Oscars Ad Hints at How Apple Will Position the iPad

Last night's Oscars broadcast was interminable even by Oscars standards, but viewers who managed to stay awake were rewarded with Apple's first advertisement for its iPad tablet device.

Since this is an Apple ad, no frame of this can go unexamined. Before you cry "Hype!", believe me when I say this level of attention to detail is warranted. Look, this is a company that reportedly refuses to display no-smoking signs in its United Kingdom stores—even though they are required by law—because they interfere with Apple's minimalist approach to decor. Jobs would rather pay the fine of £50 per store per day than allow anything to pollute the Apple experience.

With that in mind, a few noteworthy things emerge from this debut ad, and they tell us how Apple is beginning to build gadget lust for this particular product. First, ignore the shiny toy and focus on the background. The point is: there is one. Instead of the stark white void in which all iPhone ads are based, this iPad lives in a house. Specifically, on a sofa in a house, in a kitchen, at a breakfast table—and definitely not in a home office. That's a much different pitch to consumers than if, say, a business traveler had been pictured checking his e-mail from an aisle seat, or kids playing a game from the back of a minivan. In this first, throat-clearing spot, Apple is telling us that the iPad is a homebody.

Second: laps. In the rapturously vacant universe Apple has created for iPhone and iPod Touch ads, the devices are all cradled in the palm of a hand. Your brain fills in the rest: I could use this thing on the subway, at the DMV, on the space shuttle Discovery. The iPad lives on its users' denim-clad laps, and instead of looking straight out, we're mostly looking down. Wired magazine's Gadget Lab blog smartly predicts that all iPad ads will feature this "top-down, point-of-view angle," emphasizing the machine as more of a laptop, "a computer for people who don’t want a computer, who just want to do the things you need a computer to do."

Third, this ad only shows Apple's proprietary apps, none that have been created by third-party developers. iPhone ads long ago began to emphasize gems from the 100,000 offerings in the iTunes App Store. For many users, these apps—for buying movie tickets, finger-painting, social networking—are by far their favorite thing about the device. The iPad can run iPhone apps, but they look kinda crappy—either surrounded by wasted screen space, or distorted by "pixel doubling." The iPad may not seem a truly compelling buy until Apple can show off what developers can dream up for the new screen size.

Steve Jobs's introduction of the iPad in January was a qualified success—some swooned, some were underwhelmed, and many people were simply confused by what they'd just seen. Is the iPad a big iPhone? A small MacBook? Jobs told Apple Nation that the "magical" and "breakthrough" device was something in between the mobile and laptop categories. Keep an eye on future iPad campaigns—yes, even study them frame by frame—if you want to see the little ways in which Apple is attempting to eke out the new gadget's personality.