Apple on Black Friday: It's all in the cards

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Apple doesn't really do sales. It certainly doesn't try to compete with other electronics retailers in slashing its prices on the day after Thanksgiving. But that's not to say it doesn't get into a little bit of Black Friday mania.

On its online store as well as at its real-world retail outlets on Friday, Apple was offering Apple Store gift cards to buyers of Macs, iPads, and iPods. If you buy an iPad Air, you get a $75 gift card; get an iPad mini (not the new one with Retina display, but the original) or iPad 2 and you get a $50 card, too. Buy a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro (with or without Retina display), or iMac, and Apple will give you a $150 gift card. And if you get an iPod touch or iPod nano, you'll get a $25 card along with your music player.

Apple is also offering gift cards to buyers who purchase select accessories. The Apple TV, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Time Capsule, plus a bunch of third-party products (including Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, the GoPro Hero3 camera, a LaCie 3TB Thunderbolt drive, an HP all-in-one printer, and much more), all come with a $25 gift card.

In addition to the gift cards, Apple is also offering free shipping on all Friday online purchases.

While they don't qualify technically as discounts, you can apparently apply the gift card immediately to your purchase. One possible advantage of this approach to Apple: It can offer something to entice buyers without necessarily lowering the actual selling price of its products; this may be as much about accounting as marketing.

In any case, with the gift-card program, Apple isn't matching the price-slashing craziness of other retailers on Black Friday. But that isn't its game the rest of the year, either.

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