As imported American traditions go, Black Friday has plenty to recommend it.

Consumers get lower prices on products that normally cost a fortune; retailers get to focus their marketing on a shorter period of the year and enjoy a predictable boost to their income; and websites like the one you're currently reading get to act as deals hunters and advise readers on which ones to go for and which to avoid (and get some affiliate revenue at the same time). It's win-win-win.

It's important, however, not to get caught up in the general sense of capitalist mania, which can sometimes distort the true value of the deals being offered. My suspicion is that this year a sense of perspective will be more vital than ever, and we may even need to say the unsayable: this is shaping up to be a fairly disappointing Black Friday.

The chips are down

The problem is a little something called the global semiconductor shortage, which started last year as a result of COVID-19, the US/China trade war and a few other factors. It meant automobile and electronics manufacturers struggled to get enough chips for their products, and slowed down multiple major industries... yet Apple, able to merrily leverage its market position for preferential treatment, escaped largely unscathed.

But worldwide component shortages catch up with all of us in the end, and this year Apple has been just as afflicted as everyone else. At its Q4 earnings call last month the company revealed it had left roughly $6bn on the table because the supply chain couldn't meet demand, and warned of Christmas shortages of iPhones and iPads. We've since observed long Mac delivery times, too.

All of this means that, more than ever, demand will outweigh supply this autumn and winter. Apple and the third-party retailers that stock its products will have fewer items than usual, and consequently less incentive to discount them heavily, Black Friday or no Black Friday: indeed, they will probably be able to sell at RRP and still shift all of their inventory.

In other words, prepare yourself for crap deals.

How to beat the system

That's the theory, anyway. And it's happening in practice, too. Not in every single area, but in many key ones.

Our roundup of the best iPhone deals, for example - and it's largely representative - has a few appealing offers on older models (the ones where there's older stock left in retailers' warehouses, in other words) but almost nothing on the new ones. The iPhone 13 Pro Max is available for RRP, and you may struggle to find stock of that; the one site that dared to knock 1% off the price immediately ran out of units. You can get the 1% discount on the 13 Pro, but only in one of the colours - and it may well have run out by the time you get there.

And this is the difficulty. The few significant discounts on up-to-date products will go quickly, so you'll need to move fast. But you still have to apply critical thinking: is this something you actually need? Is the product worth having? Does the deal offer genuine value? And someone who's rushing to secure a deal is not in a good position to read reviews, track price history and shop around other retailers.

As mentioned at the top of the article, we're in the business of hunting down worthwhile deals, and we'll do our best to help you find good prices on products you actually need. I've embedded our list of the best current deals below this article, and you'll find detailed advice in our best Apple deals roundup; remember to move fast if you see something that's right for you.

But here's a tip you might want to bear in mind: Apple's gift card promotion, which most years we find distinctly underwhelming (not least because the 'saving' applies to the next thing you buy, not the one you're currently buying) could come up trumps in 2021. The value of the gift cards - up to £160/$200 - is actually higher than last year, and they're very much better than nothing.

Sadly there is a catch: Apple isn't bundling gift cards with the very latest generation of products, which means this isn't a solution for those who had their eye on an iPhone 13 Pro Max. But it's like the old saying: in the kingdom of the crap deals, the slightly better deal is king.

Different Think is a weekly column, published every Tuesday, in which Macworld writers expose their less mainstream opinions to public scrutiny. We've defended the notch, advised Apple to ditch Lightning and forget the Apple Car, and argued that Tim Cook is a better CEO than Steve Jobs. Phew, that last one was controversial. See you next week for more left-field opinions.

Best Apple deals right now

1. Apple Watch Series 6 (44mm, Cellular)

From: Amazon

Was: £509

Now: £368.35  (£140.65 off)

Save £141 on the 44mm Watch 6 with cellular connectivity this Cyber Week - in a deal that outdoes Amazon's Black Friday discount!

2. Apple AirPods 3 (2021)

From: AO

Was: £169

Now: £159  (£10 off)

Considering how new they are, this £10 discount on the new AirPods is well worth having. Amazon is matching the deal.

3. Apple Watch Series 7

From: Amazon

Was: From £369

Now: From £349  (£20 off)

The Apple Watch Series 7 offers a larger, brighter display, slimmer bezels and more. Right now you can save £20 from Amazon, John Lewis, Currys and Very!

4. Apple 16in MacBook Pro, M1 Pro, 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU, 2021

From: LaptopsDirect

Was: £2,399

Now: £2,199.97  (£199.03 off)

Laptops Direct has almost £200 off the 16in MacBook Pro with M1 Pro chip, it's not as big a saving as KRCS, but it's an option if KRCS runs out of stock.

5. Apple iPad Air with Apple Pencil

From: Virgin

Now: £24.50 per month (2GB data)

Get an Apple Pencil with the iPad Air for just £2 extra per month compared to the iPad Air alone.

6. Apple Pencil (2nd Gen)

From: Amazon

Was: £119

Now: £99  (£20 off)

The second generation Apple Pencil for iPad has £20 off for Black Friday on Amazon, in a price that beats the retailer's Prime Day offer.

7. Apple Watch Series 6 (44mm, cellular, Stainless Steel) - Refurbished

From: Music Magpie

Was: £699

Now: £289.99  (£409 off)

The Stainless Steel, 44mm cellular Apple Watch 6 is the most premium option you can buy - but not if you buy refurbished from MusicMagpie, where it currently costs less than £300 with a massive £409 discount for Black Friday.

8. Apple iPad Air (64GB, 4th Gen, Wi-Fi + Cellular)

From: Currys

Was: £709

Now: £669  (£40 off)

Amazon has £29 off the cellular iPad Air with 64GB storage. It's nowhere near the £110 discount it had over Black Friday, but still a welcome price cut. Currys outdoes Amazon's price by £10 and also offers free next-day delivery!

9. Apple 13in MacBook Pro, M1, 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 256GB (2020)

From: Amazon

Was: £1,299

Now: £1,159  (£140 off)

Amazon's price is good, and on Black Friday it went down £10 more to make it even more competitive!

 

10. Apple iPad Pro 11in (2021, M1, 256GB)

From: Amazon

Was: £849

Now: £799  (£50 off)

Save £50 on the brand new M1 iPad Pro 11in from Amazon 

11. Apple iPhone 12 (64GB)

From: Amazon

Was: £679

Now: £649  (£30 off)

Pick up the 64GB iPhone 12 in for £30 cheaper than going to Apple directly. The price is also £150 cheaper than the handset's launch price.

12. Apple iPhone 13 mini with iPad (2021)

From: Virgin

Now: From £40 per month, no upfront cost

Pick up the latest iPad and iPhone 13 from Virgin in this Black Friday/Cyber Week bundle.

13. Apple iPad Pro (2021, M1, 11in)

From: Currys

Was: £749

Now: £699  (£50 off)

Apple's exceptionally powerful M1-equipped iPad Pro for 2021 has a chunky price tag to match. But it's less chunky if you go to Currys - or Amazon, which is matching the deal.

14. Apple MacBook Air, M1, 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 512GB (2020)

From: Currys

Was: £1,249

Now: £1,099.97  (£149 off)

Currys has a great deal on the 512GB MacBook Air with M1. This price means it's only £100 more than the entry-level model would usually cost, plus you get twice as much storage and that all important extra graphics core.

15. Apple MacBook Air, M1, 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 256GB (2020)

From: Currys

Was: £999

Now: £889  (£110 off)

You can get the £999 MacBook Air with 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU in gold with a great discount from Currys or Amazon.

The next best deal is from KRCS who has it for £898. Get the KRCS deal here.

 

16. Apple AirPods Pro with MagSafe charging case

From: John Lewis

Was: £239

Now: £185  (£54 off)

A solid saving on the AirPods Pro, Apple's excellent true-wireless earphones with ANC. John Lewis is charging £199 but offers a free 2-year guarantee.

17. Apple Watch Series 6 (40mm)

From: Amazon

Was: £379

Now: £319  (£60 off)

Following its official discontinuation in September 2021, retailers have continued to sell the Apple Watch Series 6 at a discount.

It cost £379 when new, so this is a generous saving; bearing in mind that the Series 7 does not represent a huge step forward, this is a decent option at just over £300. That said, it was cheaper on Black Friday itself at just £289.

18. Apple Watch Series 6 (40mm, Cellular)

From: Amazon

Was: £479

Now: £403.85  (£75 off)

Save £75 on the 40mm Apple Watch 6 with GPS + Cellular connectivity. There's also £121 off the 44mm option.

19. pCloud Cloud Storage - 2TB Lifetime + pCloud Encryption

From: pCloud

Was: £1249

Now: £299  (76% off)

pCloud's Cyber Monday offer slashes 76% off a bundle that includes Lifetime Access with 2TB cloud storage and pCloud Encryption. The service is one of the best cloud storage platforms around.

20. Apple 27in iMac, 3.1GHz six-core, 10th-gen Intel, 256GB SSD (2020)

From: LaptopsDirect

Was: £1,799

Now: £1,569.97  (£229.03 off)

You can get a decent amount of money off the entry-level 27in iMac introduced in August 2020 from LaptopsDirect (although we have seen it for less in the past).