Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has taken aim squarely at the hearts of gearheads and "Top Gear" fans by welcoming the legendary Stig (well, according to wired.com they're calling him Mr. X, but he sure looks like The Stig) on stage at the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2012 to play the CSR racing game for iOS and Mac, Monday.
The actual Stig at the British International Motor Show 2006.
While fun at first sight, however, the move may be indicative of cracks in Apple's finely polished marketing veneer.
Mr. X, AKA, The Stig apparently faced off against Apple senior vice president of Mac Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, and crushed him in the corners during the WWDC keynote, winning handily, as is right and proper. Apple seems to have steered clear of copyright infringement by calling their white-clad, faceless racer "Mr. X" and giving him some blue highlights. However, the stance, helmet and overall aura of racing cool is unmistakable to any fan of the BBC's top car show.
The choice to use a fake Stig has stumped many on the internet. The automotive blog Jalopnik summed up their confusion succinctly, "Why would you do that Apple? Why the fake Stig? Do you not know who The Stig is? Do you think we wouldn't know?"
The inclusion of The Stig look-alike makes a certain amount of sense and could have been a smart markeing move for Apple. Apple is clearly trying to appeal to a large and dedicated fan-base while showing off the gaming capabilities of its new products. Mac products usually aren't at the top of anyone's list when they think of driving games. Those spots are traditionally reserved for the Forza and Gran Turismo games. Perhaps the goal is to elevate Apple in the eyes of gamers, and admittedly, The Stig does make a certain amount of branding sense. His starkly white costume, unseen face, and unmistakable carriage are oddly reminiscent of Apple's shiny white iMacs.
It is odd, though, that Apple didn't just fork over the cash for the actual Stig. Why not just spring for the real thing. It's hard to imagine that a few phone calls to the right people at BBC America couldn't have brought the masked racer to the stage. However, rather than being an awesome celebrity appearance, the fakery makes the demo seem a bit gimmicky in a way that it's hard to imagine that Steve Jobs, bless him, would have allowed. A fake Stig sends a message of cutting corners and pandering, two things not usually associated with Apple.
Is the fake Stig the first indication of an erosion of standards at Apple, or is it a simple gaff? While Steve Jobs almost certainly would not have allowed the inclusion of any Stig, especially not a fake one, it seems the company's new leadership may be accepting cheap, bubble-gum popping pandering into the Apple world. Steve Jobs' legendary reality distortion field is certainly beginning to slip if no one at Apple's WWDC presentation team foresaw the strangeness of including a knockoff celebrity.
It is to be hoped that Apple's design decisions with the new Mountain Lion operating system don't include too much of the same knockoff-thinking. The same goes for the iOS Game Center the company was trying to build up with The Stig's appearance. After The Stig's appearance at WWDC, it doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to hear Jeremy Clarkson, or some version of him that cares about technology, whisper: "Some say he uses an Android phone. And that he communes with Steve Jobs' tortured ghost. All we know is... He's not the Stig!"
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) shares fell $9.15 to $571.17 Monday afternoon.
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