Let's get the disclaimers and disclosures out of the way first:
I'm a total Apple fanboy. I've owned and used Macs and iPhones for as long as they've been made. I still own a couple of Newtons. I used to cover the company. Years ago, I worked on some cool joint Apple-Washington Post products that unfortunately never made it out of the lab. I own a very small amount of Apple stock.
And yes, I'm writing this on an iPad.
Having said all that, I think the media hype over the iPad is completely ridiculous.
That's not a review of the iPad, which at first blush is a wonderful device. It's a review of the media, which covers—and fawns over—Apple like it does no other company.
The iPad and Steve Jobs are on the covers of Time and Newsweek—and the stories are breathless, even by newsmagazine standards. The New York Times ran a (mixed) review of the iPad on Page One this week—has the Times ever reviewed anything on A1? Seemingly every other media outlet and tech blog is running breathless updates, reviews and commentary on all things iPad. (Yes, this blog has participated in the hype, as well.)
I don't recall any other product launch getting this sort of press—except, maybe, the iPhone. But just about every Apple product introduction is greeted with this sort of media frenzy. Incremental upgrades in the company's laptops are deemed worthy of coverage that must be the envy of Apple's competitors.
Quick quiz: When was the last time you saw coverage of the latest Thinkpad or Sony Vaio release? Never happens. Do you remember the coverage of Microsoft's efforts at a tablet computer (a proto-iPad) several years ago? I didn't think so. Do you remember voluminous takeouts a couple years ago when Asus, Dell, HP and others pioneered the netbook category, which was arguably as significant a development in portable computing as the iPad? Nope, didn't happen. But we're marinating in the iPad.
This isn't a new phenomenon. Nearly two decades ago, Apple held a press conference to announce that it was announcing the Newton—more than a year before the actual product launch—and drew huge crowds of reporters to the event, generating a tsunami of anticipation and hype that probably had as much to do with the Newton's flawed handwriting recognition software in sinking the pioneering handheld computer. It just couldn't live up to those sorts of expectations. And of course, the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 is still remembered as a technology/pop-culture milestone, built around the legendary "1984" TV commercial.
What is it about Apple that attracts this sort of coverage? Or what is it about the media that gives Apple this sort of inflated attention? For sure, the company makes great, innovative products. But so do other companies. Steve Jobs is a fascinating, charismatic personality, and his legendary "reality distortion field" presentation style (the iPad is "truly magical and revolutionary," he tells us) seems to be very effective. But the sort of adjectives Jobs throws around would be greeted with skepticism and guffaws coming from any other CEO.
At the same time, Apple is an incredibly secretive company, which you'd think would tamp down the hype around its product launches. Suggestions that Apple carefully orchestrates this kind of frenzy miss the mark--if anything, its strategy is to shut up and let speculation and rumor fill the information vacuum the cone of silence leaves behind.
On the media's side, that silence, and mystique, probably goads reporters and commentators guess more wildly and get more excited about the forbidden fruit. In addition, an inordinate number of journalists are Apple fanboys and fangirls themselves—or at least longtime users of the company's products—so they're arguably predisposed to be favorably interested in what the company has coming next.
And with the iPad, there may be another distortional factor: journalists hoping that the iPad will save their industry, and amping up their coverage accordingly. The good news on that: As I've said before, the iPad could transform the way we consume all sorts of media. The bad news: It's still not clear how it really helps current media business models. For all the excitement about selling expensive media apps on the iPad, there's not going to be much of a market for them as long as the Web versions of those publications are available one screen touch away. Sorry.
Look, everybody—especially journalists—loves a good story. A device like the iPad, which raises the bar of what's possible with technology and how we use it, is a good story. But I'm just not sure it warrants the sort of crazed press it's getting. We'll find out in the weeks and months and years to come if the iPad is everything its overexcited coverage says it is.
And then Apple will come up with something new (probably an iterative upgrade to this first version) and the hype machine will power up again. It sure would be nice, though, to see some more skepticism and reserve on the part of those covering the company.
Now I'm going off to play with my iPad.