I’m neither an automatic Apple acolyte nor a naysayer, but the company and its technologies do go deep with me: my first computer, purchased back in 1980, was an Apple II+ with 48K of RAM, and between me and my wife, the household currently holds six or seven Apple devices, including multiple MacBooks and iPods. That I integrate these machines with a powerful PC that is my primary workstation and gaming platform does not dilute the importance of the role Apple has played in my life.
All that said, today’s announcement of the latest iPad strikes me as a letdown, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. A Retina display with four times the resolution of the current device is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m glad to see a better rear-facing camera. But the quantum leap in capability and, more importantly, a certain escalation of the brand are missing. I am the happy owner of an iPad 2, brought a year ago during a difficult time for Katie and me; March 2011 was a profoundly unhappy month, and I am not embarrassed to say that my iPad was one of the small comforts that got me through long nights at the hospital. Perhaps if I was going through something equivalently tragic now, I might again turn to a technological balm, but I doubt that the new iPad would do the trick. It’s a cautious, almost timid refinement of existing hardware, and I daresay that were Steve Jobs still around, Apple might have taken a bolder leap forward.
I was struck by one statement in the promotional video I watched: the assertion that in an ideal Apple-based technological experience, the mediating device disappears from consciousness, allowing you to concentrate on what you’re doing, rather than the thing you’re doing it with. True enough, I suppose — I’m not thinking about the keyboard on which I’m typing this blog entry, or the screen on which I’m reading my own words. But such analyses leave out the powerful effect of the brand that surrounds those moments of “flow.” The iPad, like so many Apple innovations, is a potent and almost magical object in terms of the self-identifications it provides, and in off-screen moments I am always highly conscious of being an iPad user. It’s a happy interpellation, one I accept enthusiastically, turning with eagerness toward the policeman’s call. It’s anything but a transparent experience, and the money I give Apple goes at least as much to support my own subjectification as to underwrite a particular set of technological and creative affordances. The new iPad lacks this aura, so for now, I’ll stick with what I have.