Why everyone’s mad at Apple’s new iPad ad

Forty years ago, the upstart computer company Apple’s iconic “1984” commercial symbolically aligned the company with the resistance of the human spirit to the mechanistic forces of conformity.

Today, the company-now a $3 trillion global goliath - has sparked a blowback with an ad that seems to do just the opposite. If the ad wasn’t intended to illustrate how Apple risks becoming the villain of its own hero myth, the reaction to it sure does.

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The commercial, which touts the latest iPad Pro, shows an intimate studio brimming with analog instruments and art tools: a mechanical metronome, a vinyl record player, a film camera, jars of paint, a piano. The scene resonates as warmly nostalgic until the ad cuts to a wider view, revealing an enormous slab of metal looming above it.

As the mass slowly descends to physically crush the instruments, sending shards and paint flying, the realization hits: The mass is Apple, inexorably pulverizing these beloved emblems of human creativity, one after the next. As the crusher withdraws, the studio and all its contents are gone - replaced by the company’s new tablet.

The spot was intended as a clever play on a genre of video popular on TikTok, in which hydraulic presses or car tires crush objects that pop, crumple or explode in sensorily satisfying ways. The payoff is meant to be that these tools of creativity actually haven’t been destroyed, just consolidated into a single, sleek gadget.

Yes, the iPad is a versatile device, and many creative professionals use it for a wide range of tasks. Posting the video on X, Apple CEO Tim Cook boasted of the latest device’s “advanced display” and powerful M4 chip, adding: “Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create.”

But the ad hits at a time when artists feel a heightened vulnerability to the march of automation. The latest AI tools can mimic an artist’s work on command; machine-generated articles, songs and images are mingling with and increasingly displacing the work of humans. No wonder they’re a bit sensitive.

While Apple may not be driving that particular upheaval, its iPad event leaned into what Cook has called the “transformative power and promise of AI.” Historically, the company has played a leading role in disrupting creative sectors through software such as iTunes. (Remember “Rip. Mix. Burn.”?) More broadly, its ubiquitous devices have come to represent the triumph of the digital over the analog world.

One of Steve Jobs’s early achievements was to position the company’s computers as friendly and helpful. (Think of the simple Apple logo, the Happy Mac icon or the cheerful, colorful iMac.) But over the years, including under Jobs, the company’s obsessions with sleekness, power and efficiency have lent its image a colder, harder sheen. That could be a liability at a time when even some former tech lovers are becoming Luddites.

As for crushing things in a vise grip, that happens to be what Apple stands accused of doing to independent app developers in an antitrust lawsuit filed last month by the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s remarkable that the company’s marketers didn’t see a problem with that visual metaphor.

Now, many of the creative types the company seemed to be courting with the iPad ad are jeering it instead. Here’s a sampling of the reactions:

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