Dec 12

Microsoft goes for the gimmick

Back in the days of NeXT, Steve Jobs taught me a lesson in technology advertising. As you might expect, it wasn’t very complicated. It went like this:

“Be important.”

At that point in time, Steve had a particular need for importance. Sales of the NeXT Computer weren’t exactly on fire. The company was struggling to survive.

Steve wanted the world to believe that NeXT was a relevant force with a message that deserved notice. He had no interest in an ad that was cute or inconsequential. He wouldn’t pin his hopes on a marketing gimmick.

I can’t help but think of Steve’s direction when I see Microsoft’s advertising for its Surface tablet.

“Important” it is not. Continue reading →

Oct 12

Reflecting on the iPad mini event

I’m still calling this the iPad mini event. But that’s only because it sounds much simpler than the MacBook Pro/iMac/iPad mini event. That was quite a boatload of technology.

Some observations:

Tim Cook. I thought he was much improved yesterday — compared to his performance at the iPhone 5 event, where he seemed overly coached and eager to hurl those adjectives.

The even-newer iPad. Surprise. The 4th generation comes only seven months after the 3rd generation. Never seen that before. Of course an update was necessary, if only to add the Lightning connector. Apple couldn’t very well be selling millions of iPads for the holidays sporting a connector that has no future.

The next new iPad? Taking iPad off its regular spring update schedule is a smart marketing move. By moving to a fall update schedule, Apple will enter every holiday season with a brand-new iPad. That’ll throw a bit more fuel on the flame. Continue reading →

Jul 12

Maybe Sculley wasn’t so $#@ after all?

Quick. When you hear the name John Sculley, what comes to mind?

Conspirator? Failed CEO? Uh, visionary?

As we all know, Sculley’s attempts to fill Steve’s visionary shoes didn’t quite pan out. Newton was a good idea, lacking only in the technology that would make it work well. (Though it did provide excellent fodder for the late-night comics).

Sculley’s most revolutionary idea was the Knowledge Navigator. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a product — it was just a video. It was his vision of Apple’s computing future. Continue reading →

Jun 12

The joy of demo crashes

In a world where competition is often seen as combat, there’s nothing more delightful than watching the other guy squirm.

This video is a good example. Microsoft Windows president Steve Sinofsky’s mid-demo crash of the Surface tablet during the “big unveil” last week now has garnered 3 million views in a week. That’s over three times as many hits as the presentation itself — and over twice as many as Steve Jobs’ iPad 2 presentation has accumulated in over a year.

Good moments just don’t attract a crowd like good moments gone bad. But then Sinofsky added to the allure with his own little bit of performance art. Note how he does a little bunny-hop to the back of the stage to pick up a backup unit — almost as if no one would notice. Continue reading →

Jun 12

Microsoft delivers its opening argument for Surface

In the last 15 years, I don’t think I’ve ever given Microsoft more than 10 consecutive minutes of my life. Which is sad, because long ago I was actually a fan.

But yesterday, curious about the Surface tablet, I sat myself down and watched the entire video of Monday’s Surface unveiling in Hollywood. I found it fascinating on many levels.

First, I have to say that I was drawn to the video because two of the Surface’s features seemed very cool — the 16:9 format screen and keyboard built into the cover.

So, despite my mostly negative views of Microsoft, I started the video being somewhat impressed. Continue reading →

Jun 12

A moment of sanity in the Applesphere

Being under the microscope is a double-edged sword for Apple.

On one hand, the company gets hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity from the world’s journalists and bloggers. On the other, it gets picked apart for every transgression, real or imagined.

There are legions of critics and naysayers just waiting to pounce. We hear from them whenever Apple’s quarterly report shows a “weakness,” some supplier in Asia is rumored to be making fewer iPad components, or an Apple event fails to meet expectations — no matter how unrealistic those expectations might have been.

It’s for that last reason that I was somewhat amazed by the reactions to Apple’s WWDC 2012 presentation on Monday. Continue reading →

Apr 12

Intel’s “new era” echoes Apple’s old idea

Thanks to Intel, “a new era of computing” has arrived.

No more thick, heavy laptops. No more clunky design. This is the dawn of the “ultrabook”: super-thin, super-light and beautifully sculpted.

It’s a bold claim and a fantastic idea, except that it ignores one obvious fact:

The Intel era of ultrabooks looks exactly like the Apple era of MacBook Air, which began four years ago.

It’s particularly interesting because MacBook Air has actually been running on an Intel processor all this time. And PC companies have in fact dabbled in the super-thin space before, though they haven’t had much luck. Continue reading →

Mar 12

Apple goes wordless once again

A few weeks ago, I put up an article about the lack of headlines in Apple’s most recent outdoor ads. There were some strong opinions on both sides, for and against headlines.

With its latest iCloud commercial (above), Apple has now expanded the wordless approach to TV. This ad gives us a series of shots in which an action taken on one Apple device is instantly reflected on another. (At least we think it’s instant — there is no real reference to the timeframe.)

Thank you, Apple, for giving us the perfect A/B test. The new iCloud ad actually tells the identical story we got in the previous iCloud ad. The only real difference is the absence of a voiceover to explain things. Continue reading →

Mar 12

Apple’s momentary lapse of reason

As we all know (and Wall Street knows), Apple is a well-oiled machine these days. Unfortunately, there seems to be a screw loose down in the shipping dept.

This is the story of my friend Sam in Tucson, who was anxiously awaiting the scheduled March 16th delivery of his gorgeous new personalized iPad.

On March 14th, just two days before his delivery date, Sam received the above email from Apple. Even after he read it a few times, he was scratching his head.

For starters, it was riddled with typos. Not one or two, but six. Given Apple’s perfectionist standards, surely someone’s head would roll as a result. (Just three hours later, Sam received another email owning up to the errors. Continue reading →

Feb 12

Where have Apple’s headlines gone?

Driving around LA with colleagues recently, we were greeted by iPad billboards just about everywhere we went. All shared the same clever headline: “iPad 2.”

That got my merry band wondering: when was the last time an Apple billboard or poster actually had a headline. (At least a smart headline in the Apple tradition.)

Before the “iPad 2” headline, the headline was “iPad.” The old iPod “silhouette” billboards had headlines that seemed like novels in comparison — they said “iPod + iTunes.”

I don’t mean this as an indictment. It’s simply an observation. In fact, if I were so disposed, I could rationalize both ways of thinking.

Say no to headlines!
Apple makes things simple. What could be simpler than a beautiful image and a product name? Brevity is its own form of cleverness, and a minimal number of words makes Apple stand out even more from its complicated competitors. Apple has transcended the need to explain things. If you really want more words, there are plenty of them at apple.com.

You’re blowing a major opportunity — repeatedly.
Steve Jobs himself once told me that every single ad is an opportunity to build the brand. Every time you fail to do that, it’s an opportunity lost. Now Apple is missing what its smart headlines used to add, and therefore not connecting at the same level. Those headlines are what originally gave Apple its public personality — they put Apple in a class by itself. Is it too much to ask for a few clever words?

So what gives? Has Apple lost the ability to craft a good headline? Or does it truly believe that an image and a product name is the ultimate act of advertising minimalism, and therefore a perfect representation of the Apple brand?

One argument against the latter is that the most recent images Apple has given us don’t exactly come from the adrenaline-pumping school of photography. The current iPad 2 billboard (above), in which we see a side view of Mr. Fingers picking up an iPad, is about as sleepy as it gets.

So what do you think?

Personally, I miss the little smile that used to come with seeing a great Apple ad. I get that the products are cool-looking, and the visual reminder is helpful. But those three or four words that made you think, “Damn, those guys are good” really did add another dimension to the ads.

Clearly Steve Jobs came to believe that the headlines were no longer necessary. It will be interesting to see how Apple’s creative work evolves now that others have full responsibility.