced. This is especially true for any first generation product. You aren’t just paying for the materials. You are paying for all of the design, engineering, the and the manufacturing lines and any specialized equipment ivolved in making them. Those things add up to a very high price with Apple. These are not overhead expenses for product companies. These are all factored into the cost of the product. Then add your profit margin to that, which we all know is high in Apple’s case.

Think about it this way. What if the product fails? What if this Mac Pro is like the last Mac Pro? What if there’s no second gen? A company has to consider that risk in every new product they make. The first generation run has to pay off the costs above or the company takes a bath. That is part of the basic math of manufacturing.

When Apple separated the Pro Stand from the display, it instantly cut the number it would sell by likely half or more. If they had kept them bundled together, they likely wouldn’t have had to increase the price of the display by a full $1k. It probably would have been more like $500 to $700. If each monitor sold carries part of that burden laid out above, then Apple doesn’t have to charge as much to cover their costs and start making money. The decision to decouple them is why the stand costs what it does.

Reasons don’t always make sense

I’m not making excuses for Apple here. Just because I understand why the Pro Stand costs what it does and why someone in marketing  thought this would be the right move doesn’t mean I agree with them. Like some Apple products today, I do think this stand is over-engineered. That always leads to a higher price tag and in Apple’s case, even more sticker shock than normal.

If they were adding $500-$700 to the cost of each display, no one would care. Other high end monitor mounts with similar features are going to run $400-$500, so that isn’t out of the ordinary for Apple pricing. If Jony Ive and company had aimed a little lower in their design of such a mundane product, then decoupling the stand from the monitor may not have ended up causing such a problem for them.

As for Apple’s pricing of this stand, if you already knew what I wrote above about the cost of manufacturing, then you shouldn’t be shocked at the $1k on the price tag. I shrugged it off when I first heard it because it really wasn’t that surprising to me. It’s high, but everything Apple makes is higher than what you will pay for competing products. People are keying on the Pro Stand because it’s such a mundane item, but that really doesn’t make it any different than other Apple products. Have you ever priced a premium Apple leather case or stainless steel Watch band? The markup isn’t any different, just the size of the item and the overall price of the materials.

Here is my real litmus test. If you are upset about the price of the Pro Stand, would you have cared or taken any notice if it were included with the monitor and its price was increased by $500 to $1,000? If the answer is no, then I just ask you to put that into perspective. You are mad because of perception and PR. This is a mundane item that you think should cost less, but it’s made to go with a monitor that’s actually a good value at its price. You are mad because Apple made a bad PR decision not including the Pro Stand with the Pro Display XDR.

I’ll save the “it’s not for you” arguments for another day. I can say with certainty that the Mac Pro, the Pro Display XDR and yes, the Pro Stand aren’t for me. However, if a company that depends on super high-end machines for high-priced work doesn’t mind spending $1,000 on a monitor stand because it increases their workflow by a few minutes, then more power to them. Unlike some, while I wouldn’t pay it, I’m not going to begrudge someone else who can and does.

 

 


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