iPad, Polarized

Here’s David Pogue beginning his New York Times review of the Apple iPad, which becomes available tomorrow.

In 10 years of reviewing tech products for The New York Times, I’ve never seen a product as polarizing as Apple’s iPad, which arrives in stores on Saturday.

Pogue, who tends to play down how smart he actually is, then splits the review in two: one for geeks, the other for normal people. To make sure nobody misses his point, he begins both reviews with exactly the same sentence:

The Apple iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch.

The geek review goes on to say: And that’s why you don’t want it.

The normal-person review goes on to say: And that’s why you want it.

Many readers will see Pogue’s “two reviews” gambit as merely a writer’s gimmick. But the polarization that he cites (and reflects with the two reviews) is vastly more significant than that. In fact, it completely explains the mysterious consumer-product genius of Steve Jobs, which turns out to be not so terribly mysterious after all.

Jobs and Woz started the microcomputer era. But only Woz was a geek. Jobs was the other guy, the one who saw that humanity at large could benefit from personal computing, not just the members of the Homebrew Computer Club. He also turned out to be a guy with remarkably long-range ideas who was willing to nurse his visions for many years if necessary, waiting for his moment.

What Pogue’s split review tells us is this: At long last, we’ve come to the beginning of the end of technology designed for technologists yet foisted upon countless normal people who just have to suffer with it. We’ve reached the beginning of technology designed — by really, really good designers — for normal people who care about living their lives as human beings, and who do not care about technology per se.

Because the iPad displeases geeks, who until now have always driven the market for computing technology, many people will assume that the new device is an act of hubris on the part of Apple, Inc. Indeed, for months now, smug, self-congratulating techno-pundits have been predicting monumental failure and embarrassment for the company. What the tech-drenched pundits can’t see is that the displeasure of the geeks is the tip-off that Apple has done the right thing.

Steve Jobs’s genius is properly measured not by quarterly results or the sales figures of any specific product, but by his ability to change the entire agenda and bring the market with him. And that is already a done deed.

In parallel with David Pogue, Walt Mossberg — who started his WSJ “Personal Technology” column many years ago because all the other computing columns were written by geeks for other geeks — has published a rhapsodic review of the iPad that calls the product a “game-changer,” which is the new way to say “paradigm-shifter.”

Finally, bear in mind that an almost identical scenario played out several years ago with the Nintendo Wii, another product for normal people that was widely ridiculed by tech-savvy insiders.

Comments 4

  1. Pingback: Serious iPad fun from MAYA Design

  2. I liked the way Pogue divided the article into the pro and con case, however i don’t think the diifference is as clear as geek and normal. For instance, many geeks love the fact that iPad doesn’t have flash, because web purists tend to hate flash. But a number of normal people have reported frustration at all the holes in the web. I think the polarisation occurs around Apple’s strengths and weaknesses – the iPad displays both probably more than anything they have ever released. Is is the user friendly, humanised computer they seem destined always to make. But it displays their wallet gouging, control freak side to a intrusive degree. For instance, the people tearing down the iPad have found an empty place where a camera will be, and support for it in the software. But Apple clearly saved up putting a camera in for version two of the iPad, to give it a reason to sell. The mixture of generosity and greed in one device has never been more acute.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Sure, Apple withheld features for v.1. Who would disagree with that? Equating that with “greed” and “wallet gouging” is naïve, in my opinion, but it’s also beside the point I was making. I was not commenting on the incredibly complex realities of running Apple profitably. Your “control freak” point is more interesting, but to some degree you’re on auto-pilot with this criticism, too. It’s way more complicated than your comment would have people believe. If we’re going to make “humanized” devices for the great bulk of humanity who are not computer geeks or tech hobbyists, then wise designers are indeed going to have to “control” things so that users are spared direct (and not pleasant) experience of the super-complex systems underlying consumer computing. Are the designers of auto computer systems also “control freaks”? Would you really like more “input” into your anti-lock brakes, or would you just like them to work and stay out of your face? Yes, such “control” is a slippery slope that raises all kinds of questions, right up to the proper role of corporations and proprietary technologies. Still, compared to the outright customer abuse and crappy user experiences of computing in general, Apple is walking the tightrope quite well, I’d say.

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