There’s always been a hype-cycle, particularly with products from Apple, but something I’ve noticed recently is how the hype-cycle has changed into a world of fantasy.
The two best examples of this lately are the Google Nexus One and (apparently forthcoming) Apple Tablet. You see a simple pattern: In blog posts and forums the hype gets whipped up… and up… and up. More than hype, though, the rumoured product becomes a method of wish-fulfilment for writers and commentors, to the point where – upon real announcement – there is a massive sense of disappointment.
Take the Nexus One. First came the rumours of the hardware, which were at least based in the fact that Google had given some employees some advanced phones. The hardware was hyped up – it was going to be the fastest, greatest Android hardware ever seen. Next the software was hyped up: it would be released with the most advanced, most amazing version of Android.
Then more and more wishes got attached to the product, as if they were really part of the plan. The phone would be as low as $100, subsidised by Google because it could then sell more ads. And that would be without a carrier – Google would introduce unlimited data, no-voice plans for $20 per month. It would use Google Voice for communications, and you could use it on any network, anywhere.
The rumours piled on thick and fast. Someone on a forum would say “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and within a day or two you’d see this repeated as an “I heard a rumour that…” type of post.
Of course, it was all too good to be true. And while my post was wrong on the core point that Google would release an “own brand” phone, all the arguments I made were correct. There was no special plan, no subsidised price, no carrier-less phone, no souped-up version of Android. The Nexus One is just another Android phone. Not a bad one, to be sure: but just another phone, with just another plan.
Surprise, surprise: the reaction was massive disappointment. A lot of “GOOGLE YOU SUCK!” Even some comments that Google had conducted some kind of “bait and switch“. And, of course, the usual hypesters trying desperately to justify their earlier breathless claims that the Nexus One would change everything.
The same thing has been happening with the purported Apple Tablet, only there’s been a lot longer for people to attach wishes to the machine. Publishers, for example, at looking to this mythical beast to save them from the free publishing model of the web. It’s going to run OS X apps. Or maybe be a bigger iPhone. It’s unicorns and fairies and the tricorder – all in one. It will change computing, change your life, amaze you… and be the biggest thing since Jesus.
You can see how much wish fulfilment there is attached to the Tablet when someone dares to suggest that maybe (just maybe) it might not be all things to all men – that it might, in fact, be a niche product that really only a few people need. My friend Joe Wilcox, for example, had the temerity to claim that tablets as a whole are niche products, and that there was little that Apple could realistically create that would change this.
Cue hysteria from TechCrunch, which has invested almost as much time and energy whipping up fantasies about the Apple Tablet as they did about the Nexus One. Cue general tutting from publishers (who really, really want a tablet). Cue lots and lots of True Believers – who all want a world-changer from Apple, but who rarely all want the same thing – piling on and claiming that Joe just doesn’t get it.
All Joe has done, really, is point out that the tablet form itself faces some serious technological and ergonomic challenges if it is to ever break out of a niche. Can Apple meet and beat those challenges? I hope they do. But Tablets are not an established product area in the same way that phones or MP3 players are, so they’ll need to break a lot of ground to make it work.
But that doesn’t matter when a product rumour gets to the point of the Tablet, a point where it has had attached to it so many wishes and dreams that it’s impossible to meet all those dreams.
Of course, like everyone else, I have an idea of the Tablet that I’d like Apple to produce. Slim, light, capable of touch and also pen input (got to be able to draw and write notes on it). But like everyone else, I’m just indulging in wish-fulfilment. The problem with tech writing these days is that all too often, those writing write from a perspective of wish fulfilment rather than hard information. And that’s sad.
(UPDATE: As if to make one of my points, Joe has published a post listing some responses to his request for comments on what people want from an Apple Tablet. The answer is “pretty much everything”. And, with the exceptions of browsing and e-book reading, pretty much no one wants the same thing)
(Image by Photo Giddy)