Apple is out with a new ad for the iPhone X, and it’s a blast.
In the minute-long spot, a high schooler has a field day when she realizes she can unlock anything, just by looking at it.
Designed to promote the model’s FaceID feature, which let users unlock the X just by looking at it, thanks to facial recognition, the spot starts with the phone itself. She points her face at the screen, and its padlock symbol slides open.
Before long, she’s sending rows of lockers flying open by glancing at them, and cartwheeling through hallways surrounded by a storm of paper homework and colorful manila folders. She soon graduates to the art room, snapping her head back and forth to crack cabinets and drawers, creating rainbow clouds of pigment (think Holi) and splatters of paint (think lazy Pollock).
Next, she slides into the gymnasium trailing fairy dust from her prior endeavors, and frees an avalanche of dodge balls, soccer balls, basketballs, volleyballs, softballs, footballs and so forth—previously trapped behind a large security gate. Then it’s onto the science wing, where corks pop out of beakers, frogs leap from their jars, and a skeleton escapes its glass cabinet.
In perhaps the ad’s most endearing moment, she even liberates a little fake treasure from its ornamental chest at the bottom of the class aquarium.
With a triumphant, playful, brassy soundtrack, the ad is like a distant descendant of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—a delightfully mischievous ransacking of life in a privileged suburban school—if it were spliced with Heineken’s similarly zippy bon-vivant adventures in recent years.
The lead actor plays the role perfectly, and in some ways the story is a tribute to her character’s imagination. Just think about all the things a person could do with such power. But it’s also a savvy way to reinforce a key underlying pitch for the product. A smartphone isn’t just a device. It’s a window to the world, social and otherwise. That’s especially true for younger populations, like the girl in the ad, no matter if that relentless utility might come at the expense of their mental health.
Unintentionally, it’s also a bit disconcerting for what it says about privacy, or the lack of it, in a world ruled by always-connected smartphones and behemoth corporations built on the monetization of consumers personal data. The ad starts with the protagonist casually bursting open spaces designed to safeguard other students’ belongings—a bit of an unnerving metaphor in light of the fishbowl nature of teenage life in the social media age, and the heightened opportunities for bullying that it presents.
That kind of subtext, though, is easy to gloss past in the context of the ad’s upbeat, carefree mood. And the anxieties it represents will fall secondary to convenience, even despite historical high-profile breaches of private photos from Apple accounts (e.g., Jennifer Lawrence), and more recent news about the way a Trump campaign consultancy misappropriated vast reams of personal information from Facebook to create psychographic profiles—with broad political implications.
In other words, so what if the camera is always scanning your face, if you don’t even have to contort your thumb to open the phone? So long as it creates the illusion of safety—only your mug can crack the handheld digital vault—it’s doing its job.