Well bless my soul and whiskers. This is the first time I’ve joined the congregation at the Church of Apple for a new product launch. I’ve watched all the past ones, downloaded the Quicktime movies and marvelled as Apple’s leader has stood before an ovating faithful and announced the switch to Intel, the birth of iPod, the miniMac, the iTunes Store, OS X, iPhoto, the swan’s neck iMac, the Shuffle, Apple retail stores, the iPhone, the titanium powerbook, Garageband, the App Store and so much more. But today I finally made it. I came to San Francisco for the launch of the iPad. Oh, happy man.

Today had special resonance. In front of his family, friends and close colleagues stood the man who founded Apple, was fired from Apple and came back to lead Apple to a greatness, reach and influence that no one on earth imagined. But a year ago, it is now clear, there was a very strong possibility that Steve Jobs would not live to see 2010 and the birth of his newest baby.

With revenues of 15.6 billion Apple is now the largest mobile device company in the world, Jobs told the subdued but excited six hundred packed into the Yerba Buena Cultural Center for the Arts Theatre this morning. A few more triumphant housekeeping notes followed and then we were into the meat of it. Well, the whole event is available to be watched online, you don’t need me to describe it. He picked up an iPad and walked us through. Afterwards I was allowed to play with one myself.

Journos getting all excited in the test-one-out room.

I know there will be many who have already taken one look and pronounced it to be nothing but a large iPhone and something of a disappointment. I have heard these voices before. In June 2007 when the iPhone was launched I collected a long list of “not impressed”, “meh”, “big deal”, “style over substance”, “it’s all hype”, “my HTC TyTN can do more”, “what a disappointment”, “majorly underwhelmed” and similar reactions. They can hug to themselves the excuse that the first release of iPhone was 2G, closed to developers and without GPS, cut and paste and many other features that have since been incorporated. Neither they, nor I, nor anyone, predicted the “game-changing” effect the phone would so rapidly have as it evolved into a 3G, third-party app rich, compass and GPS enabled market leader. Even if it had proved a commercial and business disaster instead of an astounding success, iPhone would remain the most significant release of its generation because of its effect on the smartphone habitat. Does anybody seriously believe that Android, Nokia, Samsung, Palm, BlackBerry and a dozen others would since have produced the product line they have without the 100,000 volt taser shot up the jacksie that the iPhone delivered to the entire market?

Nonetheless, even if they couldn’t see that THREE BILLION apps would be downloaded in 2 years (that’s half a million app downloads a day, give or take ) could they not see that this device was gorgeous, beautifully made, very powerful and capable of development into something extraordinary? I see those qualities in the iPad. Like the first iPhone, iPad 1.0 is a John the Baptist preparing the way of what is to come, but also like iPhone 1.0 (and Jokanaan himself too come to that) iPad 1.0 is still fantastic enough in its own right to be classed as a stunningly exciting object, one that you will want NOW and one that will not be matched this year by any company. In the future, when it has two cameras for fully featured video conferencing, GPS and who knows what else built in (1080 HD TV reception and recording and nano projection, for example) and when the iBook store has recorded its 100 millionth download and the thousands of accessories and peripherals that have invented uses for iPad that we simply can’t now imagine – when that has happened it will all have seemed so natural and inevitable that today’s nay-sayers and sceptics will have forgotten that they ever doubted its potential.

“What can I do with it that I can’t do with a laptop or an iPhone?” they might now be objecting. “Too big for my pocket, not big enough for serious use. Don’t see the need. It’s a solution looking for a problem.”

There are many issues you could have with the iPad. No multitasking, still no Flash. No camera, no GPS. They all fall away the minute you use it. I cannot emphasise enough this point: “Hold your judgment until you’ve spent five minutes with it”. No YouTube film, no promotional video, no keynote address, no list of features can even hint at the extraordinary feeling you get from actually using and interacting with one of these magical objects. You know how everyone who has ever done Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? always says, “It’s not the same when you’re actually here. So different from when you’re sitting at home watching.”? You know how often you’ve heard that? Well, you’ll hear the same from anyone who’s handled an iPad. The moment you experience it in your hands you know this is class. This is a different order of experience. The speed, the responsiveness, the smooth glide of it, the richness and detail of the display, the heft in your hand, the rightness of the actions and gestures that you employ, untutored and instinctively, it’s not just a scaled up iPhone or a scaled-down multitouch enhanced laptop – it is a whole new kind of device. And it will change so much. Newspapers, magazines, literature, academic text books, brochures, fliers and pamphlets are going to be transformed (poor Kindle). Specific dedicated apps and enhancements will amaze us. You will see characters in movies use the iPad. Jack Bauer will want to return for another season of 24 just so he can download schematics and track vehicles on it. Bond will have one. Jason Bourne will have one. Some character, in a Tron like way, might even be trapped in one.

There’s much to like of course. The physical beauty and classy build quality, as in anything designed by Jonathan Ive. The shockingly low price — $499 for the basic model. The contract-free, unlocked nature of the 3G version. But there are two chief reasons for its guaranteed success.

1. It is SO SIMPLE. It is basically a highly responsive capacitative piece of glass with solid state memory and an IPS display. Just as a book is basically paper bound together in a portable form factor. The simplicity is what allows everyone, us, software developers, content providers and accessory manufacturers to pour themselves into it, to remake it according to the limits of their imagination. I’ll stop before I get too Disney.

2. It is made by Apple. I’m not being cute here. If it was made by Hewlett Packard, they wouldn’t have global control over the OS or the online retail outlets. If it was made by Google, they would have tendered out the hardware manufacture to HTC. Apple — and it is one of the reasons some people distrust or dislike them — control it all. They’ve designed the silicon, the A4 chip that runs it all, they’ve designed the batteries, they’ve overseen every detail of the commercial, technological, design and software elements. No other company on earth does that. And being Apple it hasn’t been released without (you can be sure) Steve Jobs being wholly convinced that it was ready. “Not good enough, start again. Not good enough. Not good enough. Not good enough.” How many other CEOs say until their employees want to murder them? That’s the difference.

Slightly annoying that the iPhone autocorrects iPad into upas – which is a kind of poison mulberry I believe… you can bet that omission in the iPhone’s glossary will change with the upcoming release of iPhone OS 4.0.

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I have always thought Hans Christian Andersen should have written a companion piece to the Emperor’s New Clothes, in which everyone points at the Emperor shouting, in a Nelson from the Simpson’s voice, “Ha ha! He’s naked.” And then a lone child pipes up, ‘No. He’s actually wearing a really fine suit of clothes.” And they all clap hands to their foreheads as they realise they have been duped into something worse than the confidence trick, they have fallen for what E. M. Forster called the lack of confidence trick. How much easier it is to distrust, to doubt, to fold the arms and say “Not impressed”. I’m not advocating dumb gullibility, but it is has always amused me that those who instinctively dislike Apple for being apparently cool, trendy, design fixated and so on are the ones who are actually so damned cool and so damned sensitive to stylistic nuance that they can’t bear to celebrate or recognise obvious class, beauty and desire. The fact is that Apple users like me are the uncoolest people on earth: we salivate, dribble, coo, sigh, grin and bubble with delight.

No, I don’t have shares in Apple. I came so close to buying some as an act of defensive defiance in the early 90s when every industry insider and expert in the field agreed that Apple had six months to go before going bust. But I didn’t. If I had done I could now afford to buy you all an iPad. Yes, I do like and have tried to champion OpenSource software. How can I square that with my love of Apple? I’m complicated. I’m a human being. I also believe in a mixed economy and mixed nuts. I love our National Health Service and the National Theatre, but I also love Fortnum and Mason’s and Hollywood movies. “Apple,” Steve Jobs said, “stands at the intersection of Technology and the Liberal Arts.” This statement confused non-Americans who are not familiar with the phrase Liberal Arts (you can look it up here) but I think shows the fundamental cultural seriousness of Jobs and Apple which in turn explains their huge success and impact. He might perhaps more accurately have said that Apple stands at the intersection of Technology, the Liberal Arts and Commerce.”

You may or may not be in the queue for an iPad in March, April, May or June. Or you may decide to stay your hand for version 2.0 or 3.0. But believe me the iPad is here to stay and nothing will be quite the same again. You should know, however that plenty of industry commentators disagree with me. They have pronounced themselves less enthralled. It is perfectly possible I will be proved wrong about its enduring, game-changing place in the landscape and that people will gleefully rub my nose in this blog in two year’s time. I’m certainly not wrong about how soul-scorchingly beautiful it is to use though. And that, for me, is enough.

GoogleBless

Dear old Google. Sounds silly to feel sorry for them. But their text transcription service has a long way to go. I was asked to do a Skype interview for the BBC’s Newsnight programme today and I gave the producers my Google Voice number. This Google service isn’t available outside the US, but is basically a phone number that you can use as one number that directs itself to all your phones. It will call your handsets, whether landline or cell, send SMS texts and voicemail to accounts and so on.

Anyway, one of the Newsnight people left this message on my phone:

Hi, Stephen, it’s Natasha from BBC Newsnight in London. Just to say I’ve sent you two texts. One is to say that we could do it at eleven am your time after the launch, or any time sooner after the launch, or we could do it at midday as we suggested earlier. I, er, if you could text me back about that, and I’ve sent you the details of Skype that you need to do too. If you could give me a call back. Enjoy the launch and I’ll speak to you after that. Thank you Bye.

I’ve transcribed it from the voicemail sound file that resides online on my inbox on the Google Voice site. All fine. I have also ticked the option for Google Voice to send me a text transcript of any voicemail. Below is their interpretation of Natasha’s message… it’s rather endearing how hopelessly wrong the largest company on earth gets it.

Hi Stephen. It’s Jeff from BBC needs in nuns. And just to say I sent 80 tax, one, if to say we could do it. I left in i a m your time off to go into any time soon, or the court and full we could grab me today as we suggested at. A. F. I. If you could text me back byebye. I’ve sent you the details of skylights that you need to 3 T if you could give me a call. Bye. Enjoy the loans. I’ll speak to you after that. Thank you. Bye.

Bless

Stephen_small

Producer note: All comments both negative or positive are welcome but please bear in mind that if a comment is abusive, contains swearing designed to offend, is deliberately aimed at upsetting others or is troll-like, I will delete it. Stephen Fry visited the Apple event as a private individual and was not paid. Best wishes, Andrew Sampson

Comments are now closed to this blog. Best wishes, Andrew Sampson

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