New TV ads
Apple waited until last week to fire a double whammy at Vista, issuing a warning on its website about potential damage to iPods when connecting to Vista PCs and running a TV ad that pokes fun at Vista security. But industry watchers believe that's just the beginning of a barrage on Apple's website, in its stores and in its ads.
"I'm expecting that in the next weeks Apple will really go after Vista," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. "For people having problems with Vista, they'll say, 'Hey, we've got a better choice. As long as you're upgrading, why not upgrade to a Mac?'"
Cold reception for Vista
He's not the only analyst to note that Microsoft is inadvertently aiding Apple. "It's been a cold reception for Vista, and the Apple marketing is surfing on that," said Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group. Consumer difficulties with Vista, he said, "are like toys in the sandbox to Apple and their creative people. They're going to have fun for weeks to come with this."
But it's more than Apple's offensive that has industry watchers ogling the evolving David-vs.-Goliath spectacle -- it's the tone of the push. "There's still some real heart-to-heart competition between the two," said Gartner analyst Andrew Frank. The new marketing "feels a little more aggressive and a little more personal."
Though Apple wields a much smaller budget -- according to TNS Media Intelligence, it spent $83 million in measured media on Mac for the first nine months of last year, less than a fifth of what Microsoft is spending to launch Vista -- it's far from the first time Apple's shanghaied someone else's mind share with massive buzz. Just last month, the marketer bowed its much-anticipated iPhone during CES, the biggest electronics show in the country, upstaging that event as attendees crowded around monitors to watch founder Steve Jobs unveil the device.
Retail store strategies
Apple rumor websites AppleInsider and Think Secret both reported last week that an internal Apple training manual lays out plans to undermine Vista further with an Apple retail-store marketing push beginning this week. (Apple staffers supposedly will wear shirts reading, "Go Beyond Vista.") Bloggers and others have reported receiving e-mail sales messages with the "Go Beyond Vista" headline that read: Since "you'll probably need a new computer to upgrade to Vista, why not get a Mac?"
Apple is also talking tough on its own website. The "Get a Mac" page touts the Mac as "the ultimate PC upgrade" and lists seven reasons users thinking about upgrading to Vista should get a Mac instead. The full "Mac vs. PC" campaign is posted. The first ad to target Vista, called "Surgery," features comedian John Hodgman's PC character, clad in a hospital gown, fretting over his "major" upgrade.
For all its bluster, however, it seems unlikely that Apple, with its minuscule market share, could seriously wound its rival. Apple's share of worldwide computer operating systems was 6.2% in January, according to Net Applications, compared to Microsoft's combined share of 92.4%. (Other operating systems such as Linux account for the remaining 1.3%.)
Bill Gates on defensive
Even so, Microsoft won't take the Apple scruffs lying down. Mr. Frank said, "With all the money Microsoft is rumored to be spending on marketing Vista, I'm sure they're holding some back for a future counterstrike." Already Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has gone on the defensive. In a Feb. 3 interview with Newsweek, which has been widely re-reported and commented on by bloggers, Mr. Gates said he hadn't seen the "Surgery" ad but added: "What are they trying to say? Does honesty matter in these things? Or, if you're really cool, that means you get to be a lying person whenever you feel like it? There's not even the slightest shred of truth to it."