Traditionally I was very fond of Apple’s engineering. Mainly in the user interfaces of their software but also in certain aspects of their hardware. Both put a greater focus on usability and my convenience than most of the other products you could buy. That fondness has shrunk in the past years. Not only because not a single one of the Apple products I bought in this millenium (three laptops, one iPod) and only few of my friends’ Apple products made it through their first year without needing parts to be replaced, but also because Apple seem to treat UI developments as something that you test on the users rather than carefully researching it first these days.
And while Apple have had interesting advertising most of the times, it seems that recently they excel at running the hype machines high. The iPhone announcement got so much press coverage that the media should be ashamed of themselves. And pretty much any fart that Mr Jobs does these days seems to trigger an avalanche of reports. This masterful handling of the media is a skill and might deserve some credit. Yet, I am a bit disappointed by it. I’d much prefer their products being the stuff that’s brilliant without reservations.
I ran into a fantastically evil and brilliant marketing tactic last weekend. The Apple on Campus store (which many unis have and which gives you about twice the education discount if you order through them) bought their way into a club night where they had a little iPod lottery. To do that they had a guy standing there with a MacBook all night who handled that. And the handling was very clever indeed. First he’d take a photo of you using PhotoBooth (thereby highlighting that, yes, the computer has a camera and that it does that clever screen-flash thing which makes your face visible despite the dim lighting in the club).
Then that photo was simply dragged to a special application – which looked a bit like a widget that displayed your photo in that framed rotated way which is quite popular with Apple these days – and let you enter your name and e-mail address. All quick and easy going (and sympathetically without asking for a mailing address or phone number) and showing off the lightness and no-nonsense style of the Mac UI while being a bit flashy. Just imagine what a Windows equivalent would have looked like. A full screen mess, I bet.
And then the guy asked whether you’re familiar with the Mac and would be happy to show you a few things (I am pretty sure he just guessed that I’m a Mac user because I typed my e-mail address’ @ without hesitation – which because of the different locations of that character on German Mac and Windows keyboards is something Windows users frequently struggle with on the Mac). That’s a friendly and clever concept.
I’d also say it’s quite evil. Because marketing to people who are more or less drunk on a night out may be efficient but looks a bit like they want to take advantage of that situation. And even when I was leaving quite late people were still there having their photos taken – making clear that the idea (and possibly chore) of staying there all night certainly was a good one.
Now let’s just hope I’ll win an iPod… my iPod’s hard drive is starting to act up and I’m not sure how long it will last.
I don’t begrudge Apple their marketing — I remember the Sculley/Spindler/Amelio years, the years when Apple had no clue of how to sell anything, and realize that those years brought us closer to having nothing to choose from but Windows PCs than I like to think about. :)
I tend to think that – as many Apple fans – you see those years a bit too negatively. While they failed to ship their next big OS, the machines weren’t all that bad.
In fact, unlike today’s machines, those old ones were so sturdy that you could expect to still use them for another five years in case Apple went bust. That security is gone.
And I don’t think their ads back then were particularly uninspiring or that Apple wasting loads of my money on flashy ads today is a particularly good thing.
I don’t necessarily think it was the ads that were the problem — marketing encompasses other things as well, such as knowing which things to sell at what time and for how much money, and the Apple of that period would do silly things like selling essentially the same product under 4 or 5 names (e.g. Performa 3300 vs LCIII25 or whatever…)
Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.