Apple celebrates Chinese New Year with teary iPhone X ad

Commentary: It's the story of a woman who works as a conductor on a train and rarely sees her son at the New Year. It's been a big viral hit in China.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


She waits and she hopes.

Apple/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Friday sees China begin to celebrate its New Year. 

You might imagine that many brands would create cheery, uplifting communication to herald the Year of the Dog.

Apple thought different.

It released a long ad that puts tears before cheers. 

Based on a true story, it tells the tale of a woman who's a conductor on one of the longest train routes in China -- Nanning to Harbin. It's a six-day journey. This means she rarely gets to see her young son, named Ding, during the New Year festivities.

She leaves him with her sister and worries whether he behaves. She admits she's tough on him. He, in turn, desperately wants to impress his mom. So he learns his multiplication tables with extreme concentration.

This particular New Year, however, her sister decides to bring Ding to the Kaili station in Guizhou, just to catch mom for the three minutes that the train stops there.

What follows are moments of quiet desperation as the two search for each other on a crowded platform, just to spend a few moments together -- a few moments in which Ding wants to show how well he's learned his tables.

The ad purports to be for the iPhone X. The only overt role the phone plays, however, is that the man behind the camera -- famed movie director Peter Chan -- shot the whole thing on the phone. (Steven Soderbergh has just shot a thriller on the phone.)

Even though Apple concludes the ad by saying everyone should capture their stories on the iPhone X, the underlying message of this melancholy piece is about the preciousness of time. 

It goes by quickly. The important moments can pull out of the station before we've even recognized them. 

The ad does paint some optimistic tones at the end. What we remember most, though, is the mom and son pulled apart on a festive day.

Despite the sadness -- or perhaps because of it -- this oeuvre has enjoyed considerable attention in China. Adweek reported last week that it had already enjoyed 68 million online views.

First figures suggest that the iPhone X had a very good start in the Chinese market, becoming the top-selling phone in urban China. 

With this ad, Apple is surely trying to foster an emotional relationship with Chinese customers -- something that's been at the core of its brand for many years. Its popularity in the country appeared to grow after the launch of the X. 

If there's one place Cupertino wants to recite (sales) multiplication tables, it's in China.