Word came today that NPR and the WSJ are going to be releasing iPad-specific versions of their site. Many are pointing to this and other similar moves as a sign that the iPad will be a colossal hit (despite lackluster public reception, a lack of understanding what the device actually is, and surprisingly low preorder numbers. And nobody actually needing the thing). A lot of pundits are lookng at this as good news, as something something something about how Apple has definitely struck gold this time, despite the fact that most consumers don’t care about the iPad.
Companies seem to be making a push to iPad not because it’s great, but because they don’t want to risk being left behind. Nobody wants to be late to the party, and these fast-moving businesses think that they can jump on the iPad wagon as a way to make up for and erase the mistakes of their past, ie doing their best to ignore the online space for the better part of a decade. It reeks of desperation, rather than the genuine support they’re trying to paint it as.
Companies are so terrified of making the wrong choice that they’re making the hipster cool kid choice. And that’s just stupid.
This situation reminds me of Star Trek: after the cancelled the first series and the eventual rise of the defunct show into the cultural mainstream, it was like network executives all over the world said “Never again,” because they didn’t want to risk making the wrong decision about any of the movies or tv shows — and, really, Star Trek nerds who feel like they’ve been wronged are pretty insufferable — and it took Nemesis and Enterprise to kill the franchise. That’s a whole lot of crap to get these execs feeling comfortable enough to say no to something.
This situation also reminds me of the reason why Sean Connery appeared in the execrable League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: it turns out that Connery was offered the role of Morpheus in the Matrix and that he turned it down because he didn’t understand the movie, but it turned into this huge cultural phenomenon. Fast forward to The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which Connery also didn’t understand. Why did he accept that role? Because the last time he didn’t understand a role he was offered it became a huge thing, and he didn’t want to look stupid again.
And so we get back to all the people jumping enthusiastically onto the iPad bandwagon. Do they understand the device? No. Do they assume that because they didn’t understand the last big thing that they should support it anyway? Apparently, yes.
Basically the people who are supporting the iPad are doing so because they’re afraid of looking stupid again, not because they love the device or even understand it: it’s a mix of greed, stupidity and fear, and those are really great barometers to run a business by, aren’t they?