There can't be many people who will have failed to notice that, at the end of January, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, announced their new tablet-netbook-thingy, now officially known as the iPad.
He called it a revolutionary device, but quite a few people seem disappointed, usually because it either isn't a real computer, or it doesn't run the Mac operating system, or whatever. Mostly, I keep hearing it's just an oversized iPod Touch. Well, I suppose it is. Just like a Rolls Royce is an oversized Austin Seven. But the whole of the quote from Steve Jobs was: Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price. The key word is magical. And Apple have decided that the only people who won't want an iPad are people who don't like magic. Magic sells. Although few people realise it, every time we use any computer in the world, we are benefiting from the magic that Apple created. Before 1982, the only accessible operating system for the average consumer was MS-DOS, with a clunky interface that required you to type commands at a prompt line to get programs to run, or, indeed, to get the machine to do anything. Then Apple introduced the Macintosh. With its icons and multi-tasking, it changed computers forever, and Microsoft was literally forced into creating its 'Windows' environment. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, and redefined music players. The same year it launched iTunes, which, in turn, redefined music distribution. Three years ago, the mobile phone industry was turned on its head when Apple released the first iPhone, and those who got one got pure magic. And what the entire world wants is magic.
It's no surprise that Steve Jobs was the first CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, and is a major shareholder in, and board member of, Walt Disney. Jobs deals in magic. Which is why there is now the iPad. It will definitely revolutionise the publishing industry and the newspaper/magazine industry, and it could revolutionise the digital fine arts. It does everything that can possibly fit on a screen that size, almost without trying. It is so magical that it does things you’d never actually imagine. (The Apple launch included a video of a chap passing the iPad to his friend, and before the friend has time to turn it round the screen’s flipped over and reorientated itself for him.) Apple is such a charismatic company that it can do things you don’t even notice. They’ve already almost seen off every photo frame company. They’re going to reintroduce the part of music pleasure that went away when the LP died because they’re offering a music format with artwork and footage, with full immersion in an album, just like the old vinyl LPs with almost whole books inside them. And that entire format is so minimal to their plans that they don’t see fit to mention it on the iPad site. It wouldn't surprise me if they kill off most of the Kindle and the Sony e-reader, because people like magic more than they like epaper. And when the app developers start releasing their creations, they may kill off industry after industry, because now the hardware’s available, most data you’ll ever need is available, and so the only thing you need to make a clever and elegant program is a clever graphic designer. It’s easy to look at the iPad sceptically and say that it’s not doing anything truly new. It’s based on the iPhone and the Macbook. It’s all been done before. Yes, but it’s never been done so magically before. And it’s doing it all at once. It’s like saying Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band wasn’t anything new because it was all pioneered before. But it did it all at once. And I suppose something like Sgt. Pepper is at the heart of the matter: it was still just a circular piece of vinyl with grooves and required a needle (or a CD and laser, or whatever). It was the music that made it revolutionary. Just like the software on an Apple device. A few months ago, the American mobile company Verizon launched an advert for the new Android phone. That ad compared their phone to the iPhone, with a lot of “iDon’t”s. iDon’t have 5 megapixels. iDon’t have multitasking. Item after item of flaws in the iPhone that their new technology remedies. Apple, meanwhile, showed a phone that could speak foreign languages, identify birdcalls in the wilderness, store ebooks and let you read them on the screen, download Jamie Oliver videos and give you a shopping list, show you houses for sale within yards of where you are at the time, guide you through cities, even show you how to apply first aid to a broken arm. They weren’t selling technical features. They were selling you magic. Real magic. The kind of magic where, thanks to world-class designers and programmers, it actually comes true. Other companies are selling computers. Apple’s selling magic. I know which I’d rather have.
Most of the credit for the genesis of this article must go to Rory Marinich, one of whose blogposts inspired it. I haven't been able to contact him to request permission for the material of his I have used, for which I apologise, and I hope he will forgive me.