"As for not inferior... well... the inability to replace a failed battery without paying Apple, the inability to (easily) upgrade your memory without voiding your warranty, and the inability to upgrade your hard drive (again, without voiding the warranty) are all relatively unique to Apple. There are very, very few modern laptops for which swapping out the drive will result in forfeiture of one's warranty, yet Apple's actually made their newer machines *less*-accessible in this regard."
More myth. Upgrading memory and hard drive do NOT void warranty. Nor does replacing the battery yourself, it just can't be done in the field.
"It's not that Apple makes bad machines. Their machines are quite good -- provided they fit your needs exactly and you have no problem paying more to replace/upgrade parts (or risk voiding your warranty). This may be fine for someone who'd never consider getting a larger hard drive or a second battery for plane flights, but when you're a budget-conscious user who demands more of their machine than the college-age market that Apple's currently targeting, the Mac platform gets prohibitively expensive, and fast."
Again the myth. Upgrades cost exactly the same as they do for any other PC, because they use the exact same memory modules and hard drives. Even the battery replacement at $129 is cheaper than many PC batteries.
As for "second" battery, well when the sealed battery runs for a real-world 7 hours and the old swappable ones ran for real-world 3.5, its like having your second battery for free, built-in, with twice as many charge/discharge cycles available to it. I see the new Apple battery as an advantage, though not everybody will agree.
To my point that the machines were not feature deficient when released, you said
"That's a key point though. Whereas almost every other manufacturer will give their customers incremental upgrades, resulting in a better price/performance ratio as newer components are available, Apple is completely content to sell machines with year-old specs at the very same price as when they were first introduced.
So no, Apple's machines aren't that much more expensive than the competition -- except when they are. Sure, they're rather competitive when they're first released, but after a couple months you'll end up paying quite a hefty price premium due to their lack of incremental upgrades."
Apple does do incremental upgrades. When the unibody MacBooks first came out, 2.66 GHz was the fastest you could get, now they are 3.06 GHz. The model I have used to be 2.53 GHz, came with 2 GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive, mine has a 2.8 GHz processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive for the same price. They don't upgrade them every month, rather every six.
You responded about OS X and support..
"Indeed. Most people I know buy it for OS X. And I guess that makes sense; if you want to use that OS it is indeed the easiest way to do so."
It is the easiest, and THE BEST. Using OS X on a regular PC (a Hackintosh) is fun for geeks whoa re into such things, but not ideal for production use. Some features don't work, many internal devices (Intel wifi cards, for example) are not supported and the reliability that comes from Apple controlling drivers on a limited range of devices is gone. Worse yet, the whole OS may be broken by the next point upgrade (service pack).
For support you said
"As for support... well... it sure seems like a major selling point until you've had to use it. In-store support isn't exactly hassle-free: you have to make an appointment, wait around (because they're *always* running late), etc. Easier than shipping it off? Perhaps. But when you consider that 3 years of AppleCare cost more than 3 years of on-site service with priority support from Lenovo, the prospect of having to schedule a trek out to your local mall doesn't seem quite so appealing."
Funny, my Black MacBook required a new keyboard, I scheduled an appointment, was accommodated perhaps two minutes late (much nicer to spend two minutes browsing the Apple Store than two minutes on hold) and then they replaced the keyboard and palmrest while I waited. They did come out and tell me 15 minutes in that it would take an extra 20 minutes because they noticed the FFCL backlight was pinkish and they wanted to replace the display. I was happy to wait and after a total of 40 minutes from walking into the store, the computer was fixed.
"But what about the depot service? Well it's a mixed bag. I've had some great experiences with them: they replaced the CD drive, logic board, and screen on an iBook G4 despite the machine being out of warranty, as well as covered the repairs to an iBook G3 with the infamous GPU BGA issues. I've also had a rather infuriating experience with them: they shattered my MacBook's LCD while it was in their care, then demanded that I pay $800 to replace it, as they had determined that I was the one who caused the damage. It took a number of escalations and testimonies to convince them that I did not, in fact, smash my LCD prior to sending it in for an unrelated issue. All in all, they ended up hanging on to that machine for close to three weeks. That didn't exactly make me feel good about paying more than I did for on-site service with Lenovo."
I've had good and bad depot service from Lenovo as well, and good and bad depot service from Toshiba, from Apple and from the old IBM. Never had on-site service, can't comment on it.
"So in summary, my view of Apple is this: they make fairly standard PCs (for which they charge a slight to substantial price premium, depending on when you buy), offer fairly standard support, and offer fairly standard depot-based service (for which you pay more than you would for on-site service). The only real reason they're as popular as they are is, AFAICT, due to their OS. The actual hardware isn't really all that special, and I suspect that if OS X weren't tied to the hardware that lots of folks would stop buying Apple machines altogether."
They also have terrific design. Their products all resemble each other with a unified design theme that is now iconic (think iPod, glowing white Apple on the metal lid, etc). Good design sells products often better than features or specs do. I spent a lot more on my Mercedes-Benz than on a Chevrolet of the same size and it doesn't get me to point B any faster or more reliably, but that good design is a pleasure every time I drive.
So it is with Apple. The unibody enclosure, the ambient light sensor, the slick OS, magnetic power adapter and backlit keyboard are all things that just make using the machine a pleasure. ThinkPads have many such "surprise and delight" features as well, with the TrackPoint and the ThinkPad keyboard among them, and the ThinkLight a past example that sadly is past its prime.
You closed with
"(And that's not even touching on how they treat their customers re: OS upgrades, hardware life-cycle, use of proprietary tech., etc...)"
I think they treat their customers quite well with OS upgrades, far better than Microsoft does. Lets see, Windows 7 costs how much? Snow Leopard is $29 for Leopard users.
Don't give me the balony about Apple's point upgrades are just service packs, they are definitely not (more of a myth). 10.6 is to 10.5 as Windows 7 (NT 6.1) is to Windows Vista (NT 6.0). Was Windows 7 a free service pack to Vista? No, it was a retail OS. Apple service packs are just as free as Microsofts, and we've had two for Snow Leopard by the way (10.6.2).
The company also usually does the right thing. My MacBook Air had a problem (common) with the hinges. Their depot (I didn't want to drive two hours to the store) repaired it, but damaged the screen. I sent it back and they fixed it properly, gave me rush service, and then a customer relations manager called and asked how they could make it right. They ended up giving me a 32 GB iPod Touch for my trouble.
About three years ago I had a similar botched repair with a MacBook, and after the third (successful) repair, I was contacted and that time given a copy of Apple Remote Desktop, which I was getting ready to buy at the time.
Lenovo is very good at making things right too, though like Apple sometimes you have to push.
"An atheist is just somebody who feels about Yahweh the way any decent Christian feels about Thor or Baal or the golden calf. As has been said before, we are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."
Richard Dawkins, 2002