Did Laptop Hunter Sheila Find Treasure?

Microsoft’s newest “Laptop Hunters” commercial, embedded below, is the most ambitious yet and perhaps most misleading. The buyer’s budget is bigger and her laptop criteria slaps Apple where it hurts: Among core constituency of artists, designers and filmmakers.

Shelia is searching for a computer with a “fast processor, big screen, and I really need something that’s going to able to cut video.” All for under $2,000. “I’m open to any brand,” she says. But the only Apple computer in Sheila’s price range is the $1,999 15.4-inch MacBook Pro. She rightly recognizes that 2GB of RAM won’t be enough memory.

Mac defenders will love this: Sheila dismisses the Mac as option, while touching the higher priced $2,399 15.4-inch model (The price is Fry’s Electronics; Apple charges $100 more). Many Mac fans will dismiss the commercial simply because of the one faux pas.

Sheila settles on the HP HDX 16t, which is sold as an entertainment PC, not a laptop for aspiring filmmakers. HP lists the preconfigured model—with 2.4GHz processor, 16-inch display (1366 x 768 resolution), 4GB of RAM, 512MB (dedicated) nVidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics, 500GB hard drive and Windows XP Home Premium 64-bit—for $1,099.99. Assuming the configuration is correct, Shelia saved about $900 off the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, which has half the RAM, graphics memory and storage capacity of the HDX 16t.

Subtle differences would offer minor performance benefits: DDR3 memory in the Apple versus DDR2 for the PC, for example. The MacBook’s multitouch trackpad could be more useful to an artist. But the differences are surprisingly small, especially considering the enormous price difference between the two computers. Then there are the HP’s advantages of all that storage capacity and graphics and system memory for editing video.

But hardware isn’t the only consideration when buying a computer. There are very good reasons why artists love their Macs, with software being near the top. Mac OS X 10.5 smokes Windows Vista, and Apple packs in iLife, which is a surprisingly satisfactory for producing podcasts and editing video. Software should have been part of Shelia’s buying decision making, which, of course, wouldn’t work as well for Microsoft marketing.

Mac defenders that ding the commercial for overlooking software would be right to do so. Apple’s Final Cut Studio is hugely popular among filmmakers (or so Apple’s marketing would have us all believe), and it’s not available for Windows.

Then there is the aforementioned questionable marketing position, where HP touts the HDX 16t for entertainment and Apple the MacBook Pro for creative professionals. People just like Sheila.

Still, the commercial works well, even for what it leaves out. Like the three earlier Laptop Hunters commercials, Microsoft seeks to:

  • Show the overall value of Windows PCs
  • Show better value against Macs
  • Help OEM partners gain sales/marketshare at premium price points

I’ll focus on the second and third objectives. “I’m a PC and an artist,” Sheila proclaims. People usually associate artists with Macs, not PCs. Microsoft seeks to upturn some of that “artists are only Mac users” stereotype. The jab would be more effective coming from first Laptop Hunter Lauren, who looks more like an artist than Sheila.

The third objective is one I harped on at Microsoft Watch. Contrary to public pundit opinion, the commercials are not about lower buying prices. Microsoft and its OEM partners already control the market for low-cost PCs, where Apple simply doesn’t compete. NPD considers computers priced $1,000 or more as premium PCs, among which Apple marketshare is about 80 percent at U.S. retail. The first of the four Laptop Hunters had a budget of $1,000 or less; the second and third $1,500 or less; and the most recent $2,000 or less. These budgets are way above average selling prices for PCs at U.S. retail. Microsoft isn’t marketing to budget buyers, but people with real computing needs for which they are willing to pay for. The same people who might otherwise buy Macs.

Artists accustomed to Macs will pay much more than did Shelia. What she really needed was the $2,799 17-inch MacBook Pro, which screen resolution would have been much, much, much better for her needs. Shelia made the mistake common among computer shoppers: Size matters. Bigger is better. No, Sheila, screen resolution matters, particularly for art, photography or video.

Editor’s Note March 30, 2014: Microsoft removed the video, which is replaced from another source.