Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, got a snicker from the audience during his company’s latest iPad unveiling by dredging up old predictions that the tablet would flop. Some people didn’t see a need for the device when it was first introduced three years ago, he said, before flashing an anonymous quote on screen—presumably from an analyst or blogger—that forecast its demise.
How sweet it must have felt. Apple’s iPad is, of course, one of the technology industry’s biggest hits with more than 170 million sold. But many pundits didn’t see it coming, as Cook took great pleasure highlighting yesterday for the hundreds on hand in a San Francisco theater and the legions watching online. (Plenty of outlets have been dead wrong about Apple in the past.) Cook used the occasion to introduce updated iPads including the iPad Air, a thinner full-sized tablet.
TIME tracked down two of the three people whose misguided predictions Cook mentioned in his presentation. The remaining one could not be traced back to a specific source, and Apple did not respond to an email seeking details. Both people who could be found readily acknowledged mistakes about their prognostications, but their views differed about Apple digging them up now and, well, rubbing it in.
Cook did not mention their names, so any potential embarrassment was limited. Moreover, in doubting Apple’s eventual success with the iPad, they had plenty of company.
“Anyone who believes this thing is a game changer is a tool.”
Just hours after getting his first iPad three years ago, Paul Thurrott, editor of the technology blog Supersite for Windows, quickly published his first impression. “Anyone who believes this thing is a game changer is a tool,” he wrote. This and other pointed opinions about the iPad’s future would haunt him later.
Occasionally, journalists and readers of Thurrott’s blog bring up the line as an example of punditry gone wrong. Then yesterday, Cook joined the fray to rally the faithful. His implicit message: Trust in Apple’s vision. Although Cook didn’t mention it, Apple’s vision is facing renewed doubts as it gives up market share in tablets to rival devices using Google’s Android operating system. “I do think it was a little cheap,” Thurrott said about Cook quoting his old review. Thurrott had been watching Apple’s webcast of the event when, without warning, he saw Cook use the quote as a punch line.
Thurrott said that his error is frozen in time, and that many people use it against him without mentioning that his views have since changed. Within a few months of panning the iPad, he started publishing articles that were more favorable as he better understood the device and as Apple added new features. Today, he says he’s a big Apple fan. “I think their devices are fantastic. I think the iPad Mini is fantastic, and the iPads they introduced today are fantastic,” he said. “That’s what bugs me about the quote.”
Admittedly, Thurrott said that making predictions isn’t one of his strengths. “I actually feel that I’m pretty horrible about prognostication stuff,” he said.
“It’s not going to revolutionize anything. It’s not going to replace netbooks.”
Bruce Berls, a consultant who helps small businesses with technology, wrote those words about the iPad three years ago in his blog, just days after Apple first introduced the device. To him, it seemed too expensive and lacking in features like a built-in camera.
Berls said he soon changed his mind, however, after seeing how people used the iPad and after Apple improved the device. How did he get things so wrong in first place? “At the time, I didn’t quite know where the iPad fit,” Berls said. “There was no clear niche that it filled because it was a niche that didn’t exist before. Nobody was demanding one because no one had it yet.”
It was a mistake that many people made about the iPad, he pointed out, including Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder, who said: “It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.’”
Until contacted by a reporter, Berls was unaware that his blog, which normally has a readership of around 1,000 people, played a supporting role in Cook’s presentation. Surprisingly, rather than being embarrassed by the attention, he said he was excited. “I’m happy to be called out by Tim Cook,” Berls said. “I’m thrilled to be wrong in way that’s interesting.”
Cook used Berls’ comment to underscore how the iPad had succeeded in upsetting the status quo in the computer industry. When Apple first introduced the iPad, netbooks, a sort of mini-laptop, were all the rage. “Others didn’t think it could compete with the netbook,” Cook said before going on to ask “who remembers netbooks?”
Apple did selectively quote from Berls’ writing, however, and lost some nuance in the process. Berls didn’t say the iPad was doomed. Rather he said that while it wouldn’t replace netbooks, “it will find large and devoted audiences, particularly after the price drops and some features get added.”
What the experience has taught Berls is to be more cautious about quickly dismissing new technologies of today like Google Glass and smartwatches. “It has made me a lot more gun-shy about saying something is unimportant when it’s first released.”