Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Is the Apple press falling into Microsoft's trap?

April 5, 2009: 10:37 AM ET

Giampaolo in carOver the weekend, Microsoft (MSFT) unleashed the second TV ad in its "you find it, you keep it" series -- this time swapping handsome, "technically savvy" Giampaolo for perky, red-headed Lauren De Long.

Once again the camera follows a typical budget-constrained buyer on a laptop shopping spree using Steve Ballmer's money. Once again the shopper chooses an HP (HPQ) Pavilion over a Mac. And once again, the Apple (AAPL) press has gone after the buyer's choice with its teeth bared, digging into the machine's innards and ripping them apart, spec by spec.

Exactly as Microsoft hoped they would.

The most detailed critique so far comes from AppleInsider's Prince McLean, who takes delight in the fact that the Pavilion HDX 16t that Giampaolo chose ...

  • "weighs over 7.3 pounds naked"
  • has a 1.7-in. thick "cheap plastic body"
  • comes with "miserably low density 1366x768 screen resolution"
  • has a "built-in battery [rated] for less than 3 hours, but reviewers gave it less than two"
  • has "a slower memory architecture than Apple was shipping in early 2006 MacBooks three years ago"
  • delivers a "peak transfer rate" half as fast as the latest MacBooks
  • has "loads of installed RAM [his] computer can't even use."

"The strangest point of this ad," McLean concludes, "is that Giampaolo ... ended up with a cheap-appearing machine that obscured its real technical limitations under a flashy layer of misleading, specification-oriented marketing." (link)

"At the beginning, this guy said he wanted Portability, Battery and Power," writes Computerworld's Seth Weintraub. "He got none of what he wanted." (link)

In Technologizer, Harry McCracken points out that Microsoft has cleverly left itself out of the ads. "They never mention Windows or argue that the presence of Windows on a computer is a selling point," he writes.

"That's how they can get away with suggesting that the price of Macs is all about wasteful cool factor: If you treat the OS as a boring commodity, you can neatly sidestep addressing how Windows Vista compares to OS X. Whether it's easier to use or less so; whether it has more annoyances or fewer of them; whether security is a bigger issue or less of one; whether the bundled applications are better or worse. And so on. The questions, in other words, that most sharply define the differences between Windows PCs and Macs." (link)

Pretty harsh stuff. And likely to go right over the heads of much of the computer-buying public, who may be more like Lauren and Giampaolo than they are like Prince, Seth and Harry.

Which brings us to the money quote that Dan Lyons (a.k.a. Fake Steve Jobs), writing for Newsweek, got out of David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft.

Webster says, according to Lyons, that "the ugly attacks from Mac fanboys are exactly what Microsoft was hoping to provoke."

"He says the idea was to turn Apple's 'I'm a Mac' campaign to Microsoft's advantage. 'We associate real people with being PCs, [but then Apple] ends up looking pretty mean-spirited, the way they go after customers,' he says. 'It's clear that's who they are insulting.' At the same time he can't resist taking a crack at the preciousness of some Mac users. 'Not everyone wants a machine that's been washed with unicorn tears,' he says." (link)

Below the fold: the Giampaolo ad, via YouTube.

See also:

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @ philiped]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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