It seems that Surface makes an audible click when you attach the keyboard/cover to the tablet. And along the way, someone decided that the click would make a nice “hook” for the campaign. That led to a launch commercial based entirely on the click.
It’s a cute campaign, but it’s entirely ineffective because the product is effectively invisible. An informal poll of people I know who don’t read sites like this one, or Daring Fireball, or The Verge, have no idea that the Surface exists.
Look, not everything needs to be compared against Apple. But their marketing is some of the best in the world purely because it displays the product. The first iPad ad isn’t spectacular, but it walks through all of the commonly-used features of the product. The “What is iPad” spot is much, much better, but it’s the same story: it simply demonstrates the product. That’s all you need to know.
By contrast, Microsoft’s first Surface commercial doesn’t demonstrate a single feature of the product aside from the things that make the clicking noise. Nothing apart from the Start tile screen is displayed, which makes it entirely ineffectual. After it aired, nobody I knew could tell me what the product was.
The success or failure of a product isn’t solely determined by marketing, obviously. But it’s important to get the word out as to what is being launched. If your ad can’t communicate what the product is, it almost never works.
Of their 2012 offerings, Clubroot’s is dark and meandering, Burial’s is lonesome and distant, and Four Tet’s is heavy and precise. Holy Other’s Held is every one of these descriptions in one, but incredibly, it isn’t a mess.
The rhythm section lays below about three feet of fuzz and grime, in a manner similar to Clams Casino’s production style. It’s a vinyl record, replicated digitally (though I was given the LP as a gift this year). But it isn’t all heavy. The reverse sampled vocals over these dark, brooding, and noisy beats offer a sense of delicacy and balance.
The cover art’s photo of sheets in dappled sunlight relay the intimacy that the album frequently reveals through these light and dark contrasts. True, Holy Other borrows tricks from Burial quite heavily, but he does so in a softer, fuzzier, out-of-focus manner. It’s undeniably trendy, but it’s also undeniably one of the year’s best.
The problem is mainly the lack of visual cues; there is no way to tell that sliding the main screen to the left will toggle the alarm on in Rise, or pinching a list in Clear will minimize it and take you up a level in the hierarchy. It’s not obvious, and what’s often called mystery meat.
Clear is beautiful, but it’s hard to argue that it’s well-designed in light of its mystery interface. It’s important to remember what Sacha Greif said yesterday:
… it’s important to ask ourselves if we’re embracing flat design because it’s a better solution to whatever problem we happen to be solving, or if we’re just trying to be different (and ending up being just the same as all the other people who are trying to be different too).
In many cases, I’m seeing the flat aesthetic used because gloss is just so 2008, without recognizing its ease-of-use shortcomings. Current (and future) UI problems are not gloss vs. flat — they’re something much more nuanced.