Well, Apple have come out with a new set of their (in)famous Mac/PC adverts. Surprisingly, this time round I find that I’m not paralysed with rage — just mildly disgusted and disappointed — and can write about them. Obviously, I should make it absolutely clear that, as adverts, I hate them. They’re patronising, confrontational and almost exclusively focus on perceived shortcomings of the opposition. But, as usual, they also make some claims that are generating some … debate around the net, and I thought — as user of both Macs and PCs without (I hope) any particular partisan leanings — I’d be well placed to pick them apart and give an objective review of their claims.
So without any further ado, here are my thoughts on the ads:
This one is weird. I’m not quite sure what it’s trying to claim. That Apple machines don’t auto-update? Not true. That they don’t make you agree to click-through licenses when they do so? Also not true. About the only justifiable claim I could see here is that PCs tend to have a higher volume of auto-updates. But then the vast majority of them are Windows Defender updates that don’t have a click-through anyway. If I had to make a call, I’d say I do more clicking-through of licenses loaded with Legal Copy on my Mac than I do on my PC.
As far as I can see, this one is out-and-out dishonest.
This is probably the most contentious issue raised by the new (and old) PC/Mac ads. Apple have always insisted that Macs don’t have viruses, and that PCs are much more at risk of infection or being hacked. But then they do things like quietly post advice to run anti-virus software on their support forums, and PC users are understandably quick to jump on that as evidence that Macs aren’t so safe as Apple would have us believe. So what is the deal? Can a Mac really hang around in his casuals while nearby PCs are forced into isolation suits?
I’m going to say yes, but with a honking caveat. The fundamental truth of the issue is that there are almost no malware threats to the Mac; there have been about five actual cases of OSX malware making any headway at all in the wild. Compare that to the thousands of different PC malware threats released into the wild every month, to the tens of millions of PCs actively enlisted in botnets and the difference is so stark as to almost make Apple’s complacency justified. Almost.
The point is that the reason OSX is largely safe from malware attack is that there is no malware to be attacked by. It’s not that OSX is some magical virus-proof wonder-OS; it’s that it has too small a market-share to be worth a cyber-criminal’s time. If Apple continue to grow their market-share then sooner or later someone’s going to go for them, and I suspect that when that happens Apple, and the wider Mac community, will be woefully unprepared. There’ll be a few hectic months while everyone and his dog gets infected, Apple rush to get a fix out, play catchup for half a year and finally get on top of the problem. At least as much as any other platform has.
I’ve heard it suggested that telling people they don’t need virus protection is irresponsible because it means that when a threat does arise, people won’t be protected. I don’t really agree, for a couple of reasons. Firstly and most generally, I’m not convinced of the utility of anti-virus software on any platform. Consumers spend millions of dollars a year on Windows anti-virus software, and infection rates are still through the roof. Not only that but anti-virus software itself feels a lot like malware to me; it insinuates itself in every corner of your OS, gives you no control over what it does or when, often kills a machine’s performance, and all for what seems to be very little gain.
So given that anti-virus software is expensive, ineffective and detrimental to a machine’s day to day running, I fail to see how advocating it’s use on a platform that doesn’t currently need for it would be a responsible act. Especially given my second point, which is that no-one really know what Mac malware will look like when it appears, and until they do, how can anyone write software that has a fighting chance of countering it? It’s true that there are certain standard patterns to malware design, and by looking out for those existing software might get lucky, but my guess is that it’ll take six months after the first real wave of infections for the anti-virus companies to get up to speed on the sorts of exploits real malware takes advantage of and how to close the security holes.
Those six months should be plenty of time for Apple to reverse its message on viruses and get started on what will, in all likelihood, be a continent-sized pile of humble pie.
So, er, to get back to the point of the advert, is it true that Macs don’t have to worry about viruses? I’m going to say yes. But with caveats.
Another odd one this. I get the feeling they were just trying to advertise that iPhoto has this neat new feature, but had to dress it up in their usual confrontational format to make it fit the ad-campaign. I mean, everything they say and imply is sort-of fair enough; iPhoto does ship with every Mac, and does have facial recognition, where an out-of-the-box PC is much more limited; it’s just that that’s not a particularly convincing point to make. Yeah, I guess organising photos by facial recognition is sort-of neat (when it works,) and it’s nice that it ships with Macs by default, but it’s not like the technology is unheard-of on the PC; there is free, easily available software (Picasa), that does it just as well.
This also is my favourite of these four new ads, because it highlights the overarching mistake Apple has made with the whole campaign; the PC is just a much more likeable character. It’s always true, but I think doubly so in this one.
So are the advert’s claims true? Yes, I think so, just also pointless.
This sort of mud-slinging just pisses everyone off. It effectively says “PCs hang and crash all the time,” which, without justification or stats, is just the advertising equivalent of “PCs smell of poo!”
Having said that, I have to add: subjectively, my experience has been that my Macs have been more stable than my PCs. That’s not to say that I’m a typical case, or that my experience is necessarily representative; it’s just what I’ve noted over the past half-a-decade or so.
I’m not going to let my subjective experience colour my judgement on this one though; it’s just not justifiable to make these kinds of claims without support. False.
So there you have it. I reckon roughly a 50% hit rate on truth, only one advert that actually has a convincing argument for buying a Mac, and even that one is so heavily caveated as to make the statement in isolation borderline dishonest.
It’s a real shame Apple insist on sticking to this advertising campaign; as far as I can see, all it does is alienate people. It’s doubly frustrating to me because Apple make great products that I really like. I love both my Macs, and while not everybody is going to like them, they are definitely good enough to sell on their own merits without needing to constantly bad-mouth the opposition. Now, if only Apple would actually tell people what those merits are.