Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Apple calls me a nerd, then tells me to buy its crap

So the new line of Apple ads seems to be this. Two guys stand in a mercilessly white room, and they compare their choices in personal computing. The guy on the left is dressed and styled more dorkily than the fellow on the right. The guy on the left uses a PC, the guy on the right uses an Apple. The point of the ad: PCs are for nerds, Apples are for cool people.

The first time I saw these ads, I hated them right away. I am a PC user, and I don't like being called a nerd. It's a bit of a sore spot for me, you see, because I am a nerd. In fact, my nerdliness is what's interested me in computers and technology in general. And so, to see this product sold to me by a strategy of insulting me is a bit obnoxious. Of course, one of the main purposes of advertising is to make you feel bad about yourself, creating an artificial emptiness inside you that, the ad suggests, can only be filled by purchasing the pimped product. But that's not quite what I think is going on here.

It seems that the strategy for Apple these days is to compete by branding themselves as a luxury computer, justifying the premium over cheaper PC equivalents with the coolness of Apple. It's a carryover from the ipods, which are less a piece of useful consumer electronics and more a piece of jewelry. Uniquely antisocial jewelry. And so the idea is more to separate the unpleasant associations of computing from the Apple. It's more a fun lifestyle accessory than a computer. Buy it so that you can be cool, just as with the ipod.

In the iteration I saw tonight, the nerd talked about how he had mad spreadsheet skills, while in contrast the cool dude on the right talked about all the wonderful applications available for the Mac - things to work with his photos and to create music. Speaking as a PC user, I can do those things just as well with a PC as with a Mac. Often, I have more options for doing them, precisely because I have a PC, a platform with more options in terms of available software.

Music's a good example. I've been making music on a PC in one form or another since before college. At every turn, I had more software programs available to me to use to make that music. Apple has GarageBand - it popped that one out a few years ago. PC has had, over a span of 15+ years, such programs as: Digitrakker, Fast Tracker, Impulse Tracker, Liquid Tracker, ModEdit, MultiTracker, RealTracker, Scream Tracker, Ultra Tracker, X-Tracker, Aodix, Axs, BeRoTracker, Boyscout, Graoumf Tracker 2, Buzz,* MadTracker, MilkyTracker, ModPlug Tracker, NoiseTrekker, ProTracker, Psycle, Psytexx, Raster Tracker, Renoise, reViSiT, Schism Tracker, Skale Tracker, SVArTracker, and ztracker. Among others.

Now, that's not an exhaustive list of either Apple or PC software available for making music, but it indicates one big difference between Apple and PC. Because PC is so much more widely available, more people have PCs and more software gets developed for it, even stuff that's aimed primarily at home users, like music trackers or, say, bittorrent clients. And all created by people with an interest in computers and in programming. And I'm sure that a fair number of them are nerds.

People who've heard the ipod version of these sentiments have told me that I'm just jealous that I don't have an ipod. And to some extent, that's true. Now that technology's becoming a proper subject of fashion, I find that I have no money to actually buy into the lifestyle, and that's certainly frustrating. Of course, this will not always be the situation. One day I will graduate and work again, and have disposable income. Which I will not spend on a premium computer, but will rather invest for a hopeful someday family.

And maybe, if I'm feeling particularly needful, I'll pick up a Creative Zen.

*Which is what I like to use. I can't really remember what trackers I've used in the past, but I'm sure that I've done some version of Blue Monday on all of them. As the technology progresses, it gets easier and easier to do wackier versions of the song. The fun remains consistently high.


Fishfrog said...

I agree. Apple rules. That's what you were trying to say, right?

Seriously though, I actually enjoy those commercials quite a bit. The PC guy is a new correspondent on the Daily Show and the Mac kid was fantastic in Dodgeball. This post reminds me a little of the episode of the Simpsons when the Principal and Ms. Crabapple start dating. Skinner says to Crabapple, "I've always admired your ability to be personally offended by broad social trends."

Incidently, I'm writing this comment on a Mac iBook G4. I've only been using it a couple of weeks, but I like it quite a bit. That's not to say that I hate PCs or even that Macs are better than PCs. Actually, I like PCs and Macs.

It's like cats and dogs. They say that people are either cat people or dog people. Cat people say that dogs are needy and slobbery. Dog people say that cats are lazy and aloof. Society seems to accept this "false bifurcation" unquestioningly. I like cats so I must hate dogs. Well actually, I like cats and I like dogs. I also like rabbits, pigs, wombats, and elephants. I should add that the few times I've used them, I also really liked computers made by Sun Microsystems.

Your venom toward Apple is a little strange. I think you're certainly right that a lot of what Apple sells is the stylization of their products, but isn't it ok to seek aesthetic pleasure in an otherwise non-aesthetic purchase?

In terms of software, no one is going to claim that Mac has a larger volume of software available. But the fact that there are hundreds of music recording programs available on PC now and for the past decade does not necessarily mean that the PC has better music programs. If Apple has one or two programs, and one of those programs is easy to use and full of important features, and hell, maybe it is the best music program out there (I'm not saying that it is; I haven't used it), then it is irrelevant that PC has hundreds of second-bests.

I would say something about the iPod thing, but we've already had that discussion and this comment is getting quite long.

Matt said...

I'm not "personally offended by broad social trends." I don't like the current line of Apple advertising.

Fishfrog said...

Ok. But it just reminded me of that line.

Jason Goldman said...

Up until recently, it seems pretty clear that Apple's explicitly chosen the luxury goods route. Jobs has reinforced this by repeatedly comparing macs to luxury cars and so on. As such, this line of advertising makes good sense and I think it is effective.

There's some confusion with this message because of BootCamp, the cheap Mac minis and the v. affordable 13" MacBook. All three seem more of a strategy to reach the masses.

In any case, I don't think the argument made about software is one of quantity. Yes, there is more software for the PC. However, I'd argue very strongly that the software made for the Mac for media tasks is better than that which is commonly availble on the PC. It's better for both the novice user and you could even make the case that in certain areas (video, notably) that the software is better for professionals as well.

(By better I mean that if you user-tested the Mac against the PC, the majority of users will more easily accomplish their tasks on the Mac.)

c said...

This is why I love blogs. The ability to polarize people on any subject.

jason said...


Matt said...

Matt Haughey is sick of all this smack talk.

Amy said...

Okay I randomly came across this lol but anyway, THANK YOU. I do like the new commercials - they are humorous and nothing more though. PC's are better than Mac. I'm in graphic design and I can't use a Mac because I have yet to use one that I can have even two Adobe programs open at the same time. OMG I want Photoshop and InDesign to run simultaneously! And yes I've had exposure to Macs with this software, the newest ones out there even. What happens after less than an hour? CRASH. I can't believe that with the number of Macs I have used, that they ALL were "just random ones that didn't work". If there are that many in multiple places that all do the same thing, Apple has a problem. PC all the way. I can open Dreamweaver, InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop without it crashing - and have each program running something too - what a novelty! A computer that works. And I have a two year old PC.

Anyway, just MPO.

PS I do have an iPod, and that does rock. Apple has the market for that I think. Just they can get rid of computers.