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  • Reviewing Products They’ve Never Used

    March 9th, 2010

    It’s nothing new. When the iPod first came out, bloggers and so-called tech pundits were busy complaining about the features it didn’t have, such as a built-in radio, or perhaps a working kitchen sink. None of that hurt actual sales of the product, of course, since it became a runaway best-seller and sales only began to flatten and dip over the past year after the market matured and smartphones began to take over.

    Apple gave the naysayers six months to complain about the iPhone’s notable lapses. That was the period between the product launch and original shipping date. Even though it sold more than anyone expected, the initial lack of a proper method to build apps for the gadget, aside from Web-based ones of course, had to be the killer shortcoming. The lack of cut, copy and paste and multitasking played second fiddle.

    A year later, the App Store was unveiled.

    In less than two years, the App Store has been an amazing success. Before loads of apps were pulled for reasons that may or may not make sense, the roster was 140,000 strong, and over three billion copies have been downloaded according to Apple’s most recent figures, released several weeks ago. It’s probably moving towards four billion now.

    We just know that multitasking must be important, since so many people complain about it, except for most of the owners of the product who just want things to work properly. They don’t care about the underlying technology.

    Apple’s approach is best summarized in a recent analysis of the Google Nexus One from Macworld’s Jason Snell. Predictably Jason found some of the features of the Nexus One work better than the iPhone, but on the whole, the iPhone is the better product for regular people. Those more technically inclined who lust after extensive — if difficult — customization choices, might prefer the Nexus One, in the same way that they might prefer Windows to the Mac.

    As you know, from Day One, Apple presented the Macintosh as “the computer for the rest of us.” So the appliance-like nature of the iPhone and other Apple product initiatives was always predictable. That is Apple’s vision. For better or worse, at least they have a vision.

    The complaints have begun anew with the iPad. Understand that only a small number of reporters have actually touched one, and then for only a brief time at the end of Apple’s media event in which the iPad was introduced. While it’s a sure thing certain prestigious members of the media have them on hand now for long-term testing, the rest of us will have to wait until sometime after April 3rd to get ahold of one.

    That hasn’t stopped some from suggesting that the iPad is pathetically underpowered and lacks significant features that are absolutely destined to make it an abject failure. A few even claimed it was grossly overpriced, even though the cost spectrum was actually far less than most media analysts predicted. In fact, it’s only slightly more expensive than many netbooks, which means that loads of potential customers for those tiny, stripped PC note-books are ripe for the picking.

    Once again, the vast majority of these complaints are purely academic. They’ve surely read the specs, and I hope they’ve read some of the articles from people who actually handled an iPad for a few minutes. But they’ve never touched one even for a second. How do they presume to understand the look and feel without a hands-on encounter?

    I don’t think I’m that smart, and I doubt they are either.

    Now I should say that I remain highly skeptical as to whether I’m going to buy an iPad. It’s not just the question of finances, but whether I actually have a need for one, beyond just being able to deliver accurate commentaries on the subject.

    But I will say this: I was also skeptical about ever needing an iPhone. I had been using a simple Motorola RAZR when I got a review sample from Apple. After the two-week evaluation period, I asked Apple for an extension because of a software upgrade. That was mostly an excuse, because I soon realized the iPhone had become absolutely indispensable to my lifestyle and working life.

    In fact, on the day that I returned that iPhone to Apple I went to the nearest AT&T factory store and bought one for myself. I don’t think many of you would disagree with me when I say that Apple understands how to build products that become cultural icons, easily embraced by people with many skill sets.

    When the iPad is released, I will go over to the local Apple Store, a 10-minute drive from here. I will spend as much face time with one that I can get and then decide whether it is something that I need to have.

    I am not going to prejudge my decision. There are lots of pros and cons that I need not explain, since they are obvious to anyone who already has an iPhone and at least a couple of Macs around.

    It’s a sure thing, though, that a sufficiently inflammatory anti-Apple article is certain to generate enough click-throughs to make the effort worth it for online publishers who allow facts to play second fiddle to fear, uncertainty and doubt.



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