Ad of the Day: Apple Goes Back 60 Years to Find Its Lovely Holiday Ad for 2014

A duet across generations

Voice-O-Graph: the kind of tech Apple would have made

Technologies evolve, but love is timeless.

That's the message of Apple's quietly poignant 2014 holiday commercial, which broke Sunday. And indeed, exactly one-half of the ad is about non-Apple tech from 60 years ago—namely, the Voice-O-Graph machine, which allowed people in the 1940s and '50s to record their voice directly to vinyl records.

Over the course of the ad, a woman finds a way to take a song recorded on a Voice-O-Graph in 1952 and update it touchingly for today—as a Christmas present for her grandmother.

It's a throwback, for sure. But in some ways the Voice-O-Graph, cutting edge for its time, is the ultimate Apple precursor—technology that put people in control, letting them create professional-looking records of their own. (It's made a retro comeback lately, too, with Neil Young recording an album this year in Jack White's 1947 Voice-O-Graph machine.)

Too often in recent years, Apple has made the product the hero, rather than the people who use it. This ad (much like Apple's great 2013 holiday spot, "Misunderstood," about a seemingly sulky teen secretly cobbling together a family movie) puts the focus back on the creativity of the user—suggesting that tech is a supporting player, and has been for generations, in the endless story of love.

It's not (only) the toy, in other words. It's what you do with it. Whether it's a Voice-O-Graph or an iPhone, that's a worthy message for any holiday season.

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