WASHINGTON — You may notice something different about the prices of the tech products that companies are pushing the hardest this year: They’re four digits, or close enough to make no difference.
Technology companies, which make the bulk of their money during the holiday season, are starting to diversify more and move upscale. Which means there are more Lamborghinis and Ferraris of tech sitting in the spots that used to be occupied by Lexuses. (Splashy tech gifts, after all, are never that cheap.)
Take mobile phones released this fall, for instance: Apple’s newest premium phone, the iPhone X, is $999 — far more than the $649 that used to get you the latest iPhone. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 starts at $950, up from $850 from last year.
The same is true of marquee products from Google. Its new Pixelbook laptop, the latest member of its generally cheap Chromebook line, is selling for $999. (You can get a Chromebook for about $300, on average.) And Microsoft’s Surface Book 2, which has a detachable 13-inch screen that makes a tablet out of your laptop, remains $1,500 to start — unless you’re tempted to buy the new $2,499 15-inch model.
Compare those prices against the average amount that US adults plan to spend on tech gifts this year: $478, according to the Consumer Technology Association, a tech industry lobbying group. Even among the biggest potential spenders (in this case, adults between 35 and 44), the average is just $674. While an average may not represent what everyone’s willing to spend, it is notable that the price of just one gift can be more than double that budget.
So, what’s with the price increase of top-tier products?
For one thing, companies have put more into their devices. In Apple’s case, the iPhone X brings facial-recognition technology and a nearly all-screen front to the iPhone for the first time. The Galaxy Note 8 packs in new multitasking features that bring you closer than ever to a hand-held computer. The Pixelbook has a flexible hinge that lets you flip its keyboard behind the screen, making it a more versatile laptop option. And the Surface Book 2, in addition to offering that model with two extra inches, is more powerful than ever and edges toward a portable desktop.
This brings us to another reason for the price hike: This new and experimental technology is expensive to build. Take the iPhone’s new OLED screen, or the facial-recognition sensor. They haven’t been around long enough for the company to produce cheaply.
Is it all worth it? Based on my time with them, these products are well made and live up to their top-of-the-line status.
But they do have imperfections that may make many balk at spending a grand. Apple’s Face ID, while impressive, doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. The Surface Book 2 has a bit of a wobble problem with its display. These are the kinds of things that early adopters might be happy to take in stride, but not everyone else would be.
There’s also the fact that, with their higher prices, these mobile devices are competing with desktops that can simply offer more bang for their buck in productivity. And there’s a greater chance for buyer’s remorse when you’re spending a desktop’s worth of money on a smartphone that — no matter its sophistication or cost — will always have an on-screen keyboard prone to typos. Or, as is the case with the Pixelbook, a laptop that still runs what are essentially mobile apps.
So this is a year to shop around more than ever and think about how badly you want the newest features, and whether you can wait for some of them to trickle down a tier. You may, for example, decide it’s better to pick up an iPhone 8 or iPhone 7 with extra storage capacity rather than an iPhone X with a fancy feature you may not use.