The iPhone 5 Ads

A very perceptive friend of the agency provided the inspiration for the following commentary by sending me this article in AdWeek covering Apple's TV spots for the iPhone 5.  You can see all four of the spots by visiting that link, but here's one for reference:

AdWeek points out that this spot seems to be a back-to-basics approach to Apple Ads following the disappointments with the widely unpopular "Genius Ads."  While the point is interesting, I don't think it shows a long term understanding of Apple's advertising.

Think back to the late 90s.  Steve Jobs has just returned to Apple as a consultant and somehow managed to out the CEO and replace the Board of Directors.  One of his first moves as acting CEO was to rehire TBWA's famous agency Chiat-Day (as a matter of disclosure, I work for a TBWA network agency).  Apple's product pipeline wasn't promising, and Apple needed a way to convince its remaining loyal customers that the company would not only survive, but return to growth.  Apple's ads made an about face going from this:

To this:

Think Different was risky.  No product is shown in the ad.  For that matter, no computers of any kind appear during the campaign.  If you're not a professional marketer, you may have never seen a Brand Anthem.  Often agencies will produce longer form, high-creative work aimed at marketing people or internal audiences.  These typically aren't shown to the public because media is expensive and customer attention is scarce.  If you have the money for media and the customer's attention, the safe bet is generally on a product message.  Under Steve, Apple made the realization that there was no good product message, and Apple had to buy time.  So, they drew a line in the sand and publicly proclaimed what they stood for.  In those days, most people believed Apple was going out of business.  Windows 95 was eating away the final advantages of the Mac.  Luckily, Think Different worked.  It was lifestyle advertising at its best, and it rallied the troops–both internal and external to Apple's payroll long enough for new products to reach production.

The first major introduction after Steve return was the Power Macintosh G3 and the Apple Store online.  The Power Mac G3 featured a new processor that offered some genuine, if overstated, performance advantages for that time.  The hardware was very nice in terms of serviceability, but not all that different from previous Power Macs.  Apple introduced a little bit of swagger into it's ads with "Toasted."

Toasted was another stop gap ad.  The Power Macintosh G3 family was well into development by the time Steve returned, but you can see modern elements to Apple's ads in this spot.  There is a plain white background.  One product feature is communicated during the entire 30 second spot.  The ad is simple, direct and focused.

In August of 1998, the first real fruit of Steve's return was born: the iMac.  With this spot, we can see the formula for all of Apple's subsequent Mac product ads.  Let's watch one now.

When the iMac was introduced, connecting to the Internet was confusing for most people.  You needed a modem, and you needed to configure things like PPP and TCP/IP in order for that modem to offer Internet services.  This spot was devoted to showing the iMac was easier.  Every iMac ad highlighted a single feature.  Apple's Mac ads continued with this formula all the way to the present.  Take a a look at the latest ads for the Retina MacBook Pro.

One product is featured for the entire 30 seconds.  One feature is the focus of the entire spot.  It is explained simply, directly and focused.  Look back at Apple's Mac ads.  Dozens of product spots all support this message.  From the candy-colored iMacs, to the funky floating display of the iMac G4, to the weapons grade Power Mac G4 and into the modern age of impossibly thin portable computers the formula has remained remarkably consistent.

Of course, Apple doesn't just do product ads.  They also produce higher-order campaigns to sell platforms.  The first such campaign was "Switch."  These ads were straight-shot testimonials from former Windows users who made a move to the Mac.

The switch ads were well liked by most Apple fans, but were the source of considerable debate in the larger world of tech.  No one could say for sure if these ads were really convincing people to buy Macs.  Apple's sales were improved, but that wasn't saying much–Apple was coming back from the verge of collapse.  After the Switch campaign ran its course, the Get a Mac campaign filled the Mac campaign role.  I'm sure you remember its opening line.

We see that Apple has two concurrent ad models for the Mac.  On the one hand you have the very consistent product ads.  On the other, you have higher-concept campaigns that lay the groundwork for the product spots.  The most recent Mac campaign was Mac Genius, and it hit the market with a thud.

I actually like these spots.  As a technical Mac person, I get interrupted by well meaning people seeking Mac help a lot.  I had high hopes for this series, but the crowd spoke quickly and loudly.  Apple pulled these spots in record time, and the Mac campaign spot is left empty.

Today, Apple makes more than Macs.  It may seem strange, but there was a time when the idea of Apple making something other than computers and peripherals was an oddity..  As great as the iMac was, it was not the product that propelled Apple to the forefront of culture.  That honor belongs to the iPod.  When the iPod was introduced, it was a Mac only MP3 player.  There was no iTunes Music Store.  Apple had to explain what the product was, and the first spot shows us a bridge from the product focused Mac spots and the lifestyle focused iPod campaigns to follow.

I love this spot.  You see the torch pass from the Mac to the iPod.  The dancing man also lays the groundwork for the future direction of iPod advertising.  In 2001, the iPod was a strange new thing from Apple, but once Windows compatibility and the iTunes Music Store were added, Apple was suddenly the leader of a market by sales volume.  Everyone knew what the iPod was, and so iPod ads could focus on lifestyle.  "Silhouettes" took Apple advertising in a new direction.

Like the Mac product spots, iPod ads remained remarkable consistent.  Although the visual production gained texture and depth as the spots evolved, the iconic product representation remained, and the effect of the music on a dancing silhouette was the payoff.  These spots worked with youth culture in a way the Mac ads never could, and cemented Apple as a dominant leader in music, and consumer electronics.  Apple was no longer the maker of a niche computer brand.

Fueled by a resurgent Mac and explosive iPod growth, Apple made a bold move by launching a smart phone.  The iPhone represented a fundamental shift in user interface models, and so it was not enough to show the hardware and use voiceovers about new features as worked for the Mac.  Likewise, the iPod lifestyle ads couldn't convey how new and remarkable the iPhone was.  Apple and TBWA created a new direction for iPhone product ads where a product demo is shared for the entire spot.  This worked well because the iPhone's interface was novel and captivating.

iPhone (and iPad) ads have been just as consistent as Mac and iPod ads.  Every spot is a direct product shot showing a demonstration of features and usability–at least they were until Apple introduced a new interface model for the iPhone.  Siri demanded something special.

The first Siri ads were great.  They showcased actual use cases and response from the product.  Although shot differently than traditional iPhone spots, this was appropriate.  Siri is a different way to use an iPhone.  Siri ads followed a formula of their own.  The focus was on Siri–in most case the full face of the person using Siri is obscured. The focus was on the iPhone and on Siri.

Apple broke this formula with the celebrity Siri ads and I never liked them.  The were celebrity focused instead of product focused.  Apple has used celebrities to good effect in the past–Will Ferrel did a couple of amazingly funny switch ads. But these ads didn't accurately communicate the product experience.  While anyone with an iPhone 4S could try the examples given in the first Siri ads with great success, the celebrity ads were too scripted.  Just try asking your 4S to remind you to "put the Gestapo on ice" as Samuel Jackson did–I've never seen this work in the wild.

As an aside, some of my favorite Apple ads are for the iPod Touch.  These ads combine the iPhone style demonstrations with iPod style fun and lifestyle focus.  The iPod Touch is a mashup product, so it makes sense for its ad formula to be a mashup as well.

With all this in mind, it seems clear that Apple has very consistent formulas for product advertising.  The new iPhone spots aren't a retreat from the Siri ads at all–they're a continuation of the approach that extends all the way back to the iMac ads of 1998.  Apple's Siri ads shouldn't be viewed as an aberration.  Instead, they are part of a new family of Feature ads.  Look at the spots for iCloud, or IOS 5 for other examples.

No company can execute flawlessly all the time, and there have been some bad ads in Apple's history.  A careful examination of Apple's ad history should make it clear that the iPhone 5 ads aren't an attempt to right the wrongs of the Mac Genius spots–they are the normal formula for new iPhone hardware.  Apple exhibits remarkable discipline in maintaining a brand that is consistent in how it communicates.

We haven't seen the last of the Apple feature ads.  Just don't confuse them for product spots.

The iPhone 5

I haven't ordered an iPhone 5 yet, but I thought I'd share my impressions for anyone who's interested now that I've had the chance to actually use one.  Consumer response the the iPhone 5 is obviously off the charts.  Apple sold 5 million of them over the weekend.  Although I'm still not sure if I'll keep my 4S another year or upgrade, my hands-on time with the device makes a few things obvious.

  • The build quality on this phone is better than anything Apple has ever made.  You get the feeling of a luxury watch instead of a cell phone.
  • It feels much lighter than the 4S.  It's dramatic.
  • The 4S is not slow, but the 5 is much faster.  If I use a 5 too much, I won't be able to keep my 4S.
  • The camera is remarkable, especially in low light conditions.
  • There aren't any opportunities to test LTE networks in Tallahassee.
  • This phone is a big win for international travel.
  • I don't know if I like the taller screen.  I'm craving a smaller iPhone, not a larger one.  I am very much in the minority here.
  • The color fidelity on the iPhone 5 is remarkable.

My wife has an iPhone 4, so I plan to upgrade her to the iPhone 5 when supplies get better.  What about you?  Did you make the jump?  Are you planning to?

First Thoughts on Amazon's New Kindle Family

Today Amazon announced a new line up of Kindles.  Every member of the Kindle family was updated, from the e-Ink based Kindles, to the Kindle Fire.  An all new Kindle was announced as well: the Kindle Fire HD.  Amazon is supporting these products with some innovative data plans and parental controls.  More than any other contender in the post-PC market, Amazon is showing that there are other go-to-market strategies than copying Apple.  I love it.

The New Kindle Paperwhite

I love my iPad, and I take it with me everywhere.  With the right workflow and apps, I can do most of what I do on a MacBook but without the weight, heat and lower battery life.  The iPad is a great consumption device, but I also find it to be a good email and writing (prose and code) experience too.  Even basic presentation work is possible.  Amazon's Kindle app offers the best reading experience on the iPad, and the retina display makes for very sharp text.  What's not to love about the iPad as an e-reader?  Size and weight.

The new Kindle Paperwhite

The new Kindle Paperwhite

Longer reading sessions can become cumbersome on the iPad, and if they are late in the day you may find your battery nearly depleted.  Any e-reader built on eInk doesn't share these limitations.  E-Ink devices have battery lives measured in weeks, and also can be made very thin and light.  For all it's advantages for reading, eInk isn't perfect.  The screens are lower contrast and lower resolution that LCD displays, and they also don't glow.  Amazon has addressed both of these issues with the new Kindle Paperwhite.  It's available in for $119 as a WiFi product, or $179 with 3G networking too. Both editions include a screen light for low light situations.  Amazon also slashed the price of the basic Kindle to $69.

Even though I own an iPad, I'm going to get one of the paperwhite Kindles.  My whole reading library is on the Amazon ecosystem already, and my reading habits stress even the long lasting batter of the iPad.  These devices are a no-brainer for avid readers, and in my mind this refresh pushes Amazon back in front of Banes & Nobel's Nook.

The New Kindle Fire

Don't call it the Kindle 2.  Like Apple's iPad line, Amazon is eschewing version numbers for its Kindle products.  I think that's smart–outside technology products very few consumer brands use version numbers.  Can you imagine hoping over to the GM dealer to pick up a new Tacoma 17?  This is a more human friendly way to market tech products.

Amazon's new Kindle Fire will ship September 14 for $159.  It has twice the RAM of the original Fire, a faster processor, and a longer lasting battery.  Hopefully the additional RAM will address some of the issues with responsiveness seen with the original Kindle Fire.  Google has put a lot of effort into UI performance with Android 4.1, and the Nexus 7 is reported to be a very responsive device.  If Amazon fails to address this issue, they're going to have a hard time gaining traction against Apple and Google.

The new Kindle Fire

The new Kindle Fire

Although Apple is rumored to be near the release of a smaller iPad, today Amazon's main competition in this smaller/cheaper tablet market is Google.  The Nexus 7 is an impressive device, but Amazon is really putting pressure in terms of price.  Amazon has an industry leading library of content, so if the new Kindle Fire is responsive it could be a real success in the market.

Introducing the Kindle Fire HD

Amazon's entry into the full size tablet market is interesting.  Instead of going with a 9.7 inch screen, the Kindle HD is 8.9.  Interestingly, the display 254 DPI, rather close to the Retina iPad's 264.  At $299, it's priced the same as Apple's iPad 2.  Amazon is clearly encouraging customers to keep their data on its servers–the Kindle HD only has 16 GB of flash storage.  That's a solid strategy when Internet connectivity is available and fast.  Anyone who has tried to consumer music or movies on a plane or in the airport will tell you that assuming consistent Internet connectivity isn't always safe.

The Kindle Fire HD

The Kindle Fire HD

The specifications on the device are impressive, and the price is great.  I withhold judgement on the form factor until I can get my hands on one.  I've never had a great experience with a 7" tablet so far, but I'm interested to see what 8.9" is like compared to 9.7" in terms of usability on a touch screen.

More concerning is the tool set for developers when creating Kindle apps.  The diversity of the Android product ecosystem means that developers can't make the same assumptions about display resolutions on these devices that they can make on iOS.  The result is that Android apps are often blurry, pixelated or scaled oddly.  I don't see how the Kindle Fire HD does anything but contribute to this problem.  This is not a purely aesthetic issue.  App usability can suffer as UI elements are dynamically resized in ways the developer could not predict.

The most interesting thing to me is the pricing for the 4G LTE equipped Kindle Fire HD.: $499. This is a larger price increase that you would see on the iPad, but the data plan for the Kindle Fire HD is $49 a year.  Now that's only for 250 MB per month, but the same plan on an iPad is $15 a month.  If you restrict media streaming to WiFi networks, 250 MB per month is not an unreasonable amount of data for many people.

As usual, Amazon is working to disrupt the revenue model of their competitors and suppliers.  I'm not sure how they convinced a carrier partner to go along with this–it could affect consumer's psychological evaluation of data pricing.

I hope the Kindle Fire HD succeeds.  I can't see giving up my iPad, but for people who are mainly looking for web browsing and content consumption the Kindle Fire HD seems to be a credible alternative.

FreeTime and X-Ray

Perhaps more than any other device, tablets get handed around the family.  Children are drawn to the touch interaction model.  There are many quality educational and game app available for both iOS and Android.  While iOS offers good parental controls, enabling and disabling them is not easy.  Apple's subtext is clear: use one device per family member.

Amazon is adding user profiles and corresponding parental controls to the Fire.  The idea is to make it easy to pass a device around the household, and make sure that all the apps and media are age-appropriate.  Amazon also wants to make this intuitive.  Based on the number of calls I get, it is neither obvious nor intuitive. to setup individual iCloud accounts with shared store accounts across iOS devices.  Many families will be won over if Amazon nails this.

Amazon also added a technology called X-Ray designed to help you discover new content, easily.  One of my my gripes with Amazon is discovery.  It's easy to order something from Amazon if you know what you want, but traditional retailers offer a much better browsing experience.  The write ups on Xray don't tell me much, so I'm looking forward to seeing this in action.

Standing Out

I wish more device makers would emulate Amazon's approach to the post PC market.  Amazon is going after the value segment without trying to copy Apple's work.  Microsoft is similarly original, but so far they haven't had the same success in the market place.  I hope the new Kindles inspire some of the Android partners to break new ground an innovate for their customers.  Nicely done, Amazon.

Finally, here are some spots released by Amazon to promote their new products.

Microsoft Office Mac & Retina Displays

There's been quite a few stories in the news lately about Microsoft's plans for the Office suite.  These articles draw the conclusion that Microsoft has no immediate plans to update their office suite to support HiDPI rendering on Macs with Retina Displays.  What source is cited for this conclusion?  The comments from a blog post.  Based on criticisms about the quality of icons and interface elements, a user with the name "Office for Mac Team" posted the following: "The remaining apps will have the same viewing quality as on any non-Retina device... ...Unfortunately at this time, we cannot comment on any future updates regarding supporting Retina on Word, Excel or PowerPoint."

Am I missing something?  This is a really standard PR phrasing for "no comment."  There's no dismissal or discussion of Retina support.  All that is asserted is that the apps work today on Retina Macs-there is no discussion of what's next.

Office icons

I can think of three possibilities regarding Retina support in Mac Office.

  1. Office 2011 for Mac will get an update for Retina displays.  This could be as simple as text rendering, or could include updated bitmaps as well.
  2. The next version of Office will include support for Retina displays.
  3. Microsoft is evaluating retina support and has not reached a conclusion.

I'd be shocked if there's no 2011 build floating around in the Mac BU with Retina text support.  If it exists, it has to be tested.  We also don't know how far along the next version of Mac Office is in development.  It may already be too late for it to ship with native Retina support.  In that case, we may be looking at a patch that comes later.

The point is we don't know.  Microsoft has only issued a "we don't have anything to say" statement.  That does not mean there is nothing to be said.