Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Dan Brown's Apple

I read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code when it came out. I was at that time coming to the end of my academic detoxification - or rather retoxification - program, the program in which I was reading all the crap that I'd failed to keep up with during the previous quarter of a century. A sales person at Barnes & Noble had suggested the book as a good read, and he was right. I read the book straight through in two days. I even spent a little time on the Web looking at Da Vinci's Last Supper and reading about Opus Dei, trying to figure out what the hell Brown was talking about. I couldn't, and eventually, after, oh, an hour of what in high school might pass for "research" I realized Brown had - on the most charitable theory - made most of it up. The author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail has a less charitable explanation. He claims that he made it all up first, and Brown stole it. Whatever. The point is, we're talking fiction here. It's entertaining, but it's fiction.

Which brings me to the new television ads from Apple.

In these new television ads, a hip young fellow plays the Mac and a less hip, geeky looking guy plays the PC. The Apple guy reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld. He's young and looks like he probably has a pretty girlfriend. The PC guy reminds me a bit of George Costanza, except that he looks like he's married and might even have a kid. And clearly the PC guy has a job, while the Apple guy, if he is not actually a stand-up comic, is on holiday, bicycling across the country with his iPod, his digital camera and the new MacBook Pro his dad gave him. The Apple guy graciously (and oddly) compliments the PC guy on what he can do with spreadsheets. Is the Apple guy unaware that Office for the Mac has a spreadsheet in it? Anyway, the Mac guy is mainly interested in photos and music and video. Computers are not tools, they're fun! The fact that the Mac is a sorry gaming platform is not mentioned. Perhaps that's coming in another ad.

Anyway, I love the ads. I laughed. As a formerly hip person myself, I get all the jokes. And of course I'm impressed that Walt Mossberg - the only computer journalist in the world not writing for Macworld who is willing to say that "the Mac is the world's best personal computer at any price" - happens to work for a very respected paper that I happen to subscribe to, etc. Very entertaining.

But true? Not so much.

OK, it's true that Mac OS X hasn't been the target of the kinds of viruses and other forms of malware that Windows XP has been the target of. It's also true that Macs don't catch viruses written for Windows, in the same way that I am not going to catch feline distemper from my cat. But it's not true to say or suggest that the Mac itself is immune. Back in the day so of the original Mac OS, viruses were a problem - enough of a problem that I still remember the name of John Norstad, author of Disinfectant and a hero to old Mac users. Macs aren't targeted by virus writers for much the same reason that the mayors of cities are seldom targets of assassins. If somebody were to write a virus that affected the Mac, it wouldn't get enough press. It's certainly not the case that Unix and/or the Mac OS are immune to malware and it's a bit cheeky for Apple to suggest that. There are other ways in which the Mac OS has the advantage over Windows, but they're too complicated to point out in an ad. For example, you could mention that Macs by default close lots of ports that are open on Windows by default. But it's not a grabber.

Still, the stuff about the Mac and viruses is the best stuff in these ads. But this stuff about the Mac being troublefree and easy is baloney. Maybe a late night repairing Unix permissions is Walt Mossberg's idea of a good time, but it's not mine.

As for hardware compatibility? In one of the ads, a Japanese beauty sidles up to the hip Apple dude and they start talking in Japanese. She apparently represents the latest cool camera from Japan, which (says the ad) the Mac supports, but Windows doesn't. The suggestion is that Macs are compatible with everything, right out of the box. Talk about chutzpah! Microsoft should run an ad listing all the devices - printers, scanners, wireless routers, keyboards - that don't work with Macs because they lack drivers for Mac OS, and while they're at it, they could list all the software that doesn't run on the Mac, either. I can't print to my Dell laser printer. I spent hours on the phone with Canon trying to get my scanner to work with the Mac; a driver existed but it was badly written. My old Olympus camera didn't work as well on the Mac as it did on the PC. This quotation from a review I read today is pretty typical. The reviewer is talking about the brand new Point & Shoot Video Camcorder. He first describes how easy it is to get your video from the camera to your PC and, say, email it to someone. He continues:

The process is clumsier on a Mac, because you have to install the software first—it doesn't run automatically from the camera. Also, saving the files on the Mac for use in other software required converting them to another format or running a special program. The company pledges to fix these Mac issues later in the year.

Who's the reviewer? Well, it's the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, the same guy who is quoted in one of the Apple ads as saying that the Mac is the best computer available at any price. If you take "at any price" in one sense - that is, if you don't care that you may spend $1000 more for a Mac than you will for a comparably configured PC - then perhaps Mossberg's right. I like the Mac OS. And I suppose Mossberg also meant, Best computer anywhere - as long as you don't want to buy the hot new Point & Shoot Video Camcorder.

What the ads prove once again, if such proof was needed, is not that Apple is simply and absolutely better than the PC, but that Apple's ad agency is better than Microsoft's.

P.S. The ads don't mention this, either.

(Originally published on Typepad 5/2/2006)

About Me

I am an event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.