The Pitch Apple sticks with the "dance with the one that brung ya" philosophy for the start of '08, churning out yet another Mac-versus-PC chestnut. This time, though, the tone's a notch more acidic than in spots past—John Hodgman's PC comes off as more flummoxed than usual, readily admitting to Vista's many faults. (Sound like someone else we know?) Since this ad was designed in part as an intro to Steve Jobs' Macworld keynote, it also includes a brief laundry list of Apple's other recent accomplishments—notably last year's iPhone coup. Does this commercial from the tried-and-true school portend a banner year for Apple, or is the joke (as well as its pull on consumers) finally starting to wear thin?
The Spin The most significant part of the spot is Hodgman's declaration of Vista's awfulness, a fact that millions of frustrated PC users can attest to. (Your humble narrator is among that throng, having opted for a clean reinstall of XP Pro after a Vista upgrade turned his Sony Vaio into a pricey doorstop.) Apple is right to see the Vista fiasco as a golden opportunity to convert a whole new class of consumers—users who've stuck with PCs chiefly out of habit, nothing more. That doesn't just cover light users who've had the same Dell desktop for five years, but also enterprise customers whose natural inclination is to fear IT change. Those suits are now reconsidering en masse, so painful has the Vista switchover been. And it makes sense that Mac is an increasingly sought-after option for the private sector, given all the plaudits that Leopard's received from Mossberg and his many acolytes.
Counterspin You can always quibble over whether an ad formula has jumped the shark—Lord only knows how much digital ink has been spilled in the name of deciding whether the Geico Caveman stuck around too long. But creative nitpicks aside, the main substantive beef that some critics have with the continued Mac-versus-PC series is that it does a poor job of educating consumers. Don't say it can't be done: Apple did an excellent job with its second batch of iPhone ads, in which man-on-the-street types clearly described the gadget's functions. True, that's a taller order with an operating system like Leopard, but I'm willing to bet the big brains at TBWA\Chiat\Day could cook up something. If not, then consumers are pretty much forced to check out an Apple store to learn the basics—a great experience that can convert the PC faithful, but one that's not available to millions of potential customers. (No Apple store in Montana? Really?)
Mission Accomplished? Divining Apple's long-term plans is a bit like forecasting Leonid Brezhnev's next move, circa 1979. There's lots of speculation—particularly here on Gizmodo—but few viable tea leaves from which to read. It is clear, however, that Apple is facing some tough decisions over the next twelve to eighteen months, beginning with whether it wants to mount a more formidable challenge to Microsoft in the laptop space, or focus its efforts even more on smartphones and digital audio players (where the company is currently the bee's knees). If it's going to be the former, Apple has its work cut out for it: Despite a successful 2007, the company's share of the operating-system market rose just 0.51 percent, to 7.31 percent. Meanwhile, for all of its technical failings, Vista has actually been a sales champ. Turning that around will require Apple to not only keep innovating with its products, but also with its enterprise sales tactics. That may not be a battle worth fighting, especially if Apple truly foresees next-gen iPhones, iPods and the like eventually replacing laptops for a huge swath of users.
Hype-O-Meter 6 (out of 10). Even if you're sick to death of this campaign, you have to hand it to Apple for pressing an advantage at exactly the right time. But there are pitfalls to obsessing over a competitor, too—more about what's specifically right with Apple's innovations, please, rather than gloating over Microsoft's woes.
Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired, a columnist for Slate, and author of the forthcoming Now the Hell Will Start. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.