Why Apple’s new Back to School deal is good business


Apple has unveiled its Back to School promotion for 2011, and it’s . . . different from what it has been in years past. Rather than a free iPod (or a $200 discount on iPods costing more than that), as Apple has previously offered, this year, when you purchase a new Mac with education pricing, you get $100 credit for use at the Mac App Store, the iOS App Store, the iTunes Store or the iBookstore. Yay?

Looked at it purely from the perspective of monetary value, this year’s deal is definitely less of one than what Apple has offered previously. So why is Apple getting stingy with the rebates when it appears to be at its most successful?

First, it’s possible Apple doesn’t need the back to school bump anymore. Education used to be Apple’s bread and butter, but lately the Mac maker has been reaching a much broader audience, thanks to sales of iOS devices and the halo effect those are having in other segments. Apple might also just have found that it no longer needs to use Macs to move excess inventory of iPods ahead of the usual fall refresh, if they’re selling well enough on their own. Or possibly, it’s shifting all of its product update cycles, since the iPhone didn’t get a June update this year. If there’s no new iPod touch in September, Apple doesn’t have to get rid of its existing stock between now and then.

Apple is also cutting margins elsewhere, so it may need to make up for that by lowering the overall value of this year’s discount. Lion will now be distributed exclusively via the Mac App Store and will retail for only $29.99 for a copy that can be used on all computers authorized for use with your iTunes store account. Snow Leopard, by contrast, costs $29 for a single upgrade license, while a five-user family pack costs $49. Apple also separated out the apps from its iLife and iWork suites this year, making them available for cheaper as individual apps on the Mac App Store. As Apple continues to drive down the price on its software offerings, hardware margins become even more important as a source of revenue.

Finally, consider that in the past few years, Apple has gone from a computer company that also sells mobile devices to a mobile device company that also sells computers, and now potentially to a cloud company that sells hardware to leverage that ecosystem. If the hardware platform is no longer the center of Apple’s universe, it stands to reason that it would offer a promotion that doesn’t emphasize one aspect of its hardware business over another.

Personally, I’ve got plenty of iOS devices, but one thing I can always use more of is software for those gadgets. I think Apple is thinking that most of its Back to School Mac buyers will be in similar circumstances. Plus, $100 gift cards are a nice way of giving the Apple development community a little boost. What do you think? Are you on board with Apple’s latest promotion or not?

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