Apple's holiday iPhone ad focuses on family, tugs at heartstrings [u]

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Apple marked a return to its "quiet" iPhone ad campaign on Monday with a holiday-themed television commercial, this time using the iPhone 5s and AirPlay to create a touching portrait of the modern family Christmas.

Update: Apple has also posted to its YouTube page the full "Harris family holiday" video featured in its "Misunderstood" ad. The clip, which Apple says was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s, is embedded below.

Like other great Apple ads, Monday's "Misunderstood" commercial is layered. In the spirit of the company's "quiet" ad campaign, the holiday iPhone spot goes beyond the product to tell a story of how technology has affected, and continues to affect, our culture.

Almost every iPhone owner, or anyone who knows an iPhone owner, can attest to the absorbing nature of a device that has mobile access to the Internet, communications and millions of powerful apps. For many, the iPhone is an escapist luxury, even more so when put in the hands of a stereotypical teenager.

With a solo piano rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" lilting in the background, the spot quickly establishes the main character, in this case a teenager on his way to visit family for the holidays. Leaving home during winter vacation is hardly the ideal situation for many youngsters, and the boy quickly buries his nose in his iPhone 5s after watching his house draw fade out of view.

Scene after scene, the audience is shown typical Christmas traditions; sledding, decorating the Christmas tree, building a snowman. Each jump cut finds the boy in the same place: on his iPhone, seemingly separated from the group. One sequence has a family member throwing a pair of what looks to be mittens or socks at the iPhone to get his attention.

The boy is, however, intent on finishing whatever it is he's doing.

About halfway through, the ad cuts to Christmas morning and we find our protagonist still on the smartphone as his younger sister hurries downstairs to open presents. As the family tears into boxes, the music abruptly cuts out and we see the boy move toward the TV.

Source: Apple's YouTube channel

And the twist. He beams a holiday video shot and edited entirely on his iPhone 5s to an Apple TV, which can just be made out by its white LED. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" fades in, with lyrics this time. From arrival to Christmas Eve (and in a neat little payoff, a slo-mo capture of the sock-throwing sequence), we see a chronicle of the entire trip. Instead of playing Angry Birds Go! or Tiny Death Star while his relatives enjoyed each other's company, he was busy making a special surprise gift.

The clip ends with a "selfie" of the young man, smiling in front of the Christmas tree in a kind of signature closing credits for the homemade montage. The family applauds, mom and grandma cry and Apple marketing chalks up another win.

The last frame flashes a "Happy Holidays" message with a disclaimer regarding AirPlay, noting additional hardware is needed to use the feature. The notice serves as proof that Apple has gone so far past the norm in its product spots, that in some cases the product isn't even shown.

As with other commercials in the ongoing iPhone campaign, Apple implies powerful features through a storyboard narrative. No specs are presented, no fanfare or device worship; just a simple story about a family Christmas. The iPhone and AirPlay are secondary players to the characters who use them, and that is what makes the ad stand out.