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.


3 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. 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.

    • Ralph Lombreglia,

      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.

  2. Yep, looks like Jobs nailed it … any many folks agree with him.


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