Apple Finds Its Footing Again With Evocative Film About Third-Party iOS Apps

Small, powerful stories

My colleague Tim Nudd recently wondered if Apple, at a crucial time of transition in the company's history, had lost its voice in the new "Our Signature" manifesto commercial. The company speaks clearly and with great confidence, however, in "Making a Difference One App at a Time," a 10-minute film by TBWA\Media Arts Lab that focuses on how third-party iOS apps can profoundly change people's lives.

Now, I initially assumed that such aspirational advertising, especially in a long-form outing, would veer into mawkish, tear-jerk territory. I was mistaken. The muted, documentary-style approach strikes the perfect tone, and "Making a Difference" says a whole lot without ever getting overly sentimental or offering pie-in-the-sky promises about making the world a better place.

"Making a Difference" both tells us why Apple's products are great and shows us that they are, introducing viewers to a range of people who use or develop vastly different apps that run on iPhones and iPads. We meet a nurse who uses the technology to make diagnoses in remote, rural areas of Kenya; an Olympic medal-winning amputee rower who programs her prosthetic legs; a Native American woman striving to keep the Cherokee language alive; and, most poignantly, a non-verbal youngster who finds his virtual voice and now talks to his family and friends via iPad every day.

In a way, these are small, intimate stories that gain considerable power (and a truly universal vibe) when woven together. Yet, the piece as a whole never feels forced or overblown. There's a cool, almost detached aspect to "Making a Difference"—achieved with lingering Steadicam shots, fluid editing and an elusive ambient soundtrack—that's analogous to Jonathan Ive's Apple product designs. His vision, at its best, is gorgeous yet restrained, evocative and efficient with all elements in harmony, and the same can be said for this film. It has great form but also function, with viewers learning quite a bit about iOS apps and feeling like we're part of the conversation.

Intriguingly, all four stories are ultimately about enabling and facilitating various types of communications. The apps—and, by extension, the Apple products they run on—are convincingly cast as high-tech translators. Working together, humans and machines create a new language of hope, change and deeper understanding.

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.