CUPERTINO, Calif. (TheStreet) — Loyalty comes at a price. For Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL), it's between $1,600 and $4,100.
With the launch of its iPad tablet last month, Apple established the four pillars of its tech toy box. If you want to be Steve Jobs' best buddy and become the most design-savvy techie in the coffee shop, you'll need an iPod, iPhone, iPad and MacBook.
The Apple clique's minimum buy-in — which would cover a featureless iPod Shuffle, an aging and flawed iPhone 3G, an iPad with as much memory as your iPhone and a MacBook that hasn't gone Pro — is $1,656. That doesn't include fees for wireless service for your laptop and Wi-Fi-only tablet, or the roughly $90 a month AT&T (Stock Quote: T) charges for its iPhone data plan.
Given that Consumer Reports has found cheaper, more functional alternatives in each category, from the low-maintenance $30 Archon Clipper MP3 player to the $530 Toshiba Satellite T135 Windows 7 laptop, is Apple's cultural cachet worth its asking price?
"You can have a great marketing campaign, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't have a solid product to back it up," says Susan Kevorkian, an Apple analyst at IDC. "The products that have really worked for Apple have hit a nerve among consumers and filled a need that hadn't been filled in the past."
Though Apple's quality starts to outpace the pack in the upper echelons, so does the price. Amassing all of Apple's mid-range models — an 8-gigabyte iPod Touch, a 16-gigabyte iPhone 3GS, a 64-gigabyte Wi-Fi-only iPad and a 160-gigabyte MacBook Pro — would cost $2,296. On the high end, a 64-gigabyte iPod Touch, a 32-gigabyte iPhone 3GS, a 64-gigabyte 3G/Wi-Fi iPad and a 17-inch MacBook Pro with a 500-gigabyte hard drive would set fanboys back $4,026.
With the National Retail Federation predicting a 2.5% jump in retail sales this year, Apple may be onto something. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company will also reap a large chunk of the $6.2 billion consumers are expected to spend on applications this year, according to Gartner.
Apple's anchor MacBook has earned its keep so far, contributing to a 22% increase in computer shipments in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, Gartner says. "Apple laptops end up at the top of the list in every size category," says Paul Reynolds, Consumer Reports' electronics editor. "Apple's tech support is also still better than that of any PC company."