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Calling Phony on Apple's Latest Ads

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Even Bill Gates and Steve Balmer have admitted to enjoying Apple's commercials, which feature the young and hip Justin Long as a Mac and the frumpy, dumpy John Hodgman as a PC.

Is there any truth to those commercials? The latest installments more actively tweak the newly released Windows 7 operating system, suggesting that consumers would be happier (and safer) if they simply got a PC.

Let's take a look at the latest batch, and determine what's at the core of Apple's argument.

Hi! I’m a Mac

Q: I’m a big fan of those Mac vs. PC ads. My question is, are they factual? Or is Apple just thumbing its nose at Microsoft, and everyone that uses a PC?

A: I remember my first pet, a little tiny mutt, hardly bigger than a Chihuahua. He had a terrible habit of chasing cars — and this was back in the early 60s, when cars were built of a lot sterner stuff than they are today. Good solid steel, made in Detroit.

My father used to laugh and ask, “What's he going to do when he catches one?”

The Apple ads strike me the same way: David poking fun at Goliath. What if David were to get as big as Goliath, and have the same logistical problems? What would happen if Apple were as tempting a target (for malware writers) as Windows?

It may be a while before we know, given that the company currently enjoys about 6 percent of the installed base of personal computers – despite the great advertising.

Still, their commercials are great, and have been ever since the legendary 1984 ad ran during the Super Bowl.

Broken Promises

In this ad, PC pops the great news about the new OS: Windows 7 won't have any of the problems Vista had. Mac claims to have heard this all before. Through a series of flashbacks, we see an increasingly younger PC make the same claim, culminating with a "Miami Vice"-like PC promising, “it won’t have any of the problems Windows 2 had.” He flips his shades up, and says “Trust me!”

That’s kinda the whole idea behind new versions of operating systems, no? Add new features and functionality while taking care of problems in the older version. And until God starts making perfect programmers, new OS releases are going to have bugs in them. Period.

Briggs’ Law of Cybernetic Entomology: There’s always one more bug.

Heck, you could describe a computer program as a series of bugs, arranged in such a way as to coerce some meaningful result from the system. Reverse the ad, and picture Mac saying, “Snow Leopard won't have any of the problems Leopard did. Trust me!” Remember the complaints about OS 9 applications losing functionality when OS X first came out?

The problem with that scenario is that if Justin Long went back that far, he’d be in diapers.
Granted, Windows seems to have had more than its share of problems. And the Mac platform has had fewer. Until the latest version, at least, which seems buggier than usual. I can’t remember ever logging into a Windows Guest account, for example, only to have the OS erase all of the files in the Administrator account.

Bottom line: It's misleading to imply that new Windows releases don't correct problems, and that Macs don’t have the same issues. All OSes have bugs.

Teeter Tottering

Why are all of the women in Mac ads fresh-faced, size 0, 5-foot nothing, and auburn-haired?
I don’t know either, but the one in Teeter Tottering has several moving boxes and calls herself a Windows XP user. Moving to Windows 7 would be a “fresh start,” says she, but adds that so would moving to a Mac.

Not so fast! Is it really that easy to pack up your stuff and move it to a Mac?

Erm, no. Not really. First, you have to consider the cost of replacing each and every application you have purchased. Are you running Microsoft Office? Welcome to Microsoft Office for Mac. Running Photoshop? This is going to get expensive.

To be fair, there will be a certain amount of application replacing in moving from XP to 7, too. To be legal, they might all need to be replaced. But moving all of your e-mail, contacts, appointments and to-dos is a lot simpler when going from Outlook to Outlook than it is when going from Outlook to Entourage (Microsoft's Mac e-mail product). And it’s a whole lot simpler than Outlook-to-Mail/iCal/Address Book.

Will all of your Excel spreadsheets open in Numbers? All of your Word documents in Pages? All of your PowerPoint presentations in Keynote?

Are there Mac equivalents for all those games you’re addicted to?

Bottom line: It's misleading to imply that moving to Mac is just as simple as moving to Windows 7. It’s not like throwing all of your stuff in boxes and simply moving to a new apartment.

PC News

If you’re going to move anyway, why not move to a Mac? The PC News ad parodies a live newsfeed to the Windows 7 launch, and PC is surprised to hear that all the people standing in line are actually moving to Macs. He shuts down the live feed.

When moving from PC to Mac, don't forget what I call User Interface Shock. When I first started learning the Mac OS X interface, I was frustrated for two straight weeks. I knew what I wanted to do, I knew it could be done on the Mac, but I didn’t have a clue where to find the features.

Why doesn’t the Mac have a right mouse button? If it’s a Mighty Mouse, go into System Preferences, choose Mouse, and set the right side of the mouse to “Secondary Button.” Where in the world is the Menu Bar? Unlike Windows, it’s at the top of the screen, not the top of each window.

Why isn't there a key to delete the character in front of the cursor to go along with the Backspace, which deletes the character behind? Oh, of course: You can press the “fn” key to make Delete zap the one in front — or buy a full-sized keyboard, which has a forward delete key. Why doesn’t the End key take you to the end of the current line? Why won’t Alt-Tab switch between open Safari pages?

Bottom line: Misleading, for the same reason as the previous ad.

Customer Care

The female protagonist in Customer Care is blonde — we knew she existed! She identifies herself as one of the Mac Geniuses, complete with a security badge dangling from a lanyard around her neck. "It must be nice to have a live person to talk to," says PC. Then he starts remembering his Interactive Voice Response System nightmares.

Who hasn’t yelled "CUSTOMER SERVICE" into the telephone mouthpiece, at one time or another? Let's be honest, Apple got this ad right. It is nice to have a live person to look at your system. As long as you live close enough to an Apple Store to visit. And remember to make an appointment before you go, so that you don’t have to wait 6 hours.

If you want, you can talk to Apple on the phone, of course. Assuming you live somewhere in North America, you even get to speak to someone who speaks English as a first language.
After you navigate the voice menus, that is.

Bottom line: The ad is mostly correct. Customer Care is one place where Apple really shines.

In summary, Apples ads are about as accurate as anybody else's ads. They highlight the best points of the Apple experience, avoid the worst, and imply things about the competition which may or may not be true.

How can you tell is a salesman is lying to you? Watch his mouth very carefully: if his lips are moving, chances are you’re being lied to.

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