By Stephen Fry
January 28th, 2010
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 today I finally made it. I came to San Francisco for the launch of the iPad. Oh, happy man.
Today 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 15.6 billion Apple is now the largest mobile device company in the world, Jobs told the subdued but excited six hundred packed into the Yerba Buena Cultural Center for the Arts Theatre this morning. 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, 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 Android, 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 2 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.