Is the pirate dead? When did Apple become the new IBM? How did the company that once sought to destroy our restrictive computer overlords wind up becoming so buttoned-down?
How did Apple go from this:
The short answer, of course, is success. Apple now makes the world's most popular personal computing products - the iPhone and iPad - and has created the most profitable ecosystem for our new mobile world. No longer the underdog, Apple is now the company everyone else is chasing.
Needs vs. Desires
That kind of success necessarily breeds a certain amount of conservatism. As the risks involved in rocking the boat go up, the rewards seem to go down and the temptation to take the safe route becomes all encompassing.
That's why it's not surprising that Apple's new iPhone ads are exactly what we need - but not at all what we want.
The ads re-confirm that the bold revolution Apple wrought with the launch of the iPhone in 2007 has been realized. The computing world has changed forever. The PC hegemony is contracting. Smartphones and tablets are rapidly taking over the Web, invading the enterprise and challenging the once mighty defenders of the desktop, from Microsoft to HP to Dell and beyond.
That's why some six years later, Apple's latest ads are no longer revolutionary - or even exciting.
The Tables Have Turned
Soon after the original iPhone was launched, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was asked his thoughts by USA Today (he can never take them back):
Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market? (Laughter.) I want to have products that appeal to everybody.
There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.
It's easy to mock Ballmer's words now, but when you are the top dog it's easy to be glib about the competition. Unfortunately, it's just as easy to misunderstand what is happening elsewhere while your focus is on maintaining your lofty status.
In that very same interview, Ballmer went on to say, albeit less famously:
It's not like we're at the end of the line of innovation that's going to come in the way people listen to music, watch videos, etc. I'll bet our ads will be less edgy. But my 85-year-old uncle probably will never own an iPod, and I hope we'll get him to own a Zune. [Emphasis mine.]
That's exactly what's happening to Apple - at least with respect to marketing.
The latest Apple ads effectively tell the story of the iPhone's capabilities. But they most closely resemble a campaign from discount clothier Men's Wearhouse. Is that really what Apple wants to be compared to?
Is Samsung The New Apple?
Consider instead this Samsung ad. It says little about Samsung's own product and spends most of its time mocking not only Apple, but Apple users.
These are the kinds of ads that strike a chord. As ReadWrite noted yesterday:
[Samsung] wants to dethrone the iPhone in the U.S. Samsung apparently chose New York City for the launch event because it, “is nicknamed the Big Apple, which is also the symbol and heart of the United States, Samsung picked that city for the event.’’
Not very long ago, Apple fought for its very existence. Now it's one of the world's richest corporations. That's a big change. It only makes sense that Apple's advertisements reflect that evolution.
Today's Apple execs obviously want to promote their product, excite their core base, not lend stature to the competition - all while showcasing the iPhone's universal appeal. These latest ads likely succeed at that.
I like them. I also suspect they are the kinds of ads that Steve Ballmer would have happily approved back in 2007.