It takes a lot to offend me. I laugh in the face of insults. But, in the past couple of weeks, Microsoft has really hurt my feelings with its strange, anti-phone-geek Windows Phone 7 ads. And it's not only me who should be sobbing into my capacitive touchscreen; just about anyone who's ever used a smart phone should ought to be outraged.
In its latest one-minute commercial, entitled "Really," the company inexplicably spends 60 seconds showing how people who are obsessed with their smart phones are ignoring everyday life. In one scene, a father peers into his handset while his son is trying to play catch with him. In another, a husband ignores his lingerie-clad wife to check his phone. In still another, a businessman drops his phone in a urinal and then picks it right up again to keep on texting. In each of these scenes, the offended party (son, wife, fellow bathroom goer), finally stands up to the phone addicted person and says "really?"
Then you see a photo of the Windows Phone 7 home screen and of a handset. The commercial closes with a scene of a young couple staring across the dinner table from each other and the text "be here now" on the screen.
Just check out the ad below.
If this were a PSA from the Foundation for a Better Life, all the finger-wagging about absent parents and distant husbands would make sense. But, Microsoft, you know this is a commercial for your smart phones, right?
What's the meaning of all this? Are smart phone users all inconsiderate louts? And if Windows Phone 7 is a smart phone, how is it going to stop this behavior? The only logical conclusion I can draw from this video is that I ought to throw away my Droid and go back to using a dumb phone with no data plan. Then I'd presumably spend more time being a good person and less time staring into my handset like some kind of nineteenth-century opium addict.
I think what Microsoft is trying, but failing, to say with any real conviction is that the home screen tiles on Windows Phone 7, which show messages and social media updates right on the home screen, will make it easy to see information at a glance and get back to what you were doing in real life. Indeed, the tile-based UI on Windows Phone 7 is a nice touch and, so far, I've been nothing but impressed with the Windows Phone 7 devices I've tested.
But is telling people that your device is less engaging than the competition really a winning strategy? Imagine if companies applied this logic to marketing other popular products:
- Google TV: Less compelling content to distract you
- Windows 7 Tablets: Short battery life so you can spend more time with your family
- iPhone 4: More dropped calls help you keep it short
Microsoft's new OS has a lot going for it, including several very addictive and time-consuming games like Sims 3. Is the company really trying to say I should be spending less time playing Xbox Live and more time outdoors?
Ironically, smart phones have the greatest potential to help us get out of the house and on with life. Since I got my Droid last year, I actually spend less time on the computer and more quality time with my family, because I can constantly check my e-mail without booting up the PC to do it. Instead of getting up off the couch to check my mail and see if something urgent from work has come in, I simply peer at the screen in my pocket and then, if nothing requires my immediate attention, I put the phone away.
At the same time, a good smart phone allows you to immerse yourself in the Internet or in its apps when you want to. Give me a really compelling game to take my mind off things while I'm waiting at the dentist's office. Help me study my Chinese with a language learning app while I wait for class to begin. Let me sit there and watch silly videos when I have nothing better to do.
Telling me your phone won't monopolize my time is like telling me it's not worth my time. Microsoft, do you "really" mean that?