Three things of note about the Galaxy Note Super Bowl ad

Samsung paid more than $10 million to tell you, loudly, about a new stylus-based mini-tablet. Because they could.

The stylus

The Galaxy Note spot was the only Super Bowl ad my wife saw. After one and a half minutes of its ironic over-production, she asked, “So, it has a pen that’s going to be easy to lose?” My wife is much better at getting to the point when it comes to new toys.

In announcing the original iPhone in 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs jabbed at the then-standard stylus, the plastic pen without ink, and once quipped that in looking at devices, “If you see a stylus, they blew it.” But there has been, apparently, a quiet contingent of hand-writing, drawing, and sketching advocates pushing for pen-driven interfaces, ever since Jobs and Apple wipe the slate clean (ahem). There’s a pressure-sensitive, inaudible-sound-drive iPad stylus in the works, and Samsung’s Note may be just the first in a line of S-Pen-powered devices on the way.

I can see a few arguments for styluses. One is the alternative they offer to small-screen typing, which, from conversations with relatively new iPhone converts, is still a sticking point. The last major study I can find about iPhone typing efficiency and enjoyability comes from 2007, right after the launch of the first iPhone, and with physical phone keyboards still the norm. Voice-based interfaces like Siri are a help, but only in situations where you feel comfortable saying your momentary desires out loud. If you truly feel uncomfortable typing on a small screen, perhaps handwriting recognition would work better for you, but you’ll likely have to do the same kind of device learning and adapting that iPhone typists have made.

Another is the precision of using a stylus, as opposed to a finger. This holds less weight for me, having seen what kind of works can be made with a finger on an iPhone, and noting that on any non-professional touch-driven device, there’s a grid of sensors that can only be so close together. In other words, a device made to be used with either fingers or a stylus, like the Note, can’t be a true graphics tablet.

The cost

Samsung’s Galaxy Note ad ran during an even that was charging around $3.5 million for 30 seconds of air time. Assuming some kind of discount for buying three 30-second slots, there’s still the cost of the extras, the stunts, the gospel choir, the small marching band, the confetti, the use of a popular song (more on that in a bit), and the fee for Bobby Farrelly, of the Farrelly brothers directing duo that brought us “There’s Something About Mary,” to direct the clip. So let’s guess that it’s about $12 million all told. Why does Samsung do that, to promote one device, without announcing what networks it will be offered on, or when it will be released?

Two reasons: one, because it can afford it. The other, more salient reason, is that Samsung, like other Android-reliant device makers, feels it needs to differentiate its products, especially compared to Apple.

The song

You probably remember it, if you’re of an age to buy a $200 device with a two-year contract. But just in case, it’s “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, and it’s by a band that straddles the line of ironic splendor and genuine enthusiasm for a slightly higher breed of 1980’s hair metal, with a definite sense of humor. That was actually The Darkness’ own frontman Justin Hawkins in the clip, despite my hopes that it wasn’t. That song was a wonderful, refreshing quirk of music in 2003, and I’ve only rarely heard it since, usually in Guitar Hero or Rock Band sessions.

The of-its-time song and its tone felt a bit wedged into the Galaxy Note spot, which led off with a retread of Samsung’s Apple-fan-mocking setup. Apple enthusiasts certainly believe in a thing called love. It’s hard to imagine breaking out the spandex and high-neck arpeggiated solos for a tube of plastic with a carbonized rubber tip.

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