A beautiful thing I do not need

The appar­ent­ly long-await­ed day has at last dawned and set. Apple has at last revealed the lat­est thing that no one knew they need­ed, but now they all do. Will any­one’s income tax refund be safe? After a decade of smol­der­ing antic­i­pa­tion of this “mag­i­cal and rev­o­lu­tion­ary device” as it is so sub­tly described, what can the pub­lic pos­si­bly do by way of an ade­quate response?

It was my eldest sis­ter who put it per­fect­ly: “I was ini­tial­ly unim­pressed, and then [my hus­band] con­vinced me that I want one.”

See, that is pre­cise­ly what I am unset­tled by. This is not a solu­tion to a prob­lem I knew I had.

For a prop­er anal­o­gy, allow me to go on a bit about Mole­sk­ine note­books. After a young life­time of scrib­bling in a wide vari­ety of lit­tle note­books, I dis­cov­ered the icon­ic black-bound jour­nal in its handy pock­et size. I loved it, but wished it was a lit­tle big­ger. It was­n’t long before I found that they also came in the rough­ly 5“x8” size, and I was delight­ed. I would nev­er need any note­books but these, ever again. I mean, unless they came in a larg­er, com­po­si­tion-book size…

Well, the paper-cov­er Cahi­er series came along, which includ­ed a comp-sized ver­sion. I loved the size, but wished that it came with the more durable flex-cov­er of the dis­con­tin­ued Volant series. And after a year or three, they brought the Volant back, and added a new comp-book ver­sion to the line. Sweet: but would­n’t it be just total­ly awe­some if it had the hard-cov­er of the clas­sic Mole­sk­ine? Would­n’t you know it: last year saw the debut of the out­size A4 and A3 hard­cov­er note­books, which I have yet to be able to afford.

So yes, I am an über-Mole­sk­ine geek. But my point is this: here was a prod­uct that I loved to use, that played a sig­nif­i­cant func­tion­al rôle in my dai­ly life. Even though I loved it as it was, I could also con­tin­u­al­ly think of ways in which I would like to see it bet­tered, ways which appar­ent­ly oth­ers also imag­ined. Each of those incre­ments in prod­uct vari­a­tion fell neat­ly into a desire I already knew I had. The iPad, for me, fills no such rôle. (It may for some, but I can’t speak for you.) It is unques­tion­ably an impres­sive machine, beau­ti­ful and appeal­ing. But is it some­thing I was wish­ing for? Not in any way. Now, every time I use my (still ser­vice­able) six-year-old iBook I think of how sweet it would be to have a new alu­mini­um Mac­Book Pro perched on my lap instead. That thought rep­re­sents a clear, dis­cernible step toward improv­ing a need I am already meet­ing in an observ­ably less-splen­did way. I am out in the field with a well-craft­ed tool that I know how to wield; I just wish I had a sharp­er mod­el, with a bet­ter handle.

Of course, that is the mag­ic that Apple has so long had mas­tered: unveil­ing an inge­nious (and expen­sive) new prod­uct with so much appeal that peo­ple fall over them­selves to bring it into their lives. And they are, with rare excep­tions, tremen­dous prod­ucts, even if we did­n’t know we need­ed them until we were told we did. I can say per­son­al­ly that, up until the end of this past sum­mer, I had no inkling that I need­ed a dig­i­tal music play­er that I could fit up my nose. Yet now I would­n’t dream of leav­ing the house with­out my 3rd gen­er­a­tion iPod Shuf­fle (though I usu­al­ly have it clipped inside a pock­et rather than a nos­tril). And I won’t lie to you: if Steve Jobs dropped by tomor­row and hand­ed me a gratis iPad, I am sure I would love it. But I would have to learn how to first.

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