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There is more than one way to peel an apple. And now, in Israel, there is more than one way to buy an Apple. And for that, the people at the local iDigital Apple outlet deserve lots of credit. Yes, you can still get Macs and other Apple products cheaper almost anywhere else in the world - but sometimes "cheaper" really isn't!
As you've no doubt heard, the Israeli version of an Apple Store is up and running, in a 300-square-meter space in the Ramat Aviv Mall - very classy digs, with a nice layout. The store looks like other Apple Stores around the world, only smaller. It has a Genius Bar, where you can go in and check out equipment or pick the brain of an expert on hardware or software. And there are displays of not only computers and laptops, but of peripherals - equipment that is sometimes hard to find.
But the store is just one aspect - albeit the major one - of iDigital's efforts to make Macs for popular use here. As Mac sales have taken off throughout the world, Israel has remained woefully behind the pack.
Israelis are said to be "afraid" of Macs, having been intimidated into believing that they'll be paying more money for a "toy" (I can't tell you how many people I've heard this from). The iDigital store (not an official Apple Store, but close enough) is apparently intended to be a center for "missionizing the masses," trying to educate Israelis about the benefits of using Macs.
The iDigital Web site has been refurbished to look more like official Apple Web sites around the world. That, too, is part of the effort to popularize Macs, whether or not that was the intent of iDigital in putting together such a site; by standardizing the local persona of the products to match those in the rest of the world, Israelis can feel more connected to the international Mac community - and not have to feel that they're doing something "crazy" by buying an Apple.
The company has gone a long way toward reaching out to Israelis.
Several weeks ago, iDigital released the first Hebrew-localization package for Leopard (OS X 10.5.4 minimum). The package converts all Apple-system menus and applications (like Safari) into Hebrew; although, of course, you can write your documents in English (or any language).
The localization package is free to download from the iDigital site (http://www.idigital.co.il). And you can also download a helpful guide to Leopard - in Hebrew - from the site as well, also for free. iDigital is also offering classes on various aspects of the Mac experience: how to use Leopard, making movies with iMovie, etc. (free for customers and about NIS 70 for people who bought their Macs abroad).
They've also opened a new service center in Haifa, making it more convenient for people up north to receive product-service without having to to run down to the service center in Rosh Ha'ayin. iDigital is even offering a local version of AppleCare - the extended-warranty package Mac owners can buy for their worldwide warranty.
So, even though iDigital is "only" an independent Apple distributor, the company has gone a long way into emulating the total, authentic Apple experience here in Israel. Now, of course, comes the several-thousand-shekel question: Should you actually buy an Apple product from iDigital?
Prices have even come down at iDigital - as much as 33 percent on some items. But they are still extremely high, relative to almost everywhere else. For example, a 20-inch iMac with 1 GB of memory and a 250 GB hard drive sells for NIS 6,199, instead of the previous price of NIS 7,699. At NIS 3.50 to the dollar, the new price works out to $1,771.
The only problem is that the same iMac sells for $1,199 at the Apple USA Web site, making the iMac $572 more expensive here. The Apple site's price does not include sales tax, which you wouldn't have to pay anyway if you were having your computer shipped.
If one were to buy the iMac at the popular J & R Music World in Manhattan, they would pay 8.375% sales tax - making the total cost $1,288.58, with $99.58 sales tax added to J & R's price of $1,189 for the iMac. That makes the retail iMac $482 cheaper than the iDigital version.
In a recent interview an iDigital representative, I was told that one of the reasons Apple products are more expensive here is because Israel orders its products from European distribution channels, which are more expensive. Note, however, that the price for the iMac at Apple's UK site is Â£799, VAT included, which translates into NIS 5,029.89, or $334 more. That's less of a differential than the US price, but still significant. The 2.4 ghz/2GB/160 gb HD Macbook costs NIS 6,699, or $1,914-$1,299 at the US Apple site, or Â£829 (NIS 5,218) at the UK Apple store.
The last time I wrote about this phenomenon, I suggested that you might consider picking up a Mac if you were traveling anyway during your summer vacation. Now that the prices at iDigital have been reduced (about as far as they are going to go, I guess), we still see a stark differential in prices (the higher end the product, the bigger the gap).
You get the same one-year worldwide warranty (three years, if you buy AppleCare) with the same service provided by iDigital as they would provide to their own customers no matter where you buy your Mac. Still, you can't really blame anyone for deciding that it makes more sense to fly abroad if they need to buy a couple of Apple computers (a Macbook and an iMac, say). It would be like getting a free trip to New York!
But maybe it's not a such a great idea to run off to New York or London to buy a computer. Travel is a hassle nowadays, as everyone knows - and more importantly for our purposes, it's expensive.
Let's face it: There's no way you're going to get off the plane at JFK, take the train to the city and go to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, and then go back home the same day. Any savings on the computer would be wiped out by your hotel bill. If you have friends in New York, you can save money by not going to a hotel, but of course you have to bring them a gift. That's more money spent. And how could you avoid the "landmarks," which for Israelis in Manhattan entails lots of shopping.
You do pay more at iDigital - but at least you know what the computer is costing you. Macs here in Israel may be more expensive, but if you're the type that can't resist a bargain (New York is full of 'em), you might find it cheaper to pay more money for the same product here in Israel. It's a paradox, really - one of the miracles of the Holy Land!
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