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.