For years, Microsoft set the agenda for anything and everything related to personal computers. Linux tried, and largely failed, to make a dent in the Windows hegemony. Back then even Apple couldn't get past the infallible "But it's not like Windows!" argument.
In recent years Apple has created its own reality distortion field, similar to the one created by Microsoft, by virtue of a steady stream of winning, innovative products.
Sure, people still say "But it's not like Windows," but now they mean that as a reason to use Apple products, rather than to avoid them. This reasoning leads to a free pass on just about all Apple design decisions, some of which may not actually make sense.
Take, for example, the high praise Gartner analyst Mark McDonald gives to the iPad. He spends more than half his post talking about all the great things the iPad doesn't do, but assures us it's OK because it lets him read books, show presentations (?), and do things in 25- or 45-minute increments that would apparently be too bulky for a laptop or Netbook to handle, or too big for an iPhone to manage.
In other words, he bought into the iPad's utility and coolness in advance of using it and, now that he has it, he's looking for reasons to love it.
No doubt there are many reasons to love the iPad, but it's funny to watch its advocates struggle to explain why they need it, when in reality it fulfills wants, not needs. And that's OK: I don't have one yet, as I'm waiting for the 3G version, but I'm sure I'll end up getting one. I, too, will invent reasons why I must have it.
Ironically, those who argue that it's the perfect device for average consumers who don't want the complexity of a computer may tend to be the technology elite who are actually the ones buying it.
This isn't a critique of Apple, which has built yet another beautiful and likely useful device. It's rather a critique of the Apple fan club, of which I'm a member, that assumes genius in Apple's every decision, searching for reasons to love Apple's decisions even when they don't necessarily make sense (one-button mouse, anyone?).
It gets somewhat silly at times, to the extent that analysts rush to breathlessly project that all the world will follow Apple. Take this one, for example: Gartner is now projecting that more than 50 percent of PCs sold in 2015 used by children under 15 years old will feature touch screens.
Wow. I have four kids under the age of 15. I guess I'd better start saving to buy at least two of them touch-screen computers, because today all they get is my hand-me-down laptops. After all, Gartner speculates that "an entire generation will graduate within the next 10 to 15 years for whom touch input is totally natural."
Maybe. Or maybe, like voice input before it, touch will accentuate but not dominate the computing landscape.
The point is that we don't know, but with Apple, we seem willing to completely change our understanding of the market and its future because of one very cool device today. This seems premature and too lightly considered.
It might be that in the iPad Apple has created the final nail for Microsoft's coffin, as some argue, and that it has changed the PC market forever, but it's too soon to tell. It may be a bigger innovation in our minds than it is in the market.
But maybe that's all it takes to change the world.