By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis @mddelphis
The launch date of the iPad is now behind us. It was more marketing hype; it was a societal event, just as the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone were when they launched.
Very few companies have managed this type of exploit so consistently over the last twenty-five years or so. The best PR machines rarely provoke repeat wonders. As extraterrestrial as Steve Jobs may be, comics or science-fiction series only succeed because of public buy-in. Not only that: while sequels are usually less successful than initial attempts, the history of Apple shows the opposite, with a growing retinue of followers each time. What makes Apple so addicting and so contagious?
We can list two sets of factors:
– Graphical user interface, look and feel, and ease of use with a desktop metaphor that made the Mac so familiar: definitely, although they are not really that unique any longer. Design, style, elegance: definitely also, although one might argue that lots of vendors have produced extraordinary objects that only museums remember: the NeXt black cubes designed by Hartmut Esslinger are truly art pieces.
– In fact, when you look at the Apple flagship products, die-hard aficionados have consistently voiced their frustrations. Something big is always missing. Each product proved to be what Dave Winer said recently about the iPad, “a demo of something that could be very nice and useful at some point in the future.”
So where is the magic? What strikes me is that some of the major Apple products never came across as “computers.” Your friends have “a computer, “a PC.” You say I have “a Mac.” Not only that. You say “my Mac.” You say “my iPod” – because it’s not just any portable media player. You say “my iPhone” – because it’s not just any smartphone. You already say “my iPad” more lovingly than you ever spoke of any Kindle.
Apple fans entertain a personal relationship with their Mac, iPod, iPhone or iPad: what they are as objects is never obliterated or offset by their respective purposes. They are your property first, and what you use them for, second. For a major reason maybe: the relationship to these products is primarily tactile, no matter how beautiful they are for the eyes. The NeXt Computer was a computer and you had to carry it with your arms just as you carried an Apple II, an Apple III, or a Lisa. The first Mac changed all of that: you lifted it with my fingers and you used a mouse. The iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad respond to your fingers directly. You are continuously in control though the sense of touch, which gives you a continuous feel of intimacy and ownership: fingertips are unique to each individual and fingerprints were the people’s signatures in the most ancient civilizations.