Chris posted Apple's new "if you don't have an iPhone" ads earlier and they didn't really work for me. Apple usually nails their marketing and these were somehow... qualitatively different. Watching them again I think I figured out why. These weren't commercials for apps, music, or books, not entirely at least. These were, in their latter halves, commercials for App Store, iTunes Store, and iBooks Store. This wasn't Apple differentiating solely based on their playing, listening, and reading experiences. This was Apple showing off their massive and still growing content catalogs, and the ease with which that content can be acquired and enjoyed. And that's fine in theory but in practice they just didn't seem to come off as well as past commercials. At least not to me and I'm an admitted enthusiast.
When the original iPhone launched, Apple's commercials focused on internet and activities that could be done on the phone -- the web, email, iPod, maps, etc. They showed you what you could do and most importantly, how easily you could do it. The second part was key. Hardly anything they showed was new to existing smartphone users but in practice, but the UI made it better and more accessible than ever before. And Apple wanted to show that.
Following iPhone 3G and the App Store, Apple began their famous App for That series which continued with iPhone 3GS and App for Everything. Again there was some brief education about how to use the App Store in the commercials, and some crowing about the huge and growing numbers of apps available, but the focus was undeniably on the apps.
By iPhone 4 competing platforms began to get competitive app catalogs and Google's Android Market was gaining momentum, so Apple shifted back to features like FaceTime, Retina Display, battery life, etc.
Since competing phones have or will start to match those iPhone 4 features, however, I wondered what Apple would do next. I thought they might go back to apps, specifically games like Infinity Blade that hadn't shown up yet on rival platforms. I think they still might. I wouldn't be surprised to see an Infinity Blade, Real Racing 2 HD, or more likely a GarageBand commercial for iPad 2, and when the Apple A5 chipset presumably hits iPhone 5 this summer, I'd be surprised if we didn't see just that. Apple has made it clear they're "post-PC" and re-framing the debate from specs to experiences. They're also really good at writing really good mobile software, which can't be said about everyone in the market -- yet.
But that's not what Apple did, at least not in these commercials. There was a brief Two is Better than One stint to launch the iPhone on a second US network, fun-house mirrored by Verizon and AT&T spots, then they went right back to features but shifted to ecommerce -- App Store, iTunes Store, and iBooks Store. No one else has that diversity of content in one place, in as many countries, available with one-click ease under a single account login. (Sony should but they're lost in the wilderness at this point, Amazon might when they launch their app store and link it to MP3 and Kindle, and Philp Berne says Samsung does though I'm not sure it's iTunes level yet.)
Like battery life, Apple's online marketplaces aren't obvious choices for a commercial. I'm not sure how many consumers weigh which phone has the best stores before buying. Sure, like great battery life it's what lets you do what you want to do -- play, listen, watch, read, but it comes off as being Apple-centric and not consumer-centric. They're ads for stores and not for stuff, and those never seem to come off as well.