Apple's "1984" Macintosh Super Bowl ad (in the video below) won numerous awards and stunned people with its bold message of an upstart company fighting an established me-too world of Personal Computing. Featuring a hammer-thrower being chased by faceless police with clubs through a depressing, Orwellian world of worker drones, it is a stunning commercial.
Unfortunately, it is also prophetic and ironic as to what Apple has actually become – not the upstart anymore, but a faceless, secrecy-obsessed megacorporation unafraid to use its power.
Back in 1984, the "enemy" was IBM and Microsoft, building bland and boring PCs. The hardware wasn't sexy, but it was affordable and open, and people could do whatever they wanted.
Against this unspoken framework, Apple – the young, vibrant "hammer thrower" – arrives to break the existing order and enslavement of the masses.
Today, content and phone companies are the enslaved – some real irony there. If you don't have an app and content for the Apple iPhings family (iPhone, iPad, iPod) you aren't in the market, given Apple's dominance of the phone and tablet space. Apple has dictated terms to the wireless industry when it comes to the iPhone, with carriers paying full price for underwriting the iPhone and signing up for hefty sales commitments.
It's the whispering background noise in the Apple "1984" ad that resonates with 2012, the words of a thin, glasses-wearing "Supreme Leader" heard in the background as the hammer thrower makes her run to smash the "screen" of PC and IT convention.
"Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives," said the leader. "We have created for the first time in all history a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory true thoughts."
Call me cynical, but I'd say those "Information Purification Directives" sound a lot like Apple's patent defense case against Samsung. Rounded square icons and ornamental design of the iPhone (with different patents for black and while phones are points Apple "won" in its case.
"A garden of pure ideology" fits Apple's design philosophy perfectly. It's a garden called iTunes, where consumers can buy Apple-approved content and owners of content pay a cut. It is also a "pure" user interface for the Apple iPad that insists the user has no need for a mouse and should resort to using fingers on the screen at all times – never mind that you would want to be so gauche as to plug in a simple USB memory stick or an SD card from a camera.
Finally, the hammer-thrower is chased by a group of faceless police. Apple's obsession with secrecy culminating in legal action against bloggers and enlisting California police help in raiding the home of Gizmodo's editor certainly smacks of Orwellian tactics and heavy-handedness.
Perhaps the most ironic part of this Black-is-White tale for 2012 is finding someone to root for. If Apple is the enemy, does this make Google the hammer-thrower? Or is often-scorned Microsoft ready to step forward to become a hero against Apple marketplace dominance in the tablet and phone arenas?
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