Some supporters of creationism argue that any gap in the fossil record undermines the evidential basis for evolution. So if no fossil has been found that is a perfect fit between homo sapien and neanderthal, they argue that no link exists. The irony is that when such a specimen is eventually found, there are two new gaps - two missing links where before there was one.
And so it is with Apple's new iPad. During Steve Job's presentation for the iPad launch, he showed a slide with a mobile phone on the left, a laptop on the right, and a gap in the middle, and raised the rhetorical question of what should go in the gap. He then argued that Apple's competitors had attempted to plug this gap with netbooks, only to reject this solution. The netbook is apparently not the missing link. Instead, Jobs argued, anything that plugged this gap would have to do some things far better than either a mobile phone or a laptop. With his highly polished showmanship, he then revealed the iPad as the true missing link to plug this gap.
This argument is built upon four questionable presuppositions:
- There is a continuum of device types, with phones at one end and laptops at the other;
- There is a gap in this continuum;
- There is consumer demand for a product to plug this gap;
- Netbooks try and fail to meet this demand.
When the iPhone was announced, from day one it leapt onto the world stage as a fully formed, perfectly conceived product. To look at it was to know that you wanted it. There was no need to hesitate and ponder what it was for. No reason to come up with excuses for why you needed to buy one. It was so obviously right. The iPad, in contrast, looks like lots of fun, but it is far from clear what it is for, and why you would want one.
The iPad is a rare example of Jobs launching a technology, rather than a product. Like George Mallory who famously ascended Mount Everest "because it was there," Jobs has built the iPad because it was possible, rather than because there was an obvious need for it. He had this beautiful new multi-touch operating system, and he wanted to put it to the test and see what could be done with it on a larger device.
This does not mean that the iPad is doomed - it just means that it is not being launched into the world fully formed. When the Mac was first launched, it too did not initially seem to have a purpose. It was only with the subsequent advent of desktop publishing that the true potential of a graphical user interface became apparent. And so it may be with the iPad. Some killer apps may come along that turn this technological novelty into a mass-market desirable product.
And this brings us back to Jobs's supposed gap. It's an example of the well-constructed spin that is sometimes referred to as Steve Jobs's reality distortion field. But even supposing we do accept his presuppositions, then like the creationist's analysis of the fossil record, we might point out that Jobs's new chart, with the iPad neatly plugging the gap between mobile phone and laptop, has merely created two more gaps. What product plugs the gap between phone and iPad? What product plugs the gap between iPad and laptop?
In other words, the gap argument fails the reductio ad absurdum test. Doubtless Jobs knows this. He just couldn't resist working on this fun new toy, and seeing what was possible. And I must confess, I can't wait to play with it myself.