Monday 12 April 2010
Tim Walker: Two of the top web virals at the moment feature the iPad being destroyed
The Couch Surfer: The poor little thing didn’t stand a chance. A million people watched it being turned into gravel
When the iPad was released in the US on 3 April, you might have expected the viral video charts to fill up with so-called "unboxing" clips, in which grinning early adopters would paw eagerly at Apple's delicious packaging before they unsheathed their brand-new tablet computers.
Instead, two of the top virals on the web over the past week featured iPads being comprehensively destroyed. One of these was blender manufacturer BlendTec's "Will it Blend?" video, in which the firm's founder Tom Dickson tests his Total Blender on the device. The iPad loses, naturally. (A recurring feature of the company's marketing campaign, the "Will it Blend?" test has previously been inflicted on an iPhone, an Olympus camera, and a Ford Fiesta – well, bits of one, anyway.)
The second clip was somewhat lo-fi in comparison. A group of what appeared to be 19-year-olds from Pittsburgh bought an iPad ($499, plus sales tax). They took it out into the shopping mall's car park, where they summarily executed it with a baseball bat. The poor little thing didn't stand a chance. Around a million people watched it being reduced to gravel before the week was out.
Why, you may well ask, did they decide that the iPad deserved such treatment? Was it their primal response to the monumental hype surrounding such a superfluous gadget? Or were they outraged at Apple's closed platform, which gives the company complete control over every song, movie or app on your machine – and the power to take them away on a whim if you try to tinker? Actually, they prob-ably just enjoy breaking stuff and being famous on YouTube.
I got my hands on an iPad for a while last week and must say my instinct was to stroke it, not smoke it. One of the machine's few unfortunate flaws is that, having stroked it for a while, you'll find the screen covered in greasy finger marks. According to Bruce Fair, VP of Kelkoo.co.uk – whose device I was grubbying up – a protective sheath will set you back another £20. And unless you're prepared to fork out an extra £85 or so for a 3G model (as well as the monthly connection fee), you'll have to find a Wi-Fi zone before you can go online: better load up some decent movies before that long train ride, because you sure won't be checking any emails. One would hope that iPhone 3G users might be able to haggle a combo-deal with their mobile network, but no such plan has been forthcoming in the US.
Meanwhile, as silky and swift as surfing the web on an iPad may be, many sites won't work because they use the popular Adobe Flash software, to which Steve Jobs' company has an unhealthy aversion. Thus, instead of Flash videos and clever interactive widgets dancing across your beloved tablet's screen, you'll find yourself staring at a blank space with a little blue Lego "Fail" block in the middle of it. (YouTube, at least, has upgraded its software to meet the iPad's specifications.)
You wouldn't want to try writing your novel on the keyboard, but then it's perfectly adequate for emails and blog posts. And that's the point: the iPad isn't designed to do all those things computers were for before the internet, like documents and spreadsheets. It's for everything you started doing on your laptop over the past decade: watching TV or movies, interacting with friends, listening to music, reading magazines and buying stuff. For creating, it's a dud; for consuming, it's near-perfect.
Furthermore, far from being a toy solely for the early-adopting geek, it's a machine your grandmother or your grandchild could get to grips with in a matter of minutes. Thanks to Apple's controversially closed operating system, you can only download applications from a single source. The machine operates just one app at a time, so there are no multiple windows to confuse you. And the interface is more intuitive than any other machine I know – if you like the look of something, just give it a poke.
The iPad's UK launch is expected some time next month, and presumably the operational creases will be ironed out, a 3G combo-deal finalised with the mobile networks, and the price tag a tad reduced by the time a second generation arrives on the market (Christmas 2011, Mum?). At which point I'll pay for one, as more than 300,000 people did on the day of its release.
But you don't need it, people will say. Well, what do I need? Food, water, oxygen. Technically, I don't need my laptop, or my CD collection. Or books, or shoes, or soap. But I want them.
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