The Simplicity of Apple’s Advertising : 1997-Present

The first part of this series can be found here.


The second coming of Steve Jobs to Apple in 1997 has been discussed many times, yet most don’t realize how complete a turn around of Apple he was able to accomplish. In addition to the big picture things he was able to do, such as saving Apple from bankruptcy and completely reinvigorating their product line, he also completely changed their advertising, bringing it back in line with Apple’s previous focus on simplicity.


When Jobs returned, his first order of business in advertising wasn’t to advertise the actual products. He realized the products at that point were not very good, although they had many new ones in the pipeline. Instead, he wanted to make a “mission statement” and show how Apple saw itself as more than just an average computer company. This was a similar idea to Jobs original “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication” ad from the 70s, in which the product was not even shown.

This “Leave your mark.” ad has no reference to any specific computer or part of Apple’s OS, but simply is aspirational. It’s meant to evoke a feeling of endless possibility one has as a child. Apple was playing on your emotions, not trying to convince you logically to buy a computer.

These are a series of three ads that show sections of the Mac OS (some zoomed in) that are starting points. A create button, a new button, and a blank text file. The ads contained nothing but these pictures of the OS, a small inspirational sentence at the bottom, and the Apple logo. Again, while they showed the OS, they really weren’t about the OS itself, but more about invoking a feeling of passion and creativity.


Apple went full force into the “mission statement” type ads with the Think Different campaign. This was probably the highlight of Apple’s advertising throughout its history and is significant even in the history of advertising as a whole. The brilliance of the Think Different ads was again the unwavering simplicity. They consisted of simple black and white photographs of famous visionaries, overlaid with small text that said “Think Different,” and a small Apple logo.

If you didn’t know any better you wouldn’t even realize that Apple was a computer company, as there was no indication in the ads. Apple wasn’t selling products with the Think Different campaign, they were trying to establish a narrative in the public’s minds, that Apple was a revolutionary company that was going to “change the world.”


Once Jobs was able to refresh Apple’s product line into his own vision, he began to extend out beyond these initial ‘mission statement’ ads to show the actual products. However, he continued the minimalist aesthetic by copying the earlier advertising templates of the Lisa and original Mac. The ads all were a single beautiful photo of the computer, coupled with a short phrase, and a small Apple logo. Some continued the “Think Different” phrase, although soon that was replaced with more specific and playful lines.

These ads are a starkly different from what Apple had been producing for most of the 90s. Here you can see a comparison of Power Mac ads before and after Jobs return:


Another big change Jobs instituted after returning to Apple was ditching the classic “rainbow” logo (which Jobs had originally instituted) in favor of a monochromatic version.

While not specifically related to advertising, this change shows the move of Apple back to minimalism and simplicity. The logo was stripped of its extraneous colors and reduced to its essential form. Apple could then merely add any color they wanted to the logo in any given situation, including in their ads.


By 2001, Apple started to expand the company beyond simply computers by introducing the iPod. With this new product category, they were faced with how express their vision to the public. While other companies might have went with the bang you over the head approach in trying to get you to understand why you needed an mp3 player, Apple continued to play it simple.

The phrase “1,000 songs in your pocket,” was so basic, yet sold the absolute key feature of the iPod – the fact you could store a tremendous amount of music in a tiny digital device. That’s all the consumer needed to know to get their attention. A beautiful device that stores lots of music.

A few years later Apple began a long running ad campaign for the iPod in which they would simply show silhouettes of people listening to their iPods with bright colors in the background. This was a different take on the minimalist philosophy of Apple’s ads, adding vibrant colors, but they became iconic. You could glance one of these ads on a billboard and even without the text saying iPod, know exactly what the ad was for.


With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, Apple again was faced with how to express why this product was revolutionary in very stark and simple terms. This original iPhone ad does that in such a simple way that it seems obvious in hindsight. A finger reaching out and touching a glowing iPhone screen with the words “Touching is believing.” This harkens back to the original Mac ad showing a finger touching a mouse button. In both cases the ads cut to the core of why the products were revolutionary, the way you interacted with them. You touched the iPhone directly, and what better way to make a consumer realize that than literally showing a finger touching the device.


Apple stuck with minimalism with the introduction of the iPad, emphasizing the obvious feature they felt was important – the close, personal connection one has with an iPad. These ads all show people relaxing while using their iPads, using them to read books or watch movies. They wanted to show this was something different than what people usually associated with computers.


Apple has continued to stick with the simple advertising that Jobs brought back in 1997 up until the present day. This can be seen throughout their product line from new iPhones to iPads to Macs.


I think this retorspective of Apple’s advertising can be a lesson for other companies looking to make an impact with their own advertising. Figure out what forms the core of your product and emphasize that. You don’t have to throw as much information as possible at a potential customer, but instead cull down things to focus the core idea straight at them. Apple learned that this can be done with utter simplicity.

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The Simplicity of Apple’s Advertising : 1977-1997

Apple has always been known for its beautiful minimalist design. Products like the original Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone all follow that guiding line of simplicity. Apple tends to winnow out any superfluous design accents that don’t fit within the overall oneness of a product. This obsession with minimalist design also extends out to other areas of the company, including their advertising.

I’ve collected print ads from Apple, from their earliest days in the late 1970s to the present, which illuminate their continued focus on simplicity in design. In the first part of this two part series, I’ll look at Apple’s first twenty years of advertising.


Apple came right out of the gate with their vision of simplicity fully formed. This “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” ad was one of the first produced by the company and eschewed most staples of advertising. No long winded ad copy, no technical specs, not even a picture of the actual computer. It was simply a “mission statement” as to how Apple wanted the world to think about their philosophy. In some ways it’s a bit pretentious, but I think Steve Jobs wanted to emphasize how Apple was different from its competitors. This ad made that abundantly clear.


Apple initially continued with extremely simple ads for the Apple II, this one being a great example. While obviously the kitchen and outfits are very dated, the composition of the ad is classic. A single photograph of a scene of people using a computer with the words “Introducing Apple II” overlaid. Apple wasn’t using gimmicks to sell the computer, but simply showed the product and the name.


However, this wave of initial simplicity in Apple’s ads took a turn rather quickly in the late 70s and early 80s and entered a dark period for a number of years afterwards. Apple began to rely on the typical computer ads of the day, including ones that had actors dressed as historical figures and other very cluttered ads that looked ugly and lacked any semblance of minimalism. I can only imagine Jobs was focused on other things at the time for some of these to be approved.


By the early 80s Apple once again seemed to get its footing back in its advertising and came back to focusing on simplicity.

This is the original ad for the Apple Lisa, which was Apple’s first attempt at a GUI based computer. I would bet money Jobs personally approved this ad, because it seems to have his handwriting all over it. It consists of only a beautiful picture of the computer, and a simple phrase, “Apple invents the personal computer. Again.” No specs, no long winded ad copy, not even an Apple logo. It’s pure simplicity and yet is very powerful. Unfortunately, despite this beautiful ad, the Apple Lisa didn’t make it in the marketplace.


Apple eventually moved beyond the Lisa and produced the landmark Macintosh computer, which used simplicity as its biggest revolutionary feature. That was reflected in the advertising for the original Mac.

Here’s the cover of an advertising pamphlet for the original Macintosh. Again, it follows a similar pattern to the Apple Lisa ad – simple text on top of a photograph.

When you turn the page over, there’s a two page spread showing the Mac in its full glory, stating simply, “Introducing Macintosh. For the rest of us.” It does add a bit of clutter with its extra paragraphs of text and a photo of the Mac team, but overall it’s firmly in the minimalist Apple ideal of advertising.


Apple later that year had an interesting experiment in buying out every ad slot in an issue of Newsweek magazine. While this could have led to a major overload of advertising, they thought out each page as part of a greater whole and made great use of minimalism in the ads.

You can see the first two pages combine to form a picture of the Mac. No title, no words, nothing besides a simple picture. While the later pages in the ad contain words and descriptions, having the section begin with a bare picture of your product is a bold move. Apple had the faith that they designed the Mac so well that it could look good without any adornment.

These two pages from the Newsweek ads are clearly the heart and soul of Apple advertising. Of course it has the simple picture with a sentence overlaid. But, the way it’s framed gets to why the Mac is revolutionary – because you can control it with a mouse. The simplicity is not just a gimmick, it emphasizes what’s truly important about the product. A person doesn’t get lost in ad copy looking at this, but sees a hand touching a mouse and knows that’s the focus of the Mac.

This is the back cover of the Newsweek, with one of my favorite Apple ads of all-time. Apple was so confident in how good the Mac looked, it didn’t mind using the back of it in a full page ad on the back cover of a major magazine. Nothing else, just the back of the Mac and an Apple logo. So simple, yet more effective at getting your attention than almost anything else they could have put on the back cover.


After the release of the Mac, Apple had more mixed results in their advertising although had sparks of beautiful simplicity. The ad campaign for the Apple IIGS was rather brilliant and used all the hallmarks of great Apple ads.

This might be Apple’s simplest ad ever for one of their products. It removes even pictures and is simply black text on a white background. It invokes the creativity of historical figures in a similar vein to their later “Think Different” campaign. The utter starkness of the ad actually makes it stand out more than a colorful ad full of pictures that would blend into the background noise of most advertising.

This “ear” ad for the IIGS consist of a simple picture, a short catchy sentence, and a small picture of the actual computer. It uses the simplicity of an ear to emphasize that the IIGS would have sound be one of the main features. The IIGS was Apple’s most advanced computer in terms of sound and music at the time. Instead of simply stating that through specs and long winded explanation, this ad conveys it in a simpler but more memorable way.


By the early to mid 90s, Apple’s ads still contained kernels of the former emphasis on simplicity from earlier years, yet, they started to lose their way. Ads began to cram more and more information into them, and became more similar to the competition. There are no clear examples of a truly minimalist ad in this time period that was on par with some of the earlier examples. Apple lost its way both in terms of computers and advertising during the 90s.

However, by 1997, Steve Jobs made his famous return to Apple, rejuvenating not only the product line, but also bringing back, in full force, their emphasis on simplicity in advertising.


Continue reading Part 2 of this series exploring Apple’s advertising from 1997 to the present.

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The excitement is palpable on Steve’s face. He’s so young at this point, only 28 years old. He’s wearing a full suit and a bowtie, a slightly jarring difference from his later subdued jeans and black turtlenecks. The crowd is in a frenzy in front of him, anticipating something big. He’s soaking it in, feeding off the intense emotion in the room. He walks over to a strange bag sitting on a table, unzips it, and reveals the Macintosh. He hooks it up, inserts a floppy disk, and the lights dim…


“What we’re doing here will send a giant ripple through the universe.”


Look around at the interface of the screen you’re reading this on. It’s made of pictures, icons, and graphics. You can click or tap on visual representations of digital information. This all probably seems so normal to you at this point that you don’t notice it. However, before Steve got up on that stage thirty years ago a computer meant rows and rows of text. The exclusive input method was a keyboard, and no one had heard of a computer mouse. The Mac changed that and every “personal computer” made in the last thirty years has used it as the basic blueprint.1

However, the Mac didn’t just blaze a light in 1984 and then fade away, it continued for the next three decades, constantly changing, for better and worse. The Platonic ideal of a Mac that Steve introduced on stage slowly began to be chipped away in the immediate years that followed. Instead of the small, elegant, simple, all-in-one package, the Mac soon became whatever computer Apple released, including some rather ugly, complicated beasts of computers. By the mid 90s, the Mac product line had become alarmingly similar to its beige box competitors and was slowly tipping towards the edge of oblivion.

Ironically, it was during this time period that I jumped on the Mac bandwagon. I was only twelve years old when my Dad brought home a Mac Performa 630CD. In some ways it symbolized much of what was wrong with Macs at the time – a big CRT screen, a separate beige box, an indecipherable model number. It was a far cry from the elegance of the original Mac and nothing about it screamed revolutionary or unique. Yet, I fell absolutely in love.

Clarisworks, Simple Text, ResEdit, Sim City 2000, Wolfenstein 3D, CD-Roms, Shareware, 28.8K modems, Myst, eWorld, AOL, Spectre.

Anyone using Macs at the time will recognize these things, and I ate them up along with everyone else. I was so enamored with the fact I actually had my own computer, in my own house, that I forgave all its flaws that seem so blatant in hindsight. At the time, I was also rather oblivious to the machinations of the business of Apple and never knew how close they were to simply ceasing to exist. I carried on using my Performa throughout most of the 90s, very happy.

However, the story of the Mac radically changed when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. He took back his baby and rejuvenated the product line with the iconic iMac. Everything about that iMac harkened back to the original Mac. It was all-in-one, it eschewed older legacy technology, simplified the computing experience, and it looked damned stylish compared to every other PC that was out there. The iMac was the second coming of the Mac lineup and without that computer, I feel the Mac most likely would have faded away.2

However, even with this new success, the Mac was not assured of surviving. I think Jobs saw how far Apple had fallen in the years after introducing the original Mac and didn’t want history to repeat itself. Thus, he constantly iterated the Mac, always trying to perfect the concept of what a Mac was, and by extension, what a computer was. Candy colors soon bleed into shiny white and eventually minimalist aluminum. The size and weight always coming down, the power and design always rising.

I personally went from an iBook to a PowerBook Pismo to a black MacBook during this time. While the Macs only got better and better over these years, Apple’s incredible success in the 00s lay mostly with its non-Mac devices, namely iPods, iPhones, and iPads. However, the Mac was never completely forgotten and continued to be the back bone of Apple, the business that had sustained it through all the lean years. While the public seemed to take less and less notice of new Macs, they still always seemed a focus of the company.

Then came the 2011 “Post-PC” keynote, where Jobs signaled that Apple’s future didn’t lie with the Mac anymore, but with mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad. The revolution that was the Mac had in some ways run its course, and the majority of people in the future wouldn’t be using boxes that sat on their desks. Everything was transitioning to iOS and cloud based computing and the “personal computer” according the Mac blueprint was declining. Of course, Apple didn’t get rid of the Mac lineup at that point, but it saw the writing on the wall and knew the Mac was steadily growing less and less in importance.

This keynote was rather poignant not only because it symbolized the end of the Mac’s dominance, but also because it was Steve’s second to last keynote before passing away later that year. He looked frail at the time, his body barely able to fill out his clothes, his voice slightly weaker. It was almost the exact opposite of the youthful man with a bowtie that had introduced the Mac decades earlier. Yet, in some ways it was appropriate that it was this Steve that was there to announce the end of the era he began. His life from 1984 to 2011 came full circle at that moment, from his youthful vigor in introducing the Mac to his declining health in announcing its demise.

In some ways this “Post-PC” period saddens me, if only for purely nostalgic reasons. The concept of a primary computer that sits on your desk and is the hub of your computing life appeals to me. That seems right in some way, maybe only for the fact it’s been my main connection with computing technology for almost my entire life. While I currently own a MacBook Air, my primary computer is still a large iMac. That’s what I see as my main device – my “computer.” All my other devices are important, but I still sometimes like to sit down at my desk, use a mouse, and stare at a big screen.

However, the way people use their technology is rapidly changing, and even I have started to use my iOS devices more than my Mac. But, while the Mac itself will eventually go away, its legacy remains. It changed the fundamental way people interact with digital devices and that change can still be seen today. We all still use devices that have graphical interfaces, even if we mostly directly touch those interfaces now instead of using a mouse. Its importance can not be understated, it was truly revolutionary. The ripple through the universe that the Mac started thirty years ago continues to extend out into the future.


1. Before I get feedback, I do realize the Xerox Alto and the Apple Lisa had been made public before the Mac and had GUIs and mice. However, both made almost zero impact in the market place. It was only the Mac that perfected the GUI and mouse interface to a degree that it sold in the millions and became hugely influential to the public at large.

2. In addition, the transition from OS 9 to OS X was a huge watershed moment for the Mac and allowed it to have a solid operating system that has lasted until today.

Apple & Dead Poets Society

Apple released this powerful iPad commerical today, which features a speech given by Robin Williams in the movie “Dead Poets Society.”

What I find interesting is this isn’t the first time Apple has thought about “Dead Poets Society” when creating commercials. Back in the late 90s, when Apple was trying to put together the Think Different campaign, Rob Siltanen, who was a major force in creating the campaign, was heavily influenced by the movie. In Siltanen’s own words:

I was always moved by the movie “Dead Poets Society,” starring Robin Williams, and particular pieces of the movie had made a major impact on me. The emotion and the context of the movie very much related to what I wanted to capture for Apple.

I quoted a few lines from “Dead Poets” and asked Steve if he’d seen the movie, and he said, “Of course I have. Robin Williams is a personal friend of mine.” I told Steve I would write something in a similar tone of voice, and we’d come back in a week.

I went back to the agency and worked non-stop day and night. I filled my journal with countless handwritten scripts. I wrote everything with the mindset it would be spoken by Robin Williams.

Unfortunately, the initial version of the Think Different commercial was not to Jobs’ liking:

We played the spot once, and when it finished, Jobs said, “It sucks! I hate it! It’s advertising agency shit! I thought you were going to write something like ‘Dead Poets Society!’ This is crap!”

Clow said something like, “Well, I take it you don’t want to see it again.” And Steve continued to go on a rant about how we should get the writers from “Dead Poets Society” or some “real writers” to write something.

However, Jobs finally came around to the campaign and it went on to be one of the most successful in Apple’s history. It’s interesting that at the time they wanted to have Robin Williams read the “Crazy Ones” speech for the commercial, but he refused and they went with Richard Dreyfus instead. Now over 15 years later Robin Williams’ voice is being used in an Apple commercial.

Check out “The Real Story Behind Apple’s ‘Think Different’ Campaign” for the full story behind the campaign, it’s rather fascinating.

UPDATE: I was also reminded that Robin Williams now stars in the TV show “The Crazy Ones” who’s name is inspired by the Apple ad. So Williams and Apple have this strange continuing connection through the years.

The “Think Different” Ads

The main heart of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign was the beautiful black and white photos of historical figures. They were released in various forms, including print ads and promotional posters. I’ve done my best to collect examples of each ad with the goal of creating the definitive guide. However, given the how extensive the campaign was, I could have easily missed certain examples. There are also many fakes circulating out there, as taking a black and white photo and photoshopping in the Apple logo and text is extremely easy.1 If I am missing any, or any are not official, please contact me and I will update this gallery.


1. As an example of some fakes, here is my tribute to geeky bloggers.

Thinking Different

This past Saturday was the anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death two years ago. To commemorate the anniversary, the Do You Have A Mountain Bike? (DYHAMB?) network has put together an ambitious tribute to Jobs and the idea of the visionary this week. I had the pleasure to contribute a small audio piece about Jobs and the Think Different ad campaign to their “Very Special Special” podcast. If you haven’t heard of DYHAMB? before, check them out, they are up and coming.


While researching the Think Different campaign for my piece, I came across a wonderful article about its creation by a key member of the ad firm that created it. Rob Siltanen gives an in depth and personal account of working on the campaign, and specifically with Jobs himself.

Jobs was quiet during the pitch, but he seemed intrigued throughout, and now it was time for him to talk. He looked around the room filled with the “Think Different” billboards and said, “This is great, this is really great … but I can’t do this. People already think I’m an egotist, and putting the Apple logo up there with all these geniuses will get me skewered by the press.” The room was totally silent. The “Think Different” campaign was the only campaign we had in our bag of tricks, and I thought for certain we were toast. Steve then paused and looked around the room and said out loud, yet almost as if to his own self, “What am I doing? Screw it. It’s the right thing. It’s great. Let’s talk tomorrow.” In a matter of seconds, right before our very eyes, he had done a complete about-face.

While the article reveals that Jobs was not the original creator of the Think Different campaign, he championed it because it truly captured his vision of Apple’s core philosophy. To me, even though Apple has created some brilliant advertising in its over thirty year history, none has reached the level of Think Different.

Check back tomorrow for a gallery of all the beautiful black and white Think Different ads.

On First Thought

I recently stumbled upon a 1984 New York Times review of the original Mac, and it was fascinating to see a person’s first reactions to a computer that has become so incredibly influential over the years. This made me search out first reviews of a few other Apple products, including the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. I’ve always found these first reviews to be incredibly interesting, and a way to go back and see what people at the time thought of products that would become so historically significant. What I found was that most reviewers couldn’t see the revolution that was happening right before their eyes and instead were stuck in the past and mostly focused on relatively insignificant concerns.


Mac

Erik Sandberg-Diment’s original Mac review is interesting for his apparent lack of understanding as to how revolutionary the graphical user interface (GUI) would become to the computer industry. His review spends a lot of time discussing the bag the Mac comes in and he bemoans the fact there is no numeric keypad. He does point out some design details that would become a part of the Apple design ethos over the years, such as the beautiful screen (for its time) and lack of an internal fan. However, it’s not until the very end of the article that he talks about the GUI, and his description as to how it works is rather amusing in hindsight:

You find either a word or an icon or pictogram on the screen representing what you want the computer to do, then slide the mouse on your desk to move the cursor into position over that screen object, then press the button on the mouse to activate that particular part of the program.

For instance, there is a menu bar at the top of the screen with the words ”file,” ”edit,” ”U,” ”special,” and so on. Slide the cursor over to ”file,” click the mouse button, and a window beneath the word opens up with such commands as ”open,” ”duplicate,” ”get info,” ”close” and ”print.” To print what is in a file, all you do, essentially, is bring the cursor down to ”print,” press the mouse button and release.

It seems like how you would describe using a computer to your 90 year old grandmother, although at the time no one had ever used a GUI before. He goes on to recognize that the GUI is a fundamental difference between the Mac and all past computers, but doesn’t seem to recognize that all computers will adopt this interface in the future. It’s interesting that many people in 1984 still believed that text-based computing would continue into the future and having a GUI might not be a superior alternative.

iMac

Peter Lewis’s article previewing the original 1998 Bondi Blue iMac is interesting as on the one hand he seems to understand that it could be revolutionary, but on the other hand continues to cling to past technologies. He emphasizes the radical design departure of the iMac, which was something that just couldn’t be ignored at the time. However, when it comes to floppy disks, he was behind the times:

The iMac has a modest hard disk drive (four gigabytes, half the capacity of many new computers), but it lacks a built-in floppy disk drive or other removable media, like disks, for backing up files. A few customers may be able to work effectively without some way to transport data physically, by backing up files to a network server or to the Internet, but most of the consumers Apple is trying to appeal to live in a world where floppy disks are important.

This was a common critique of the iMac at the time, but history has vindicated Apple in its decision to remove the floppy disk. The iMac became a huge bestseller and the floppy disk became a thing of the past in the computer industry soon afterwards. This is a common refrain I see in the first reviews of most of Apple’s products, critiques that Apple is leaving out an important piece of legacy technology. However, Apple has always been willing to get rid of legacy technology if it believed it was dragging down the overall experience, and usually the industry followed their lead.

iPod

M.Wiley reviewed the original iPod in 2001 and seems to also miss the forest for the trees. He praises the iPod as a elegantly designed MP3 player with a beautiful screen, controls, and interface. Yet he fails to grasp how the device’s simplicity would appeal to the mass market and instead complains about its lack of more obscure features:

So what’s not to like? Well, as much as I love the iPod, it simply lacks many next-gen, and even some last-gen, features found on other jukebox players. Firstly, and whether or not this bothers you is pure preference, there is no onboard equalizer. I use EQs very, very rarely, but I know from letters I get that many of you use them frequently. What the iPod can do is remember the EQ setting associated with the song in iTunes 2. While this isn’t a true EQ, it will do the trick in a pinch.

The iPod also lacks an FM tuner and voice recording. This was just as surprising as the missing EQ, partially because these are common features, but more so because they are incredibly useful. Tsk tsk, Apple.

I think the problem here, as with some of the other first reviews, is the reviewers are not looking at these products in terms of the mass market. They are tech reviewers, and tech reviewers like specs and features. However, these products are revolutionary because of their overall design and simplicity, not their feature sets. No normal person looked at an iPod and complained that it didn’t have built in EQ settings; they only saw it was a small, beautiful, and easy to use device that could store all their music. Apple went for that market, at the expense of hardcore techies, and history has proven them correct.

iPhone

David Pogue’s review of the original iPhone in 2007 seems to show that tech reviewers were starting to understand Apple more than in the past. Maybe the massive success of the iPod made them realize that Apple’s emphasis on design and simplicity was something that could make their products extremely popular with the mass-market. Pogue acknowledges that the iPhone is a revolutionary device that is completely different from any other cell phone out there.

The phone is so sleek and thin, it makes Treos and BlackBerrys look obese. The glass gets smudgy, a sleeve wipes it clean, but it doesn’t scratch easily. I’ve walked around with an iPhone in my pocket for two weeks, naked and unprotected (the iPhone, that is, not me), and there’s not a mark on it.

But the bigger achievement is the software. It’s fast, beautiful, menu-free, and dead simple to operate. You can’t get lost, because the solitary physical button below the screen always opens the Home page, arrayed with icons for the iPhone’s 16 functions.

However, he falls for the usual tech reviewer emphasis on features and is critical of a number of things the iPhone can’t do:

There’s no memory-card slot, no chat program, no voice dialing. You can’t install new programs from anyone but Apple; other companies can create only iPhone-tailored mini-programs on the Web. The browser can’t handle Java or Flash, which deprives you of millions of Web videos.

He does have a valid criticism with the lack of the ability to install third-party apps, which was a major deficiency of the original iPhone. However, he is too focused on the lack of overly techie features such as memory-cards and Flash player, which regular consumers have never seemed to care about. Overall though, he seems to be understanding more than past reviewers what Apple was trying to accomplish and that the device could be a revolutionary game changer in the industry.

iPad

David Pogue returned to review the original iPad in 2010, and I think his review is actually rather brilliant. He seems to have finally realized how wrong tech reviewers have gotten Apple products in the past by focusing on techie features and specs, and split the review into two parts. The first part is the traditional tech review in which he does nitpick the iPad’s lack of certain features:

But as any Slashdot.org reader can tell you, the iPad can’t play Flash video. Apple has this thing against Flash, the Web’s most popular video format; says it’s buggy, it’s not secure and depletes the battery. Well, fine, but meanwhile, thousands of Web sites show up with empty white squares on the iPad — places where videos or animations are supposed to play.

The bottom line is that you can get a laptop for much less money — with a full keyboard, DVD drive, U.S.B. jacks, camera-card slot, camera, the works. Besides: If you’ve already got a laptop and a smartphone, who’s going to carry around a third machine?

If Pogue had stopped there, his review in hindsight would be rather embarrassing and shown a complete misunderstanding of the iPad and what made it revolutionary. However, he had a second section of his review which he called, “Review for Everyone Else,” in which he recognizes how revolutionary the iPad could become:

The iPad is so fast and light, the multitouch screen so bright and responsive, the software so easy to navigate, that it really does qualify as a new category of gadget. Some have suggested that it might make a good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged and the young; they’re absolutely right.

And the techies are right about another thing: the iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on. For most people, manipulating these digital materials directly by touching them is a completely new experience — and a deeply satisfying one.

This is where I think he actually gets Apple and what they were trying to accomplish. It wasn’t about the specific geeky features or specs, it was about the experience people had when using the device. The iPad went on the become hugely successful because it was such a simple and elegant device to use, and the mass market was drawn to that. Pogue redeemed himself with his ‘everyone else’ section and showed a tech reviewer could finally pick up on the fact that standard tech reviews about features and specs were not truly understanding Apple and why its products were so revolutionary.


It’s very interesting to read these reviews and see how people have reacted to Apple’s products over the years. Apple has always pushed the tech industry with its revolutionary products, but most of the time the first reviews missed these seismic changes, instead focusing on rather inconsequential features. Luckily, most consumers didn’t listen to these reviews and bought Apple products anyway, because Apple was speaking to them, not the reviewers.

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