The Apple iPad Photograph: HO/REUTERS
Well bless my soul and whiskers. This is the first time I've joined the congregation at the Church of Apple for a new product launch. I've watched all the past ones, downloaded the Quicktime movies and marvelled as Apple's leader has stood before an ovating faithful and announced the switch to Intel, the birth of iPod, the miniMac, the iTunes Store, OS X, iPhoto, the swan's-neck iMac, the Shuffle, Apple retail stores, the iPhone, the titanium Powerbook, Garageband, the App Store and so much more. But this time I finally made it. I went to San Francisco for the launch of the iPad. Oh, happy man.
The day had special resonance. In front of his family, friends and close colleagues stood the man who founded Apple, was fired from Apple and came back to lead Apple to a greatness, reach and influence that no one on earth imagined. But a year ago, it is now clear, there was a very strong possibility that Steve Jobs would not live to see 2010 and the birth of his newest baby.
With revenues of $15.6bn, Apple is now the largest mobile-device company in the world, Jobs told the subdued but excited 600 people packed into the Yerba Buena Cultural Center for the Arts theatre. A few more triumphant housekeeping notes followed and then we were into the meat of it. Well, the whole event is available to be watched online, you don't need me to describe it. He picked up an iPad and walked us through. Afterwards I was allowed to play with one myself.
I know there will be many who have already taken one look and pronounced it to be nothing but a large iPhone and something of a disappointment. I have heard these voices before. In June 2007 when the iPhone was launched I collected a long list of "not impressed", "meh", "big deal", "style over substance", "it's all hype", "my HTC TyTN can do more", "what a disappointment", "majorly underwhelmed" and similar reactions. They can hug to themselves the excuse that the first release of iPhone was 2G, closed to developers and without GPS, and that cut-and-paste and many other features that have since been incorporated. Neither they, nor I, nor anyone, predicted the game-changing effect the phone would so rapidly have as it evolved into a 3G, third-party app rich, compass- and GPS-enabled market leader. Even if it had proved a commercial and business disaster instead of an astounding success, iPhone would remain the most significant release of its generation because of its effect on the smartphone habitat. Does anybody seriously believe that Google, Nokia, Samsung, Palm, BlackBerry and a dozen others would since have produced the product line they have without the 100,000-volt Taser shot up the jacksie that the iPhone delivered to the entire market?
Nonetheless, even if they couldn't see that three billion apps would be downloaded in two years (that's half a million app downloads a day, give or take) could they not see that this device was gorgeous, beautifully made, very powerful and capable of development into something extraordinary? I see those qualities in the iPad. Like the first iPhone, iPad 1.0 is a John the Baptist preparing the way of what is to come, but also like iPhone 1.0 (and Jokanaan himself too come to that) iPad 1.0 is still fantastic enough in its own right to be classed as a stunningly exciting object, one that you will want now and one that will not be matched this year by any company. In the future, when it has two cameras for fully featured video conferencing, GPS and who knows what else built in (1080 HD TV reception and recording and nano projection, for example) and when the iBook store has recorded its 100-millionth download and the thousands of accessories and peripherals that have invented uses for iPad that we simply can't now imagine – when that has happened it will all have seemed so natural and inevitable that today's nay-sayers and sceptics will have forgotten that they ever doubted its potential.
"What can I do with it that I can't do with a laptop or an iPhone?" they might now be objecting. "Too big for my pocket, not big enough for serious use. Don't see the need. It's a solution looking for a problem."
There are many issues you could have with the iPad. No multitasking, still no Adobe Flash. No camera, no GPS. They all fall away the minute you use it. I cannot emphasise enough this point: "Hold your judgment until you've spent five minutes with it." No YouTube film, no promotional video, no keynote address, no list of features can even hint at the extraordinary feeling you get from actually using and interacting with one of these magical objects. You know how everyone who has ever done Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? always says, "It's not the same when you're actually here. So different from when you're sitting at home watching." You know how often you've heard that? Well, you'll hear the same from anyone who's handled an iPad. The moment you experience it in your hands, you know this is class. This is a different order of experience. The speed, the responsiveness, the smooth glide of it, the richness and detail of the display, the heft in your hand, the rightness of the actions and gestures that you employ, untutored and instinctively, it's not just a scaled up iPhone or a scaled-down multitouch enhanced laptop – it is a whole new kind of device. And it will change so much. Newspapers, magazines, literature, academic textbooks, brochures, fliers and pamphlets are going to be transformed (poor Kindle). Specific dedicated apps and enhancements will amaze us. You will see characters in movies use the iPad. Jack Bauer will want to return for another season of 24 just so he can download schematics and track vehicles on it. James Bond will have one. Jason Bourne will have one. Some character, in a Tron-like way, might even be trapped in one.
There's much to like, of course. The physical beauty and classy build quality, as in anything designed by Jonathan Ive. The shockingly low price — $499 for the basic model. The contract-free, unlocked nature of the 3G version. But there are two chief reasons for its guaranteed success.
1. It is so simple. It is basically a highly responsive capacitative piece of glass with solid-state memory and an IPS display. Just as a book is basically paper bound together in a portable form factor. The simplicity is what allows everyone, us, software developers, content providers and accessory manufacturers to pour themselves into it, to remake it according to the limits of their imagination. I'll stop before I get too Disney.
2. It is made by Apple. I'm not being cute here. If it was made by Hewlett Packard, they wouldn't have global control over the OS or the online retail outlets. If it was made by Google, they would have tendered out the hardware manufacture to HTC. Apple – and it is one of the reasons some people distrust or dislike them – control it all. They've designed the silicon, the A4 chip that runs it all, they've designed the batteries, they've overseen every detail of the commercial, technological, design and software elements. No other company on earth does that. And being Apple it hasn't been released without (you can be sure) Steve Jobs being wholly convinced that it was ready. "Not good enough, start again. Not good enough. Not good enough. Not good enough." How many other CEOs say that until their employees want to murder them? That's the difference.
I have always thought Hans Christian Andersen should have written a companion piece to the Emperor's New Clothes, in which everyone points at the Emperor shouting, in a Nelson from The Simpsons voice, "Ha ha! He's naked." And then a lone child pipes up, "No. He's actually wearing a really fine suit of clothes." And they all clap hands to their foreheads as they realise they have been duped into something worse than the confidence trick, they have fallen for what EM Forster called the lack of confidence trick. How much easier it is to distrust, to doubt, to fold the arms and say: "Not impressed." I'm not advocating dumb gullibility, but it is has always amused me that those who instinctively dislike Apple for being apparently cool, trendy, design-fixated and so on, are the ones who are actually so damned cool and so damned sensitive to stylistic nuance that they can't bear to celebrate or recognise obvious class, beauty and desire. The fact is that Apple users like me are the uncoolest people on earth: we salivate, dribble, coo, sigh, grin and bubble with delight.
No, I don't have shares in Apple. I came so close to buying some as an act of defensive defiance in the early 90s when every industry insider and expert in the field agreed that Apple had six months to go before going bust. But I didn't. If I had done I could now afford to buy you all an iPad. Yes, I do like and have tried to champion OpenSource software. How can I square that with my love of Apple? I'm complicated. I'm a human being. I also believe in a mixed economy and mixed nuts. I love our NHS and the National Theatre, but I also love Fortnum and Mason and Hollywood movies. "Apple," Steve Jobs said, "stands at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts." This statement confused non-Americans who are not familiar with the phrase "liberal arts" but I think shows the fundamental cultural seriousness of Jobs and Apple, which in turn explains their huge success and impact. He might perhaps more accurately have said that Apple "stands at the intersection of technology, the liberal arts and commerce".
You may or may not be in the queue for an iPad in March, April, May or June. Or you may decide to stay your hand for version 2.0 or 3.0. But believe me the iPad is here to stay and nothing will be quite the same again. You should know, however, that plenty of industry commentators disagree with me. They have pronounced themselves less enthralled. It is perfectly possible I will be proved wrong about its enduring, game-changing place in the landscape and that people will gleefully rub my nose in this blog in two year's time. I'm certainly not wrong about how soul-scorchingly beautiful it is to use though. And that, for me, is enough.
This is the same as the last post, just edited better.