After appearing to remain aloof to Microsoft's jabs that Macs don't give enough choice, Apple has responded with ads which insist that poor Windows PC choices are no choices at all.
Two of the three new TV spots debuting this week directly reference Microsoft's "Laptop Hunters" ads, which since their debut in March have insisted that Windows PCs offer more choice for less money.
The most direct answer is "Elimination." Faced with deciding between Justin Long's Mac and several PCs, a shopper named Megan watches the PCs walk away as fewer and fewer of them meet her criteria of a big screen, a fast processor, and -- the dealbreaker -- a system that "just works" without crashes or viruses. In the end, Megan is left alone with the Mac as her only real choice.
"PC Choice Chat" echoes the theme with John Hodgman's PC character trying to advise radio show callers on what PC to choose only to find that he doesn't have an answer to requests for a PC free of viruses and with good customer support. Supporting this, the "Customer Care" spot has PC hiding the frustrations he's had getting help as he's bounced between hardware, software and sales staff while on the phone.
Each of the ads appears a gentle, if exaggerated, response but is a mirror of Apple's first official stance against Microsoft's campaign. The Mac maker argued that many Windows PCs aren't bargains at all as they won't do what their users want from them. Macs are better regardless of cost, Apple maintains.
Not to be outdone, Microsoft the very same week has issued a fifth ad of its own, and what's probably its most head-on challenge to Apple's pricing yet. Lauren (not the actress of the first ad) looks for a system with "speed, portability and battery life" under $1,700 and briefly looks at Macs, eventually settling on a Dell Studio XPS 13 on sale for $899. The system is arguably the 13-inch MacBook's closest competitor and has a similar screen, dimensions and even the same GeForce 9400M graphics that Apple briefly touted as an exclusive edge over the frequently lethargic Intel integrated video in many Windows portables.
In some regards, the Studio XPS 13 supports Microsoft's case. For its $1,099 official price, and especially the sale price shown in the ad, the system is unambiguously faster than Apple's MacBook at that level: it has a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Apple reserves for its $1,499 model, 4GB of stock memory that isn't available on any MacBook below the 15-inch Pro, and a 320GB, 7,200RPM hard drive that Apple only supplies as a build-to-order option. It has only slightly less real-world battery life in reviews and weighs only a bit more.
Once again, however, the ad relies on conscious misdirection to make the PC seem more appealing. Although the ad shows Lauren trying a 13-inch MacBook, it quotes her and her mother Sue complaining about the $2,000 price of the 15-inch MacBook Pro -- not only falling out of the size category the two had been considering but falsely portraying Macs as twice as expensive when Apple already offers a $999, if somewhat slower, MacBook. Even Apple's fastest aluminum MacBook would have fallen within Lauren's budget and saved her $500 over the price quoted in the ad.
Apple isn't content to depend solely on marketing to correct this perceived distortion of its value. As learned last month, the it plans to produce less expensive Macs in the near future that the Cupertino firm hopes will cancel out Microsoft's few remaining arguments against switching to a Mac.