Apple iPad hysteria strikes America

Can a device possibly be as 'life changing' as Apple's new Wonder Tablet? Only if you swallow all the media hype

You'd think they'd discovered a cure for cancer or a way to get supermarket tabloids to talk about something other than Sandra Bullock.

But no. That media frenzy is all about the Apple iPad, a single device that -- judging simply by the feverish coverage -- will change life as we know it.

[ How does the iPad stack up now that it is real? Find out in Paul Venezia's first look review of the iPad. | Take InfoWorld's tour of alternative iPhone app SDKs. ]

Apple says it moved some 300,000 iPads on its first day, or about one for every glowing review or hyperventilating preview on the Web. Normally cranky journalists like AllThingsD's Walter Mossberg were gushing like school girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

Per Mossberg (the non-puppet version):

I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop. It could even help, eventually, to propel the finger-driven, multitouch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades.

The puppet version of Mossberg gives us an even more enthusiastic take on the iPad. I think I prefer the felt-covered Walt -- more cheerful, less like Billy Goat Gruff.

Wired's Steve Levy called it "One small step for tablets, one giant leap for personal computers" and managed to work in comparisons to Lady Gaga, hula hoops, the Beatles, and birth control pills. (He was talking about the media excitement enveloping the iPad, not the thing itself -- I think.)

Can a one-and-a-half-pound slab possibly live up to this massive hype? From my first bit of exposure, the answer is almost -- and that's pretty great. ... There's something about the size and interface that engages you almost primally in reading, viewing video, web browsing, playing Scrabble and other activities. The iPad points to a Third Way -- sitting in between the phone and the laptop -- of interacting with information.

I see a series of seminars and groovy Esalen retreats titled "Apple iPad: The Third Way." If Levy is smart, he'll TM that sucker ASAP.

Meanwhile, SF Weekly has photos of a Steve Jobs siting at the Palo Alto Apple Store. I'm not convinced it's really him; it might just be some clever Photoshop work. For one thing, no one's looking at Jobs or talking to him. And His feet are clearly on the ground; we all know that whenever Jobs leaves the Apple campus, He is borne aloft by angels.

To the horror of Apple fanboys around the globe, PC World's Tim Moynihan and Steve Fox had the temerity to buy an iPad and abuse it, just for fun, on camera. They dropped it, dumped a Plenta of Starbucks coffee on it, washed it in a sink, scratched it with keys, and performed the Homer Simpson donut-as-stylus test (it passed). Their conclusions: The iPad isn't nearly as sturdy as the iPhone; you'll want to buy a protective cover and avoid giving it a bath.

Of course, the backlash has already begun. Early adopters are complaining about weak Wi-Fi reception and USB chargers that don't actually charge. The goofballs at eSarcasm lists eight apps the iPad still needs (though I'm not convinced a ghostly apparition of Jesus on your iPad screen qualifies as "necessary").

InfoWorld's Galen Gruman compares the iPad to four other iPad killers, three of them still composed entirely of vapor, and the fourth being the JooJoo tablet (which may actually be less than vapor). Amazingly, he's even more cynical about Web tablets than I am.

By all accounts, the iPad's opening weekend was a smashing success. But what about next weekend and the week after that? We know 300,00 people wanted an iPad bad enough to show up on Day One. The question is whether anyone else wants one. Per a survey by Piper Jaffray, roughly three-quarters of iPad buyers were already Apple acolytes. Saint Steven is clearly preaching to the converted.

Still, you gotta admire Apple's ability to whip us all into a frenzy. They say jump, and the media asks whether it's OK to do it where they're standing or if they need to climb to the top of a building first. Now that the hype has subsided and people are using the dingus, we'll finally see how truly life changing it is. My hunch: less than you think.

Have you bought your iPad yet? Are you going to? Why or why not? Weigh in below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Apple iPad hysteria strikes America," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog.

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