IIn 1987, Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman starred in the can't-miss comedy movie “Ishtar” about two mediocre lounge singers who travel to Morocco seeking work yet find themselves in a Cold War standoff. These were two of the movie industry's most bankable stars, paired together a la Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
The movie turned out to be one of Hollywood's all-time bombs. Even to this day, the movie hasn't been released on video in the United States.
Fast-forward to today.
The Apple iPad is days away from release. The hype is through-the-roof. Pre-sales have surpassed expectations. Experts say this device will change the way people think of computing, the internet, and reading. It's evolved into a can't-miss, game-changing product.
I hesitate to suggest this, but is there any chance the iPad turns out to be “Ishtar”?
A colleague who is placing his consultancy at the center of the iPad Revolution for newspapers swears that he will “almost bet the house” on the tablet's success and my notion is wrong. The early sellouts of the iPad suggest he's correct, though it's an old trick to go low on pre-orders and proclaim a “sellout.” It generates another public relations headline, which is better than paid media any day.
Cut through the fog of hype, and advertisers tell me they have no idea how to position the iPad. Short-term, it's a toy for the first-movers and highly engaged tech-savvy crowd. Yet the original skepticism in January remains: Is it an oversized iPhone or a dialed down laptop computer?
For the newspaper, magazine, and book industries, are we so in need of a savior that we've projected unreasonable expectations in the iPad?
Is the engagement experience so different that we're willing to forego smartphones and computers? Or is it an augmentation of those experiences?
Did anyone else watch the Steve Jobs iPad presentation in January and think it was Mr. Rogers in turtleneck walking us through what we call the “in-ter-net”?
Look, I'm prepared to be first in line to buy the hype. Yet I was first in line to see “Ishtar,” too.
I would have enjoyed the movie more had it not been promoted as a game-changing, must-see movie with two big Hollywood mega-stars. Given those high expectations, I was bitterly disappointed.
At minimum, I suspect the iPad will be a short-lived spark that will spur other tablet revolutions – revolutions that will always be compared with the original (kudos to Apple). Yet the product also smacks of eight-track tapes, something if shown publicly in a few years will date you instantly to 2010. At maximum, I wonder about the “Ishtar” effect – a good product that, through too much hype, will never live up to expectations.
I hope I'm wrong.