The MacBook M3 pricing debate: some people will still stick up for Apple!

MacBook Pro Should I buy art
(Image credit: Future)

Over the last couple of weeks, I had come to feel a huge swathe of support in my irritation about Apple's variety of pricing options for the still new M3 MacBook Pro range. My digital in-box had been piled high with mail expressing similar discontent at the structure and teirs of the pricing which seem, to me (and others), to be designed to make overspending inevitable.

But I've laid out my theory on the MacBook Pro M3 pricing before, and already shared some voices of support suggesting I go the whole hog and buy a PC instead. I was a little more surprised to find Apple enthusiast – but Windows user at work – Mark Gillespie mailing me with a reasoned argument for the existence of at least four of the Macs I reference in my opinion (though not all of them).

The MacBook Air M2 13-inch is part of the debate (Image credit: Apple)

So, in fairness to the Apple world that I'll almost inevitably return to, I'll share Mark's thoughts.

He first suggests that users who are new to Mac don't actually buy new; "Choose an M1 or M2 version of the model you prefer but with 16MB RAM and any storage size greater than the minimum config" he suggests. Personally, I take that as evidence that Apple is over-charging and/or under-specifying their entry-level machines. At the time of writing the MacBook Air M1 13-inch is still on offer for $999 with a paltry 8GB RAM and 256GB storage.

Upgrade to the newer M2 MacBook Air model and you'll find yourself another $100 poorer for the same memory specs (though this time it's a 13.6-inch screen rather than 13.3).

I agree that these entry specs are unacceptable – certainly for me – though no doubt suit some. I'm not sure Mark can easily get away with placing all hobbyists in the same boat though – he might say the best laptop for photography for that group is lesser than the pros, but in my experience that depends on ambition (or patience). In any case, the minimum entry point for a (true) current would seem to be the $1,499 MacBook Air 13 with 16GB RAM and 512GB storage.

(Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

For folk like me, who plan on buying Apple and have a case for buying new, Mark's advice is "DON’T start by working your way up Apple’s pricing ladder from the bottom. Start by configuring your ideal machine to suit the job and then cut features until it fits your true budget."

As established, for the ports, that's a MacBook Pro. Then we apply the advice about avoiding 8GB editions and the minimum spend in store is the M3 Pro-based 18GB/512GB $1,999 (we could, of course, specify 16GB to the absolute base model M3 machine 14-inch MacBook Pro and get that down to $1,799, but not only would we have to wait but the slower CPU would also only have one fan and still have 2GB less RAM).

Using the "Working down from the top-spec" is a bit off-putting in my view; the top off-the-shelf model is the $3,999 16-inch M3 MacBook Pro with 48GB RAM and 1TB storage. I can spec this up to 128GB RAM and 8TB storage for $7,199 but on my budget I'll drop below the initial $3,999 as part of my de-specing!

Interestingly Mark also ignored the base M3 MacBook Pro in the 4 categories of customer he envisaged, which were:

  • MacBook Air Education; office productivity; hobby design and photography
  • M3 MacBook Pro Productivity, beginner creativity
  • M3 MacBook Pro with 18GB+ 2D pro design, video and creative, coding, scientific and hobby AI
  • M3 Mac MacBook Pro 36GB+ 3D design and development, pro video, pro AI, pro creative, pro scientific, pro coding,CS research, (high-end gaming?)

Yes, he used the brackets on 'high-end gaming' too – hard for any Mac users to say that with a straight face, I imagine – and said he believed that 3, the M3 MacBook Pro with 18GB was the sweet spot, at least for the photo and video needs I had set out (as well as playing Civilazation V, of course).

I think I'm coming to my decision, but one thing I'd not taken into account that Mark cautioned me to think about is the needs of AI. He suggests the upcoming M3 Ultra in the Mac Studio will come with a boat load of memory. I'm less certain this will be a big part in my life. For one this I have no plans to ask Siri to write articles for me, and for another I can't imagine any technology which requires an 'Ultra' chip is going to be used for much other than development unless things change very fast in Apple's pricing structure.

The one bet that I probably am prepared to make this year is that doesn't happen (after all, the resale value is always a big part of the pro-Apple argument I make to myself).

Digital Camera World keeps guides to the best laptop for video editing and the best MacBook for photo editing.

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Adam Juniper
Managing Editor

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 

He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook