iPad 2: faith and a See of good grass

iPad 2: faith and a See of good grass

Summary: I was there, at the iPad 2 launch. I was there as Steve Jobs made his surprise appearance.

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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I was there, at the iPad 2 launch. I was there as Steve Jobs made his surprise appearance. I was there to be told, as I have so often been told, that Apple is relentlessly superlative. That this is the year of the iPad, and that the iPad 2 takes all those unimprovable adjectives of marvel that the iPad earned, and improves them.

No. Not buying it. It's still an oversized, overpriced, not very useful mobile phone that can't make phone calls — albeit now available in white. But instead of going over what the iPad 2 is and isn't, let's have a look at the support system that propelled it into the world.

An Apple launch, these days, has a unique scent. The event proper takes place at the true epicentre of Apple fandom, downtown San Francisco, in the sanctified cathedral of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Yerba Buena means 'good grass', and the event reaches for the highs of heaven with all the rampant fervour of a religious revival. The journalists, for want of a better word to describe beings reporting from an elevated state of ecstatic receptivity, stomp and holler, give standing ovations, and generally affirm the life-changing miracles taking place on stage before them.

It's not like that over here. Apple books a large space — currently, a studio at the BBC's Television Centre is in favour — to show a satellite broadcast of the San Francisco event. The audience comes from all over Europe; there's always SRO (the Jobs' dictated Standing Room Only; empty seats come at a high price to the organisers), and at first the appearance — white, male, faint hint of hipster — looks much the same as the Yerba Buena Be-In.

Take a closer look. Although the darkened auditorium is liberally peppered with those glowing Apple logos of tribal affiliation, some are defaced by stickers: penguins, biohazard trefoils, even a vulture. We are at the edge of Empire, where products arrive later, more expensively and with hand-me-down American marketing. This slight sense of disrespect is reciprocated: heresy, apostasy and dissent aren't just tolerated, they're listened to.

And we don't applaud. Some try — to a one-way screen, already — but are glared into silence. Muttered yelps are as good as it gets, although a breakaway mob of Italians did get over-excited by the iPad 2's magnetic cover.

Also, we don't take pictures. Or rather, we do and try not to get caught. For, despite this being the year of our Lord Berners-Lee 2011, with every journo in the place equipped and ready to paste words, pictures and movies onto the Web, and despite the new product having the true miracle of video cameras, there are no pictures allowed. No recording of any sort. The event organisers spot the faintest glow of live photons from a viewfinder screen and shut it down. We're even given an FBI Warning style notice before the simulcast that Apple Public Relations owns our souls and won't hesitate to damn them, should we fail to comply.

As Apple didn't tell us this beforehand, failure to comply is more a badge of honour than a mortal sin.

And then it's an hour of superlatives from a spindly, look-I'm-still-here CEO, and a gadget that costs the same as two weeks' minimum wage. The only real innovation was the level of spritely spite reserved for the competition, roundly condemned as clueless losers more times in ten minutes than I remember from the last ten launches combined.

Reading the twitterstream afterwards, the sense that nothing had changed only grew. "I still haven't worked out what to do with my iPad 1, but I guess I'll have to buy this one!" said one. "A design classic! Take that, Android!" said another. "I want one so much I feel physically sick" and so on. But perhaps there were more this time than last, saying "I don't understand, why is this exciting?" and "if you spend your pocket money now, there'll be nothing left for the iPad 3 in September". Unlike Apple's true world-changers — the Apple II, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone — if you stop believing in the iPad, it stops being useful.

It's high fashion, not high function, and high fashion falls the fastest of all. At some point, peak Apple will occur. We may even be there now. But look for signs that it has over here, in Europe. It'll take a lot of reality to penetrate that cathedral of good grass.

Topic: Emerging Tech

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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28 comments
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  • "At some point, peak Apple will occur. We may even be there now."
    Duly noted. I think you are wrong.
    jgpmolloy
  • If ever a presentation was spot on, this one was. The desktop for the consumer is on its way out, devices like the iPad are the future. I agree with John Molloy, you are wrong.
    plorent
  • "We are at the edge of Empire..."

    This is an extraordinarily well-written piece. The clarity of thought regarding Apple is refreshing.
    SpragueD-1d3b7
  • So the iPad is the future. It is certainly the future of fashion - everyone who was anyone had one in Florida last week. I even saw several people using them for a while, then talking out add-on keyboards from their bags so they could do some real work. They're great to pose with, however.
    banksie-90475
  • Here's the thing banksie...
    "then talking out add-on keyboards from their bags so they could do some real work."
    And when you don't need to do the real work you can put the keyboard away. At least you admit that you can use the iPad for "real work". I suggest you should talk to Andy Ihnatko as he managed to deliver his entire Chicago Sun-Times write up on the event using this "fashion accessory".
    jgpmolloy
  • I don't agree about the iPad - I think it's a game changer. Indeed, the game has already changed. But this is a beautifully written piece of prose.
    IanHocking
  • As someone just pointed out to me, Ihnatko could technically have written it up on a Kindle if he wanted to!

    Personally, I think the iPad 2 does look good, but it doesn't fix my biggest beef with the first iteration: the lack of Flash. Like it or not, the web's full of Flash, and browsing without it is a markedly crippled experience.

    I think the Android tablets will ultimately dominate due to the platform's open nature, plus the fact that their devices have open-spec ports, SD card slots and so on. That said, the manufacturers are shooting themselves in the feet with their silly pricing - when you're charging more than Apple for an 'equivalent' product, you know there's something wrong.

    For now, I remain unconvinced about the point of tablets at all - iOS, WebOS, Android, QNX, all of them.
    David Meyer
  • Two things: First, you say: "I was there..." "It's not like that over here..." "And we don't applaud..."

    Were you 'there', in San Francisco, or 'here', in the BBC studio? Your first sentence implies you were in SF, an invited guest in what sounds like an impressive building; the rest of your piece reads as if you were standing at the back in a windowless room in London. Whilst the marketing machine that is Apple is certainly an interesting topic to write a piece on, you might as well be up-front about whether your evidence was first- or second-hand.

    Second: describing the iPad as "an oversized, overpriced, not very useful mobile phone that can't make phone calls" suggests to me that you have little insight into the world of technology and what drives it forward.

    You certainly don't have to love the device, indeed it is imperfect, but not 'getting it' whilst 15 million people worldwide do 'get it' comes across to me as out-of-touch.
    philipmcdermott
  • The iPad is, undoubtedly, a nice piece of kit - as is a screwdriver made of diamonds. But I am happy to use my normal screwdriver which does the same job and costs less.

    People who pose with iPads did it with iPhones too, but I bet they never carried laptops beforehand... it does not replace them.

    flash, drop and drag, usb to anything, open source, hackable, widgets... errr, work kit it is not.
    ChrisSnape
  • In case there's confusion, I was at the UK event. I don't know how many Apple launch events I've been to in total: between ten and twenty, I guess. A couple in the US, the rest in sunny London.

    That's a small proportion of all the launches I've sat through. Apple events are unique, and affect the perception of the product. I look at the iPad 2 and see it as a very expensive (look at the margins!) product primarily designed for revenue generation.

    Tablets have the potential to change the world, more so than the mobile phone and the PC put together, but not flying under those colours.
    rupert.goodwins@...
  • I watched the keynote this morning, and there is an interesting moment for me at 59-60 minutes in, when Xander Soren is demo'ing GarageBand. He creates his own 8 track recording, using various instruments, but essentially his own creation. He say's 'there's a couple of things I can do with this', I can email it to my friends, or I can send it to itunes, where on my next sync I can access it on my Mac'
    For something I've just created, not copied - there seems a fundamental artificial limitation in place here. Difficult to put your finger on - but encompassing most of what I think Rupert has issue with. The mainstream route technology is currently going down is based on an 'end user purchasing experience', the new dominant trend for computing, with little regard for the technical issues / constraints users are tying themselves into.
    adamjarvis
  • Thanks for the clarification Rupert.

    I terms of your last sentence (Tablets have the potential to change the world...but not flying under those colours"), it may be that soon (in fact by 2014 I think its the current estimate) iOS tablets won't be the most popular tablets. But, it cannot be ignored that Apple have entirely defined the modern tablet – the iPad is nothing like the tablets that came before it, and the PlayBook, TouchPad and Xoom are entirely like the iPad preceding them – and this is not solely down to the marketing machine supporting it, however grandiose (or stomach-curning) it may be.
    philipmcdermott
  • @ Philip - I'm not sure how the PlayBook, TouchPad and Xoom are "entirely like the iPad preceding them". As far as I can tell, their ports, UIs and so on are completely different. Could you clarify?
    David Meyer
  • @David – each of those tablets takes its interaction paradigm from the world of the smartphone, rather than the desktop PC; i.e., fullscreen applications, SDIs, touch- and gesture- only interaction. Before the iPad, tablet user interfaces tended toward scaling down a classic windowing system. So I'd say that in terms of UI, they are all of the same class, of which the first was the iPad.

    Ports is a more interesting point. Apple has jumped in with both feet in terms of making their post-PC devices (their term) entirely unlike traditional PCs. You can agree or disagree with that approach, but you need to see it as a choice they have made deliberately, not by accident. (They didn't omit USB and SD ports because of cost or by accident). Other manufacturers are including more ports to make their products more expandable, flexible and therefore more appealing to what they think their customers want. The difference, therefore, is what Apple believe customers want, and what the other manufacturers believe customers want. A lot of the negative reactions that Apple products get stem from misunderstanding their goals. Disagreeing with their goals is fine of course, but at that point you simply don't buy their products.

    So, coming back to your question: compare the form factor, external design, user interface paradigm and suggested uses of the Xoom, TouchPad and PlayBook to the iPad and, say, the Dell XT tablet (google it for a pic) and ask yourself: which are they most like?
    philipmcdermott
  • Just as an aside, two more things:

    1) I have an iPad, I use it every day, and (crucially) I didn't have to pay for it myself.

    2) If Apple continue to control their iOS ecosystem as they are doing (and I see no reason why they will stop), in 3-4 years they will have consigned themselves to a tiny corner in a huge industry, but, like with the Apple ][ and WIMP, they will at least feel proud that they drove the early innovation.
    philipmcdermott
  • The question is - does Apple not include (say) SD slots because it believes customers don't want them, or because it protects the margins on the products with higher amounts of flash memory? Do customers prefer to use video editing software on a product with no standard way of transferring video files into it?

    Have you ever met anyone who prefers not to have an SD slot on a product, or who prefers using iTunes to using drag and drop? (ITunes. Where to start with ITunes.)
    rupert.goodwins@...
  • @ Philip - I'd say the new tablets are influenced by the 2007 iPhone, in the same way today's smartphones were influenced by that device. However, a great deal of time (in tech terms) has passed since then. While the iPads continue to use that rigid grid format, the others (Android phones as well as tablets) have gone more widgety, which I consider to be a better use of the large screen size of the form factor.

    Apple certainly did drive the market - as I've suggested, I think they've kickstarted a whole market segment that has no need - but they haven't actually introduced that much that's new for the last few years.
    David Meyer
  • "At some point, peak Apple will occur. We may even be there now."

    What goes MUST come down. Everything is in waves.

    You'll know they've peaked when Jonny boy comes back to the UK.
    Daveypezant
  • I think the fact everything is down showing a decline in PC market due to tablet market growth shows that something has changed with the iPad.. they sold 10M laste year and those who bought were not all fashion hungru folks.

    first I think Steve did a remarkable job from coming from his sickness on to main stage as a mark of commitment to the product he beleives, to the customers he loves and to the stakeholders who have faith in him.. I have not see any business leader as committed as him.. hats off to you Steve and wish you a full recovery. We need you to derive more innovation and to tell the technology companies to listen and pay attention to user requirements.

    iPad has certainly changed the way the information is presented to end users. It may not be the device for application developers, programmers or hackers. But it is certainly a relief to millions who had to carry their heavy notebooks while travelling while all they needed was emails and presentations..

    yes there would be some markets for PCs and larger market for tablets. Apple certainly are pioneers and the others are anyway imitators or copy cats as I would say..
    akdwivedi@...
  • @Rupert My mum. And I don't mean that as a playground insult, I mean: she'd rather not drag and drop or use an SD card (on account of probably not knowing what either of those two things are).

    Rightly or wrongly, I think that Apple picture a world where the majority of people (but probably not the majority of people who read ZDNet) never have to deal with even the concept of a file, whilst using their devices to carry out all manner of tasks. It's alien to those of us who grew up building their own PCs, but similarly, the inner workings of computing devices are alien to everyone else.

    @David I agree – they have indeed been overtaken by others on what can be done with a touch interface on this form factor. I wrote on my own blog last week words to the effect of: the next interesting update from Apple regarding iPad won't be the iPad 2, it will be iOS 5.

    We'll have to agree to disagree on whether there is actually any need for this form factor. My straw poll of colleagues and friends indicates 50% oF people use their iPad daily and think it's great, the other 50% try and try but can't seem to find a use for it.
    philipmcdermott