Apple's Special Event and the iMac Commercial

Thursday, 2007-08-09; 00:02:00

Decent upgrades all around, but the big winner is the new iMac commercial

Here are my impressions of the products Apple released on Tuesday at the special event in their Cupertino headquarters.

New iMacs: They look pretty cool, although the thick, black border around the screen when it's on looks kinda weird. Nice, but modest upgrades.

iLife '08: Nothing spectacular, and apparently in making iMovie '08 "a whole new application," Apple removed a lot of functionality, enough so that they thought it would be wise to offer iMovie HD (from iLife '06) for download to iLife '08 users. The only thing of use to me? iWeb '08, for hacking purposes, if there's any required functionality there for activating domain name use in .mac, or for using more commenting features (should more become available).

iWork '08: Nice that Apple's got a spreadsheet application to complement its presentation and word layout/page processing software. It really is a symbolic "fuck off" to Microsoft, now that iWork is a full-fledged competitor to Office. But it's a lie that it's a complete replacement for AppleWorks: still waiting for rudimentary drawing/painting/database capabilities. No, the limited vector drawing capabilities in Keynote don't count.

Silent Mac mini upgrades: Meh.

Non-existent Mac Pro upgrades: Meh.

Silent AirPort Express upgrade: Cool that it has gigabit ethernet, but we have nary a 802.11n-capable machine in our house, so whatever.

New keyboards: Haven't used 'em, so I can't really effectively comment. The design certainly looks cool and minimalist, although it'd be nice to have a full-size Bluetooth keyboard instead of the truncated one. And although there might be some rhyme or reason to it, the shuffling around of all the dedicated function keys is a little ridiculous. The defaults for Exposé and Dashboard in the operating system are F9-F12, and now they've moved the all windows Exposé function to F3 and Dashboard to F4. And the sound keys are different from the MacBook laptop keyboard, which itself is different from placement on the old Apple keyboard.

This brings me to the thing I was most impressed with: the new iMac commercial. Yeah, that's right, the commercial is the one thing I like best, and it's the one thing about which I have the most to say.

Seriously, only Apple can pull off a 30-second spot showing their product simply spinning around. Or at least only Apple does it. I've never seen a computer commercial from another manufacturer which doesn't include something about specs or price or how much better it is than a competitor's product. The iMac commercial just makes the product, by default, exude coolness.

That's not to say that Apple hasn't employed other means of persuasion in some of its other commercials. It's done all of that. But this one harkens back to the Think Different age of Apple commercials.

And despite it being so simple, you can actually quite clearly see many of the design decisions that went into the making of this commercial.

First, consider the simplicity just in terms of information you're given: you know absolutely nothing about the product but its appearance until the very end, when you learn the product's name and the logo of its manufacturer. There are no spoken words at all, and the three written words that do appear, "The new iMac", only briefly appear onscreen for about a second and a half. This is advertising via brand recognition at it's finest, both through the Apple brand as well as the iMac brand.

Second, consider the starting point and direction of rotation of the iMac. The commercial shows off the back of the computer first, as if to say "look how cool the rear of our computer looks before we show you the front". Steve Jobs has said words to this effect before.

Third, watch how the Apple logo draws your attention. View the commercial again, and focus on just the Apple logo. When it's first revealed to you, it's light, and then steadily changes to dark and then to completely invisible. But then a brief flash of light flies across it, and a second later it's gone again. Then it slowly changes from invisible to dark to light again and disappears offscreen as the iMac rotates completely to the other side. And then you see the Apple logo on the front of the iMac which appears dark until the very end when the reflection line crosses the logo and makes it light again. Notice how the reflection line stops right after the logo? I'd wager that's not a coincidence.

So if you've no knowledge of Apple prior to viewing this commercial, you've actually been soaked with 30 full seconds of the manufacturer's logo, not just the three seconds at the very end.

The lighting effects in the commercial are totally controlled to create a stunning appearance. And they're not limited to the Apple logo, either. Just pick a piece of the iMac: one of the sides, or the stand, or the space below the screen on the front. They all exhibit this natural progression from light to dark or vice versa or both.

Consider the lighting in terms of the overall product, too. When the back is first revealed, you only have time to perhaps consider the overall contour and design before everything goes dark, at which point you focus on the stand. Then you can see a small patch of light on the upper-right side of the iMac, which slowly moves over to the left (creating the flash of light on the Apple logo). Subsequently, a very similar patch of light moves from the power button in the lower-right side over to the ports on the bottom-left side. I'm no student of design, but this appears to be very deliberate.

Now consider the fact that over the course of the commercial, you see five spinning iMacs rather than just one spinning in the center of the screen. Certainly it would be simpler with just one. But the five accentuate the light-to-dark-and-back-again feel of the commercial; when you see three backs of the iMacs facing towards you, the screen is very dark, creating an almost mysterious feel at that point. Were it just one iMac in the center, you wouldn't get nearly that effect. A similar thing happens when you see the blue of the two screens as you start to see the front.
Funny thing: the two halves of the song are actually cut from the very beginning and the very end of the actual-length song.

Last but definitely not least, listen to the music and how well it goes with the setup of the ad. The cut is perfect. A slight ping starts the rotation of the iMac, and a similar ping is timed perfectly with the appearance of the Apple logo at the end, clearly delineating a beginning and a finish to the commercial. There are two distinct halves to the song: the first is a "low-octane", laid-back style with "doot doot doot" lyrics, and then you get a more intense, "high-octane", higher-pitched second half that goes through many more notes. (It's not technically a faster beat, though.)

Calling the two sections of the music "halves" is not an exaggeration, either. The change-over is almost precisely at the fifteen-second mark. And consider visually where the change-over happens: the second half starts exactly when you start to see the screen of the iMac rotate into view.

You really can't help but think the iMac looks cool when you see the commercial. I know, I said that the thick, black border looks kinda weird, but that fact is totally lost when I watch the ad. I've been watching it over and over for the past few days, too, it's so cool! (Visually, it's similar to the original "iMac Colors" ad for the Rev B colored iMacs.)

Speaking of the music of the iMac commercial, I was banging my head against the wall trying to find out the artist and song. Turns out it's "Exodus Honey" by Honeycut, and it's a fantastic song (thanks polyesterlester!). Shame on Apple for not putting a link to the song on the iMac ad's webpage.

If you think about it, the name of the album, "The Day I Turned to Glass," is oddly appropriate for the new iMac as well. In any case, the whole album has become one of my iTunes Store purchases. Take a look at the "iTunes Store" sidebar section in this weblog, and you can go directly to the album in the iTunes Store.

Nifty, eh? Apple just released these "My iTunes" widgets that you can embed into your weblog or website. The one on top is "My iTunes Purchases" which shows, obviously, your most recent purchases. The one on the bottom is "My iTunes Favorites": it's a pretty cool visualizer of your purchased music. Try clicking on one of the artists. [UPDATE: Both disabled 'cause it causes CPU usage to shoot up.]

Flash required. To make your own, click the "Make your own" links at the bottom of mine. :) These things'll live in the sidebar unless they make the site go slow. (P.S. Despite Apple only giving you three options for size, you can edit the HTML to make any custom size you want. Also, the "My iTunes Purchased" widget wisely omits any free songs.)

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