Justifying the iPad: The Single Discordant Note in Steve’s Presentation


I watched, along with my fellow writers and everyone else in the tech community (and beyond) as Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple iPad. And what he revealed was a very beautiful thing, with an aesthetically gorgeous design and a seemingly amazing user interface. But is it precious?

By that I mean, in the true sense of the term, will the iPad be an intensely attractive thing that is briefly coveted and then forgotten? Right now, the general sense from the tech press is that Jobs has done good, and that very few will be able to avoid picking one of these up when they become available in the next two or three months. But will that enthusiasm transfer to the general public?

I’m not the only one who isn’t so sure about that, judging by Steve Jobs’ performance at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts today. Sure, he showed off the iPad’s capabilities with the showmanship of the veteran salesman that he is, but he also framed the presentation in a way that struck me as odd. It almost seemed more like a stockholder speech than the unveiling of an exciting new device to an eager public.

First, he established where the product was needed. He visually created a new category in which the iPad fit, which is something many bloggers and tech writers had been wondering about. It makes sense to address it once, and after having discussed the success of your existing platforms. The connection is understood, and once you demo the device, people will see why they need or want this device. Problem solved.

But not in the eyes of Jobs, apparently. The end of his presentation today was essentially a drawn-out justification of why Apple’s iPad is, in fact, a viable platform, and not just an ultra-niche device that most consumers could easily do without. “Do we have what it takes to establish a third category of products?” That’s what Steve Jobs asked rhetorically at the close of his presentation, but was it a rhetorical question, or is Apple actually unsure?

Let’s make one thing clear: I want an iPad. I want everyone to want one so that we can use them creatively together. But I also wanted a Sony Reader and a Kindle. I want a chumby. I want all kinds of things that ordinary people would never dream of wanting. The iPad, if I try to look at it dispassionately, is essentially a media player that’s too large to carry around comfortably in your pocket, too small to be preferable for movie viewing to your TV, and could even represent a significant recurring money drain if you get 3G service. It’s an e-reader, yes, but by and large, people aren’t yet really lining up to get at those.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that if anyone can make this kind of product commercially viable, it’s Apple. All I’m saying is that if even Steve Jobs has to seemingly go out of his way to justify its existence, then how can I possibly avoid doing the same?

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