Apple’s new ad is a clever comeback to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s iPad putdown

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walked into this one.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walked into this one.
Image: Reuters/Saumya Khandelwal
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It was a nothing comment, the gentlest of ribbings: “You need to get a real computer, my friend.”

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, made the quip two weeks ago after spotting two reporters using iPads during a press event in India. The incident was described in passing in a TechRadar story, by a journalist who owned one of the offending iPads.

Several tech media outlets seized on the incident, suggesting that Nadella had channelled “his inner Steve Ballmer.” (The former Microsoft CEO had once dismissed the then-new iPhone as a nonstarter, in what became a textbook case of ironic CEO hubris.)

Arguably, that’s not what Nadella was doing at all. But whatever the intention, his comment looked like a contradiction of his own vision for Microsoft.

The CEO has been on tour with his new book Hit Refresh, which describes how he has thus far changed Microsoft’s culture to embrace a “growth mindset,” one that’s about learning, not already knowing. Only three years into the job, he has also reworked the company’s mission statement so that it better reflects a brand devoted to ubiquitous computing intelligence, rather than computer hardware or software, per se. Microsoft now wants to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Finally, Nadella has repainted Microsoft as a kinder partner to its competitors, its “frenemies,” as he writes in the book.

Now, in what the tech media is reading as a response to Nadella’s poke of his biggest frenemy of all, Apple has just released a new ad called “What’s a computer?”

In the video, a preteen artist, writer, and bug enthusiast lives with her iPad Pro in her backpack. She wears oversized glasses and rides her bike around a Brooklyn-like city, evoking the 1980s nostalgia of Stranger Things and ET.

We see the little hipster using her tablet all over town, snapping photos of insects in the park, typing in—ahem—Microsoft Word, reading Wonder Woman comics on the bus, and FaceTiming with friends. Finally at home on her lawn, her mother steps outside and casually asks, “Whatcha doing on your computer?”

“What’s a computer?” the girl responds.

We don’t know if it’s meant as a direct comeback to Nadella’s snark. If it isn’t, it’s still smart and perfectly understated. Here’s Apple in what the company wants us to see as its natural habitat, the edge of the near future, ahead of slow movers.