Image: Brijesh Patel
August 17 2010
The seismic effect of a new Apple device is always a wonder to behold – not so much because of any particular technical innovation, but rather because of the broader cultural impact. I have already used these (virtual) pages to air my feelings about the “app-for-everything” mentality; nevertheless the remarkable hold that Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ives have over the popular imagination never ceases to astonish.
I am on my annual summer holiday in Marbella, by which I mean that I take a few hours off in the afternoon to go the beach where I see ever more people glued to their iPads and hugging them close to their swimwear-clad forms, much as refugees clutch their cliché of a pathetic bundle of belongings. I have yet to see someone swimming with an iPad, but I am sure that I will be vouchsafed this sight before the month is out.
The Apple device (it doesn’t really matter which one) is the lens through which an increasing number of people experience the world: not unlike a Grand Tourist keeping an empty picture frame to hold up against a particularly scenic ruin or landscape in order to be able to appreciate it fully; or those 18th-century students of picturesque who used so-called Claude glasses, a contraption named after the 17th-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain, and roughly the size of an iPad with a tinted convex mirror, to give any landscape an instant Claude-like makeover.
There is a section of society which refuses to countenance the existence of anything unless there is an app or a suitable Apple device for it. In fact I can quite imagine the end of the world being postponed until such time as the good people at Apple have created the appropriate fashionable device and concomitant apps enabling the creative classes to be hurled into eternity.
But for the moment there is enough work to do in the here and now. As well as the primary business of coming up with Apple devices that do more or less the same as other devices (just in a much sleeker and more desirable way), and the secondary business of app-generation, there is the tertiary business of luxury accessory creation. I may be exaggerating ever so slightly, but within half an hour of the release of the first iPad, I was receiving urgent communiqués from most major luxury goods houses and leatherworkers touting le dernier cri in stone-washed crocodile-skin satchels, fold-out titanium stands, zip-up pochettes, Velcro-fastened neoprene sports covers, hand-woven vicuna polishing cloths and sundry other knick-knacks to cosset your precious piece of trophy technology.
The thing is that while part of me sees how silly it all is, another part of me buys into it. An Apple device is part of the pantomime of modern urban life. Rather like not carrying a mobile phone or not using email, not owning some sort of Apple device is almost a conscious affectation. We are near that tipping point where to be taken seriously in some situations it is necessary to whip out a piece of Apple technology, rather than go through laborious explanations of how you might find the keyboard on a BlackBerry easier to handle, or how you are so used to Windows that it would be difficult to change. A friend of mine came up with the wonderful solution of having an Apple computer to take to meetings, which had been configured so as to run Windows.
Of course, as some clever dick in the United States has calculated, if, instead of buying every first-generation Apple device that came along, one had used the same amount of money to purchase Apple stock, one could have retired to a palm-fringed island paradise (presumably one where the beaches will be packed with iPad-toting tourists).