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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