Apple’s iPad Pro ‘crush’ controversy, explained


Apple sparked online outrage after releasing an ad for the new iPad Pro, which unintentionally mirrored the fierce controversy around generative AI in the arts.
Apple’s Tim Cook introduces the new iPad Pro during a media event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Wednesday morning, Sept. 9, 2015, in San Francisco, Calif. MEDIANEWS GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Apple CEO Tim Cook posted the ad on X (Twitter) with the breezy caption, “Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create.”

The internet, however, did not share Cook’s optimism.

What is the AI-generated art controversy?

Many working creatives have been horrified by the rise of generative AI, with the technology viewed as diminishing the value of human labour, replacing it with cheaper, sloppier AI-generated output.

Artists have seen their work used to train generative AI models without permission or compensation, flattened into machine-made content that threatens their livelihood.

If one wanted to create a visual representation of the fear and anger directed against generative AI, it’s hard to imagine a more accurate depiction than Apple’s new iPad Pro commercial.

What happens in Apple’s new iPad Pro commercial?

The ad, titled “Crush!”, shows a variety of artistic tools and instruments, such as a piano, guitar, typewriter, cameras and paint cans, mercilessly crushed under an industrial press.

The crush results in the sleek new iPad Pro, which is Apple’s thinnest tablet yet, boasting the new M4 chip, which is designed to be an AI powerhouse.

The ad is clearly intended to communicate the convenience of creating art through a tablet, an all-encompassing tool that can replicate the function of those crushed objects.

Social media commentators, however, saw the ad as a tasteless boast from Silicon Valley, a literal crushing of human creativity.

One X user wrote: “Apple has unintentionally made one of the most fitting and revealing advertisements of the modern era. My god.”

Many commentators were surprised that Apple seemed so out of touch with the current cultural climate.

In the past, Apple has presented itself as a hip, counter-cultural corporation, a company that appeals to working creatives by making sleek, user-friendly tools.

Apple’s controversial ad marked a stark contrast to the company’s famous “1984” ad, directed by Ridley Scott, which successfully framed the Macintosh computer as a liberating tool against bland, corporate monoculture.

One commentator wrote: “Forty years ago, Apple released the 1984 commercial as a bold statement against a dystopian future. Now you are that dystopian future. Congratulations.”

The ad seemed particularly tasteless in the context of the turmoil of the entertainment industry, with Hollywood recently rocked by strikes that were partially motivated by the use of generative AI in film production, among other significant issues.

On X, actor Hugh Grant described the ad as “The destruction of the human experience.”

Director and writer Asif Kapadia wrote, “Like iPads but don’t know why anyone thought this ad was a good idea. It is the most honest metaphor for what tech companies do to the arts, to artists, musicians, creators, writers, filmmakers: squeeze them, use them, not pay well, take everything then say it’s all created by them.”

Some even edited the ad to play in reverse, creating a surprisingly moving depiction of flourishing human creativity, pushing back against the might of Silicon Valley.

The backlash against Generative AI is growing

It seems that the honeymoon period for generative AI has passed; for many, the initial wave of optimism has been replaced by anxiety, as the negative impacts of the technology become increasingly obvious.

AI-generated content is currently spreading like wildfire through social media, spewing misinformation, spam, bizarre imagery, and non-consensual pornography.

Generative AI even proved a sore point in the Drake vs. Kendrick Lamar beef, with one of Drake’s diss tracks featuring a digital imitation of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, prompting Shakur’s estate to threaten legal action.

AI also impacted the Met Gala discourse, with AI-generated fakes tricking many social media users into believing that Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Rihanna had attended the event.

In the novel 1984, George Orwell memorably described his fascist dystopia as “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”

With the new iPad Pro ad, Apple has created a similar metaphor for AI sceptics — a hydraulic press, crushing the spirit of human creativity.

Update: Apple has apologized for the “Crush” ad. In a statement provided to Ad Age, Tor Myhren, Apple’s vice president of marketing, said the company “missed the mark.”

“Creativity is in our DNA at Apple, and it’s incredibly important to us to design products that empower creatives all over the world,” Myhren told Ad Age. “Our goal is to always celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves and bring their ideas to life through iPad. We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.”

This article was first published on and all figures are in USD.

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