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Computers in the Media: Those Juicy Apple Commercials

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Sad proof of how I currently have no life to speak of: I was nearly heartbroken when someone decided to discontinue those commercials where the adorable AOL guy quells potential customers’ anxieties in a verbal volley of reassurances ("Viruses? Zapped! Spam? Blocked!"). Perhaps AOL has finally bit the dust, or can’t afford advertising anymore. Does anyone still use AOL, anyway?

In any case, despite a happy long-term relationship with my boyfriend, I couldn’t help but experience a frisson of excitement every time I saw that cute but geeky guy quelling all fears about the hazards of the Internet. I could relate, since I’m still a bit gun shy when it comes to computers myself.

Fortunately — perhaps just for me — there’s still those Geek Squad commercials. In them, a hapless consumer, usually a damsel in distress, goes ballistic when her computer crashes. But those kind-hearted, dependable geeks will go to any lengths to come to the rescue as quickly as possible.

Like Superman, they are faster than a speeding bullet in their response — gunning it in their little beetle geekmobiles, parachuting down from the skies when necessary, jet packing their way to the rescue when a traffic jam stalls them. Of course these guys really do look like true geeks, but they are still kinda cute — all you’d have to do is maybe buy them a longer pair of pants and get their glasses repaired, or put them in some tight black jeans and boots, and they’d practically be marriage material. After all, to the less than computer savvy, a geek has the power to restore lives to sanity and order once again. They are the closest thing to gods in cyberspace.

I didn't have the same feeling about the “Dude, you’re gettin' a Dell" guy. He was just some clueless, Eddie Haskell-type looking for a party rather than a truly knowledgeable nerd. In fact, I believe the Dell kid was unceremoniously dumped when it was alleged that he had been smoking herb. Party on, Dell dude!

But now, at just about the same time Microsoft’s Bill Gates has decided to, as the Microsoft website attests, "transition out of a day-to-day role in the company," Apple has come out with some ingeniously irresistible commercials. They typify the evolution of the traditional geek into a triumphant neo-geek who actually possesses social skills. Though Gates' phenomenal success may be a metaphor for the revenge of the nerds in the latter decades of the 20th century, Apple seems to have topped them by representing the sexy nerd who can actually get laid.

The commercials feature Mr. PC and Mr. Mac. Mr. PC looks alarmingly similar to, well, a poor man’s Bill Gates — outmoded glasses, cheap looking suit, awkward demeanor. I’m sure that PC is married, and equally sure that even his wife doesn’t find him sexy.

Mr. Mac, on the other hand, is a boyishly handsome, slightly scruffy, laid back guy who likes to have fun above all else. I imagine him being the fantasy of many a young lady who would love to date him, but he seems so casual and elusive, albeit affable and friendly, that I doubt he could be caught easily. He reminds me of — well, of a young Steve Jobs, the charismatic CEO of Apple.

In one spot, PC and Apple are both standing in their packing boxes. PC has his work cut out for him — loading all his software, deleting the software files that came with him, and so on. Mac is ready to do all the cool stuff, right out of the box — make a movie, set up a website, and record a song. Noting that PC has a lot to do before he can do anything, he hops out of his carton and tells PC he’ll catch up with him later.

In another commercial, PC tries to demonstrate how much fun one can have assembling pie charts representing fun things. Apple replies along the lines of “Sweet! I feel like I’m there.” A third spot has Apple modestly bragging that he’s a "PC" as well as a Mac, since he can do all the things a PC does and more.

In all the spots, PC is a hapless dude, but the affable Apple guy is always friendly and cordial to PC. He would never dream of insulting PC but it’s abundantly clear who the hippest geek of all is, hands down. I like to think of it as the revenge of the nouveau-nerd.

A fellow Blogcritic recently referred to Apple fans as a cult. If so, I’m happy to be part of the cult, which one might even consider, especially after viewing these commercials, as a cult of personality. About a year ago, I purchased Herman, my trusty Apple Power Book, and it was love at first sight. I asked the young, cute, yet geeky salesman what he would recommend, and he said if he were buying this is what he’d get.

I asked about anti-virus software, and he told me there was no need to purchase any — Apple’s virus protection was built right in. As he recommended, I purchased the Apple Care Protection Plan, which came in handy almost immediately. I could speak to a troubleshooter over the phone and get all my stupid problems resolved immediately. No need for any Geek Squad housecalls.

It just makes sense that a company that has produced one of the most must-have accessories of the last decade, the iPod, would also rock my little piece of cyberspace with their awesome computers. In my book, Mac is smart, sexy, and adorable to boot. For me, Herman is the man. I don't give a measly microchip what the fuddy duddy PC holdouts say.

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About Elvira Black

  • Macs may be good machines, but they are way overpriced and don’t offer the flexibility that PCs afford users.

    You really summed it up well when you stated:
    “I purchased the Apple Care Protection Plan, which came in handy almost immediately.”

  • Of course, the irony of the Gates-Jobs lookalikes is that Apple isn’t really attacking Microsoft, but the manufacturers of PC’s that run Windows. If anything, Apple is embracing Microsoft by finally allowing Windows to run on a Mac. But I think it’s good strategy, and look forward to seeing how things go.

    BTW, I’ve been an Apple user since the IIc, Elvira… so I never needed to convert. I don’t mind spending a little more for a quality machine that runs better software.

  • Timmy:

    I realize I’m biased, but I’m curious about the flexibility that PC’s afford users–I’ll admit my ignorance.

    My ignorance is also what caused me to have to call Apple Care almost immediately–had nothing much to do with the computer itself.

  • Mark:

    Just so–the commercial where Mr. Mac says “I’m a ‘PC’ too” speaks to that new development, which I wasn’t aware of til then. But yes, you’re right–I had to remind myself of that after I published the article and wondered if I’d goofed–since, as you say, it’s not really an attack on Microsoft per se at all.

    Our office converted to Macs from PC’s many moons ago. I think one of things that turned me off to PC’s was the fact that I remember the nightmare of pre-Windows (?) DOS. But aside from that, I’ve always found Macs to be the epitome of user-friendly, and for this still-bumbling user, that means a lot.

  • Orchid

    Elvira, I use both a Mac and a PC. I started out primarily as a Mac user and was a Mac zealot for about 10 years. When OS X came along and the gap between the user experience in Windows XP and the Mac started to close, I sampled the other side. It’s not nearly as bad as Mac users tend to think, nor are Macs nearly as costly and limited as PC users like to think.

    As for the flexibility, it comes in the way the hardware is usually configured on PCs to allow upgrades to almost every component. A PC user can swap out and upgrade a lot more than a Mac user can.

    Of course, this is primarily because Macs tend to emphasize form factor over potential expansion and PCs tend to be big, hollow cases. Small form factor PCs have some of the same limitations Macs do when it comes to flexibility. The difference is that the number of PC users who want small machines is rather low compared to those who want a box they can upgrade at will.

    The other point where PCs are more flexible is with external hardware. Even though most Macs have hardware compatibility with PC hardware releases, most hardware makers don’t write drivers for Macs so a lot of relatively interesting or cheap hardware (printers, scanners, external drives, etc.) won’t work on a Mac. Mac users generally have a smaller pool of options on the hardware front.

    The bottom line is still software options. It’s not necessarily an important bottom line for most home users but it can be critical for business users. If you’re a home user, you don’t need 20 different video capture software options and can be happy with your Mac’s iMovie software. If you work for a company that has worked exclusively with a particular bit of software for the last 5 years and doesn’t want to re-train staff or convert files, you’ve got to stick with that bit of software your company uses.

    The bottom line is that far too much is made of the differences between the platforms. PC users carry on about how Macs are overpriced, limited machines without ever having used or purchased a Mac in the last 8 years or so. Mac users carry on about how crash-prone and virus-ridden PCs are without ever having used one or only having used ones that are used by other users who may have no compunctions about downloading software that no home user would allow on his or her hard drive.

    PC users don’t need any greater geek assistance than Mac users need for similar tasks. While there’s always a more complicated and arcane way to accomplish a task in Windows, there’s also always a more user-friendly way as well. The same can be said on a Mac now as well with Terminal and UNIX commands. PC users glory in their arcane knowledge but that doesn’t mean one has to have it to use Windows.

    If I had to choose one platform to use now, I’d still go with a Mac but mainly because I’m not a big gamer and because Vista looks like it’s going to be a processor and RAM hog of epic proportions.

  • Wow, Orchid, thanks so much–I’ll be back with a more detailed reply later!

  • Orchid, once again, thank you so much for the comprehensive info. You did mention gaming, and someone else on my blog commented that they don’t use a Mac because they’re into gaming, so if that indeed is a limitation, that’s a big one for a fair number of people.

    My ex-boyfriend and I bought a Dell (dude!) several years ago, and when I do use it rather than my Mac I find it clunky and, yes, a little problematic. But as you infer, that could say more about the user than the machine. (It was more expensive than my PowerBook as well.)

    Another old blogpal of mine was always complaining about his PC. His tirades usually ended with:

    “D-mn you Bill Gates! D-mn you to hell!”

    I don’t believe in damning anyone, so I’ve truncated his quote accordingly, and though I didn’t understand exactly what his complaints were, I felt his pain. It seemed like from his point of view his PC was much less flexible than a Mac–at least for his needs. But again, maybe it was the user–he was almost as crazy as I am. Actually, crazier.

    In any case, thanks for the enlightening and balanced info, Orchid.

  • on the gaming front…

    full disclosure: i am also a dual boot household…Mac and PC for ..oh about as long as both have been out there…my better half did graphic design startnig around 1990 (when we got our first Mac) and i am a technician by trade, and an inveterate gamer by hobby

    currently, using the Mac’s Boot Camp, one could run PC games on the Mac hardware, but not as efficiently due to Apples choices in motherboards and video card options…which, as was pointe dout before , do not appear as flexible for initial configuration upon purchase as well as upgrade path

    now, i’d love to tear a new Mac open and see what kind of hot-rodding can be done to it… but it ain’t gotten out there yet

    for any other purpose besides gaming, and for the vast majority of non-geek households out there who only need Net and consumer level applications…the Mac is the superior choice

    for now, in the business realm (non-media related) and gaming, the PC has the advantages of optimized hardware and wider software choices

    for most, it comes down to Flavor and Function

    oh yes…and Apple’s commercials have always kicked ass since ’84


  • Ah, Gonzo, so good to see you! Thanks for your take on the PC/Mac “debate.” It’s now become much clearer to me what the diffs are, and as you say, it all depends on what you need and want. For me, the Mac is perfect because I’m not a technie or a gamer, and the software (ILife etc) that Apple has built right in is just alright with me.

    “Flavor and function”/ apples and oranges? Yes, I’m hysterical, I know…

  • Hey Elvira, welcome back, and what a daring thing to do, wade into the P.C versus Mac debate. You think the pro choise versus pro-life debate can get nasty-whoo boy that aint nothing until you get down and dirty with computer folks.

    So that being said, I started my computer life on the original MACs back in 1985. What a joy, no stupid DOS commands and switching back and forth between screens to just to start a new paragraph.

    Then I was introduced to Window’s ten years later in the form of 95, and as far as I could tell it wasn’t any different, and a lot more limited in what it could do in terms of graphics than a MAC.

    But those were the years that the two p’s did make a difference- power and price. For the last few years of the 90’s and the ’00’s you could pick up a pre-packaged pc for far cheaper then a MAC which usually had more power.

    But a lot of those “packages” had no more expansion room on their motherboards then the MACs did and if you wanted to upgrade you would either have to replace the motherboard, or simply buy a newer and better machine. We bought our pc in 2000 and by the time we had modifided it to suit our needs, the price had jumped for 1500 to 2100 Can dollars. Pretty much what a comparable Mac was going for, except we had more Ram and hard drive.

    But we still have the same machine, it’s never had down time and we’ve been able to upgrade the memory, soundcard, and change the old cdrom to a dvdrom with little or no trouble. The only problem we’re running into now is that to get any of the newer software on the Market we will have to upgrade our Operating System to XP (we still run 98 original which has far less stablility issues than SE which I run on my laptop)

    If I had bought a Mac back in 2000 I don’t know if I would have been able to do the upgrades that have allowed us to turn our desktop into the home recording and graphics studio it is now. It’s still got room for another 400 mbs of Ram before I’d have to junk the motherboard, but I’m not sure how much I could upgrade my harddrive and cpu if I wanted – it may be at the max now.

    The only difference I can see between the machine I bought and the one I didn’t buy, MAC, has been my ability to upgrade without replacing, but I was only able to do this by spending a good deal of money in the first place on quality components which gave me flexibility and durability.

    In computers I think it really comes down to you get what you pay for, and PCs that adage is far more applicable. Sure you can buy a cheap pre packed system, but you may just be stuck with onboard sound and video which can’t be replaced with stand alone cards for upgrade purposes.

    It all comes down to what you want to use your machine for, and what you are most comfortable with. I used to swear I’d never use anything but a MAC, but now I doubt if I could find my way around one.

    I’m just happy I’ve got two machines that have never give me a speck of trouble, and that’s all that really matters to me.

    great to see you back Elvira and good piece too.


  • Richard, thanks so much for the great comment. It seems like folks who’ve actually used both Mac and PC are a lot more even-handed about the pros and cons of each. I just can’t see someone who’s never used a Mac trashing it out of hand.

    I realize that my piece was a bit naieve in terms of my prejudice against PC’s (which I have used), but I still maintain that this is a great Mac commercial, even if one takes its veracity with a grain of salt.

    I seem to remember a time when Macs and PC’s were completely incompatible–it was problematic to even try to import a word processing document from one to the other. But now, it appears that Mac is making additional strides to “peacefully coexist” with its erstwhile PC/Windows rival–which seems like a good thing all around.

  • Joey

    Is there backward compatibility on a Mac?

    It doesn’t exist on PC.

    I have used a variety of stuff over the years. From Amiga, to Convergent Technologies. Then I purchased my first components and slapped together a PC 386, which I quickly upgraded to a 486. Then after my “build it yourself” phase I purchased a new Gateway. Then another. The older Gateway is an AMD model, with Win98. This year I realized that much of the virus protection is no longer coded for Win98, so I have to “upgrade.” Plus the monitor is starting to fade out. But the older Gateway has served my purposes. I finished up another degree on it, surfed up many a research paper etc…

    So, just yesterday I was investigating the upgrade (XP home, flat screen). Heck, I might as well just pick up a basic office PC, with a flat screen and not be vexed with minutia. Or… the Mac. But it really comes down to money and budget. The price of upgrading is just a couple of hundred dollars less, and I’m still stuck in 1999 as far a hardward capability goes.

    I guess it depends how driven one is to perform a lot of machinations with the “box,” I no longer care to spend my spare time (what little I have anymore) fiddling with an upgrade, or enhancement. It’s just easier to buy it direct, right out of the box and plug it in.

    My question is; what brand? I have seen a number of deals.. Micron, Acer, a few others, and to tell you the truth Gateway doesn’t inspire nor does Dell… at least from my developed user patterns. I just need the simple… the Hot Rod is in the back room working musical software, synth programming etc…. I don’t need the starship Enterprize on the desk top.

    I have a beater laptop I just might put to good use here on in the “computer room” and save 6 or 7 hundred dollars.

    My 2cents, I just need a dependable box, that has speed, memory, and a nice herky HD, that’s all. I don’t need lot’s of bells and whistles or fancy programming.

    Backward compatibility? Not with MS, what about Mac? That would be the key decision point for me.

  • Joey:

    Hmmm…backwards compatibility on the Mac…truth be told, I’m not sure. I did a search and couldn’t find much, and all of the articles on backwards compatibility were pretty ancient. I think OSX may be backwards compatible, but I was also under the impression that at least up til now, PC’s were a more likely choice for this feature.

    Maybe there’s someone more knowlegable who could be of more help. Anyone?

  • Joey:

    A fellow BC’er wrote an article recently on switching to Mac OSX that you might find relevant.

  • thepredictator

    By luck my father since I was a child bought always computers and I had two different systems, I went from apple IIC to Mac 512 and with the classic radioshack trs-80 to ibm 80286, and he didn’t have any clue about it he just was following the market, then I got two generations powerbook g4 after being abscent from the mac world for years and at the same time I have had pc at home, I always upgrade my computers latest every year since four years ago, living under few operative system and I am not going to go into the details about the + and – from all of them, but there is something I have learned, apple computers has always being very delicated computers and most of the people I know have had problems one way or the other, something I haven’t seeing with any other computer company. I love mac but when we talk about hardware quality sorry steve but you know you can do it better…

  • the predictator:

    Hmm…I don’t think I’ve ever been called “steve” before…Oh, ok, I guess you meant Jobs. in any case, thanks for the comment. Just wondering what kind of problems you’ve seen with the Mac?

  • thepredictator

    hi miss Black, I will prefer to exclude the intel line specially the macbook/pro. The ergonomy is very important at the moment you design a product and the heat issues are unacceptable, and personally I saw this comming after reading that apple hire sony engineers to build and design their laptops, after seeing 4 generations of vaios, this are really very light portatil ovens… I remember the apple IIc was the only flawless apple I ever had and I played conan like crazy and I am sure if I still had it will still run perfectly, with the macintosh was good computer a total new world having also a trs80, but I only have problems with the disk driver and with the monitor only once… then I was more into pc my cousins then got powermacs and I was impress about it and like always my father said wait until december, and I remember my both cousins got theirs computer broke dont ask me what was it and the reparation was so expensive than my father decide to keep on pc and it wasnt until 2004 when I could buy a powerbook 1,33ghz well of course was other thing but my logicboard was change two times, I got pissed and I sold it before the warranty expire and then I bought the last generation of powerbook g4, well my computer was change three times for new ones, I saw smoke, the next reparation was no display, and also my logic board as the video card were changed all in less than 5 months. I started to do some research about all the people I know that ever have had an apple and in one way or the other they have had problems. I have core duo macmini and after have sold the pbook I am waiting for WWDC and merom for a macbook pro but if you ask me, I am buying an apple product knowing that their quality is not the best but at the same time I know I well get a very good service… but I will always have windows and linux at home.

  • Touche.

    (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) 😉

  • Orchid

    Elvira (comment #7): One point where Macs still seem to have great superiority over PCs is in notebook longevity. I’ve had a lot of Apple notebooks – started with a 145B, then a 540c, 5200c, tangerine iBook, and a dual USB white iBook. None of them died or had a hardware failure despite heavy and constant use. They became obsolete before they died and I still have the last two as back-ups. My experiences with PC notebooks have been pretty terrible. They seem to develop serious issues in 2-3 years at best.

    This relates to your comment in regards to Dell. Dell has the clunkiest hardware and software set-up that I’ve seen, even among PCs. Even my cheap eMachine is a smoother user experience with fewer problems (actually, no problems at all and I’ve added RAM and firewire cards to it myself). My husband’s Dell notebook (which also cost more than an iBook) had a lot of hardware problems and eventually died after about 2 years. If that weren’t bad enough, Dell uses proprietary hardware in many cases and has a very convoluted way of permitting servicing, even if you are getting a repair off-warranty and paying for it yourself.

    I think that Dell has hardware quality issues (at least with notebooks) and has a poorly integrated system installation set-up (system and drivers are on separate CDs and the user has to choose the appropriate drivers one at a time and install each when doing a clean install). Since they use proprietary hardware, repair is more costly and troublesome.

    That being said, I don’t believe all PCs are terrible because I had a bad experience with a Dell. I think a lot of user problems with PCs can be traced back to cheap or inappropriately installed parts. It only takes one bad component to send the whole user experience south. This happens with Macs as well but since the users tend to be told to buy specific, more expensive and reliable components, they have this problem less frequently than PC users. I’ve had Macs destabilized by cheap RAM before (though I worked it out and replaced it).

    I’m not saying using a PC is a great experience but, for most users, it’s not qualitatively different than using a Mac. This is particularly true for those who aren’t sophisticated enough to troubleshoot and repair problems on either platform.

  • thepredictator

    Orchid if you are sophisticated enough you will take advantage from every operative system, lamentably we life on a windows world and also depending the region where you life and the area where you work windows could became a dependency. The mac world in Germany is not as spread as in Italy, France or even Holland, and in the machinery industry most of the language used is VB or C++ and they are 100% windows compatible, and the point is not if the best solution is just matter of marketing, being in a University and sharing with collegues about their experience with mac in the practice its a probe enough for me to see how has decrease the quality of the mac’s hardware during the last two years, but at the same time I always have though the operative system is one step behing the current os in many areas.

  • thepredictator:

    Many thanks for your comments. I can see from your experience and that of your associates that Mac is, alas, not perfect–though I still like to think it is (lol).

  • Mr. Real Estate:

    Good one!

  • Orchid:

    Thanks once again for your feedback. It’s good to know the Mac notebooks are so good, since I have a Powerbook and so far I’m very pleased with it.

    Although I can’t vouch for its veracity, I seem to remember reading something on the web about a Dell that exploded or burst into flames. Doesn’t sound too pretty…