Apple, the iPad, and the Palin effect

The fact that Apple’s iPad will be released at the conclusion of Holy Week is entirely appropriate, given how some in the tech press are treating this arrival. (“Behold!  Your new God!”)

But as much fun as it would be to deflate the hype, the iPad will most likely be a runaway success – not only because it’s probably neat to play with, but because Apple is the Sarah Palin of the tech industry.

Hear me out.

Apple has had detractors for years – from complaints about the difficulty in transferring legally purchased but DRM-restricted songs among multiple devices to criticisms about the walled garden  that is the iPhone/iPod touch app store.

Yet, their track record for translating innovation to consumer success is built on a cultural coolness factor that transcends technical specifications.  And Apple capitalizes on this through the app store – inviting third parties to have some sort of vested interest in the product’s success.

The Wall Street Journal announced their iPad subscription model last week.  Amazon’s Kindle reader dominates the electronic book market today; but a free iPad application is an apparent nod to Apple’s emergence in that market.  Apple is so culturally entrenched they didn’t even have to pay for product placement when Modern Family devoted a show to the iPad release.

Apple has created a cycle – its products have been successful, so new product lines will attract third party support from companies looking to cash in – which will in turn make those new products successful.

The other new product debut from an established brand came on Fox News, where “Real American Stories” television special launched with Sarah Palin as the host.  The show’s debut comes a week after the announcement that she will host a documentary on Alaska for The Learning Channel.

Like Apple, Palin has cultivated a strong core following and reputation that invokes attention – from supporters and opponents alike.  Fox News and The Learning Channel both know this translates controversy, media buzz, and ultimately ratings.   And as is the case with Apple, third party groups (like TV networks) to have a stake in the attention that Palin receives.  In many ways, she doesn’t even have to be creative about how she’s presented – just as Apple largely relies on app developers to define how the iPad is used.  Those third parties benefit, and therefore have a vested interest in her continued visibility.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

So if you find yourself watching the coverage of the iPad and wondering whether or not it will earn enough industry support to eventually take off, ask yourself how long you’ll have to go before seeing something about Sarah Palin on TV.

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