Intel's new CEO, Pat Gelsinger, has been on the job barely more than a month, but he has wasted no time reviving the Mac versus PC battle. The latest shot is a series of ads featuring Justin Long. Long famously starred in the original Mac versus PC commercials 15 years ago, but has now switched sides to give an "honest comparison between Mac and PC."
The ads are probably what you'd expect of an attempt to play off of Apple's funny and effective campaign, but the question for Gelsinger is whether this is a fight he really wants.
I would suggest the answer is no. But if it is, I would argue that this ad campaign is exactly the wrong way to go about fighting it, mostly because it makes Intel look like it doesn't even understand what it's fighting for.
Really, there are two problems. The first is that the ads miss what was great about the original campaign. Sure, it's a clever device to use the same actor who previously stood on the side of the Mac.
Now, however, he's touting the various features of different PC laptops, all of which prominently display an Intel sticker or logo somewhere, despite the fact that none of the actual devices are made by the chipmaker.
Which is kind of the point--Intel seems to grossly misunderstand what this fight is actually about.
The problems with Intel have nothing to do with PC manufacturers, many of which are making very good hardware. Besides, PC makers are doing just fine.
Seriously, the problem with PC laptops isn't the PCs. The problem is that they run on processors from Intel, which has been notoriously bad at keeping up with its own roadmap. Many of them had a record year--despite Intel's problems--largely thanks to the surge in demand related to the shift to remote working and virtual school.
And they've gotten much better at industrial design, something that long gave Apple a lead over everyone else. I have a Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 sitting on my desk, and while I much prefer my MacBook Air, I have no problem admitting the Surface is a great laptop.
That's despite the fact it doesn't even have any of the bells-and-whistles you can find on devices like the Asus ZenBook Duo, which is featured in one of the ads and has a second display built-in just above the keyboard. The keyboard is great, the trackpad is great, and it has a touch display, all for $1,100.
But when it comes to actually using it for normal tasks, the MacBook Air, which has an M1 processor, is absurdly faster at just about everything except running down the battery--which lasts forever, by the way.
An Intel ad that talks about how many monitors a laptop can connect to, or talking about how you can fold a laptop backward into a tablet seems like it might be missing the point. That point, in case it isn't obvious, is that Apple's M1 processor is ridiculously faster and more efficient than anything Intel is making for all but the very high end of desktops.
I was optimistic that Intel would be in good hands with Gelsinger at the top. Before leading VMware, he spent three decades at Intel and understands the company as well as anyone. He's also an engineer, meaning he should be well-equipped to diagnose and fix what's actually wrong with Intel.
Then again, if the company thinks that spending time and energy on what I'm sure it believes is a clever ad campaign is worth the effort, maybe I was wrong. That's because Intel doesn't have a PR problem. At least, not one that can be solved by a lighthearted jab at the "lifestyle company from Cupertino," as Gelsinger referred to Apple earlier this year.
Intel's problem is technical. Intel has a technical problem. Maybe spend a little time getting caught up on the product roadmap, or figure out the manufacturing problems that have plagued its efforts to get to smaller transistor sizes.
If this is Intel's best effort, it isn't hard to see why it's getting beat so badly in the first place.