Ad It Up?

Tim Cook posted an open letter about privacy last fall with a few choice words for ad supported companies. Though it seemed to focus on Google (with a barely veiled shot at Gmail), Mark Zuckerberg decided to return fire in Time:

A frustration I have is that a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers.

It’s the most ridiculous concept. What, you think because you’re paying Apple that you’re somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they’d make their products a lot cheaper!

I understood the general argument right up until the last word. I don’t remember the last time Apple did anything “cheap”. Inexpensive, sure, but cheap? Of all the words…

It doesn’t take a genius to see Apple’s interest is against junking up the very thing that pulls in buckets of cash exactly as-is. The company has a history of mocking bloatware (and even stickers) in favor of discerning customers.

Amazingly, Apple almost cheapened things with ads in the late 90s. Ken Segall recounts a scuttled marketing idea for Mac OS 9 in his book Insanely Simple. Steve Jobs and the software team were toying with the idea of releasing the OS for free with a sixty-second commercial at boot. Customers would have the option to disable the video by paying the normal retail price. It’s not the world’s worst idea considering Mac OS 9’s importance to the future of Mac OS X, but still…

Obviously Apple never introduced advertisements at startup (to the surprise of no one). Segall thought was “way out of character” even for then-beleaguered Apple.

This seems like a ridiculous way to make money today. How often do you reboot your Mac? Never? A sixty-second video would inconvenience the average user a few minutes each month.

All uptime aside, the whole idea struck me as equal parts sacrilege and surreal. I’m reminded of this clever motivation from Steve Jobs in 1983:

Well, let’s say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and thats 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that’s probably dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you’ve saved a dozen lives. That’s really worth it, don’t you think?

Every major version of OS X has consistently improved boot time. Funny enough Apple doesn’t even charge for OS upgrades these days. As a matter of fact it’s a pretty good example of making things less expensive without making them “cheap.” Apparently free doesn’t have to ad up…

Happy Mac

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