I don't think there is anyone who would argue that Steve Jobs is not an incredibly smart individual. I happen to like listening to smart people. Whether the practice makes one inherently smarter or simply more aware of how much more they have to learn, I am of the mind that it's time well spent. In my case, it is more often the latter outcome, but awareness is half the battle. Earlier this week, Jobs interviewed with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher about, among other things, the iPad's success. The segment was well timed given the international success the IPad has been having, with most recent news of an iPad being sold every 3 seconds catching everyone's attention. About half way through the segment, in what is an absolutely classic Steve Jobs moment, Jobs states with a straight face that HyperCard was, “back in the day”, just as popular and impactful of a technology as Flash is today – and that we all “survived” when HyperCard was banished to theTech Graveyard…You watch & listen.
The more I listen to Steve Jobs however, the more my mind turns to a couple of books I have recently read, both by incredible smart and brilliant individuals. The first is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and the second Made To Stick by Chip & Dan Heath. (Aside: A blatant digression from the topic at hand, but if you haven't had the opportunity to listen to Gladwell's TED talk on the Pursuit Of Perfect Spaghetti Sauce, make time to do so.)
Ok, back to regular programming – so as I listen to Jobs and the rhetoric that comes out of Apple (if I hear the phrase Magical Device one more time I am going to scream!) – it becomes clearer and clearer that most of what is being said is just that, rhetoric. But as described in Made To Stick, the winning formula Apple (really Jobs) has perfected is the packaging and timing of messaging and ideas that survive where others die. It doesn't matter that there is nothing magical about the iPad at all – in fact, it still boggles my mind that in this economy, with household debt and budgets where they are that people are lining up at stores around the world and handing over what for many amounts to almost a weeks pay – for a device which is unarguably completely unnecessary and redundant.
It's that fact that is “magical”. As in the several years ago uber-popular “Am I Hot Or Not” web site, Apple is fire hot. It doesn't matter that Apple is controlling the ecosystem and limiting what you can do with the device – it doesn't matter that this device is awkward to carry, hold and use in most but a few use cases (i.e. watching movies on a plan, train or automobile) – it doesn't matter that for the price of an iPad you can pick up 2-3 netbooks to make sure that everyone in your family has a mobile device.
All that matters is that Apple is HOT right now. The question is, how long can this continue? As in the classic line from (an equally geek classic) Blade Runner – “The Candle The Burns Twice As Bright Burns Half As Long”. Once we see some Windows 7 and Android alternatives hit the market, it will be interesting to see how the public reacts – in particular those who have shelled out for a first generation device from a company that believes they can play gatekeeper to all that you consume and do on The Internet.
As in baseball they say that good pitching beats good hitting – good marketing trumps technical merit every time. Form over function – it's “Am I Hot Or Not” all over again.
Until next time, make a difference in the world and keep Making IT Work!