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Making Sense of iPad Frenzy

Jean-Louis Gassée is a Silicon Valley veteran who currently is general partner for the venture capital firm Allegis Capital in Palo Alto..

The frenzy surrounding Apple's new product, the iPad, could give a new life to the old pickup line ("Wanna see my Japanese etchings - on my iPad?") I just got mine. The thing is an equal opportunity guy and chick magnet. Better than the proverbial (and fake) Ferrari car keys negligently dropped on the counter in a bar. Here, with the iPad, you can forget to take your bicycle pant clips off, the magnet will still work.

Seriously, I've never seen such excitement since I've been in the high-tech business (42 years). Not the Macintosh intro and its justifiably historic "1984" commercial, not the iPhone launch in January 2007. The fact that I'm only citing two Apple events already signals how Apple - and I actually mean Steve Jobs - have been able to engineer launches as well as (sourpusses will say better than) its products.

Before we proceed, let's deal with the product review. I want to use the iPad for a couple of weeks, just to see how the initial reaction evolves, how the dust and the bugs settle down, how the iPad feels at work, at home and on the road. (I'll take mine to Europe in a week.) In the meantime, here are a few reviews by recognized experts:

Starting with a negative one by Cory Doctorow, this science-fiction writer and Open Source, anti-DRM advocate, offers a useful counterpoint to the overriding enthusiasm.

David Pogue gives us a friendly tongue-in-cheek, his usual tone, walk through the pros and cons, here.

The Wall Street Journal's high-tech guru, Walt Mossberg, gives it a pretty good pat on the pad, calling it a game changer, here.

At Wired, Steven Levy (ex-Newsweek) explains: Apple's iPad is "One Small Step for Tablets, One Giant Leap for Personal Computers", including a tip of the hat to a just deceased PC pioneer, Ed Roberts, here.

An enthusiastic BoingBoing piece by Xeni Jardin, here.

Lastly, Dan Lyons (the Fake Steve Jobs-author-turned-Newsweek columnist (after Steven Levy left) switches his opinion. He panned the iPad at the January 27th event but graciously changes his mind in a piece titled "Think Really Different", here.

And, many, many more (Google gives 74 million hits for "iPad review"), mostly positive. To quote Levy, tThe iPad is like the Beatles of 2010, it takes something that we thought we knew and makes it seem fresh." But can the iPad live up to such an endorsement?

The launch itself made Red Army precision marching drills look like a drunken Spring Break outing. Consider the synchronization: all the Big Media reviews came out the evening of Wednesday, March 31st, at exactly the same time. iPad App developers were under strict embargo orders, which they respected not to issue press releases before Launch Day. The order got rescinded and we had a deluge of on-line PR material starting Friday morning at 10:00 am.

Saturation bombing comes to mind when you see all TV channels, ABC, CBS, NBC…, news and comedy; all newspapers, from The NY Times to USA Today; magazines such as Time and Newsweek.

The iPad: Revolutionary or All Hype?
Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the iPad
iPad Preview
Reviewers Love the iPad, But Will You?
We have an iPad and that's no April Fool's
Tablet Computer Competition Heats Up

And, of course, the Apple fans themselves, lining up outside Apple stores the night before. (You'll find pictures taken at the Palo Alto Apple Store here. Scenes like this are all over the Web.)

But the most impressive and, for the long term, most important part is the iPad App Store. Two days before the official unveiling, there were a little less than 2000 apps, 1979 to be precise but irrelevant. You could flip through the App Store pages, 180 app per page. You could but, today, you can see recommendations, you can search but you can't see the whole set. This leaves us with guesses such as 3000 apps or more. The important part, here, is these are real iPad apps, not iPhone ones in compatibility mode. Fully mature and debugged, certainly not, but plenty, often good, and covering a lot of ground. In about two months, the intro took place January 27th, developers managed to either adapt existing apps to the iPad or to write new ones for games, e-reading of books and magazines, music, social networking… Going back to the two historic launches, the 1984 Mac and the 2007 iPhone, these two were born as infants. Here, with the iPad, the effort is to give birth, if not to an adult, at least to a well developed youngster.

At one level, this is an impossible task: bugs, missing features, rushed applications, this is a 1.0 version, if not 0.8 in some places. At another, mission accomplished, I know, these were imprudent words, let's just say masterful launch, then.

Now, with the iPad having climbed so fast and so high, the backlash begins. As the French like to say, the higher the monkey climbs the more we see his derrière. The early iPhone did well in spite of its shortcomings: no native apps, no cut-and-paste, no accented characters, no Flash, no multitasking. We're bound to see a flurry of updates from Apple and from third party developers, the routine is well-known. Less well understood is the iPad's real place in our usage, as Apple readily admits, it's an unchartered category.

Lastly, a suggestion to early adopters: don't do what I did. iTunes launched and started synchronizing music, videos and photos from my computer. With thousands of pictures, the iPad is great for those, the process takes hours during which you can't start using your iPad. Remember, one thing at at time (not totally true), if you go to another app, the sync process aborts. So, interrupt the importune sync, defer it to the next night, set up email accounts, download books, games, newspapers, magazines and movies first.

By Jean-Louis Gassée_
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