Of Women, Jews and iPads: Foxes and Hedgehogs

The iPad is a fox.

In his book about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Sir Isaiah Berlin famously quoted a fragment of Archilochus who distinguishes between fox and hedgehog: “The fox knows many little things. The hedgehog knows one big thing.” The former (like Tolstoy) were cunning whereas the latter (Dostoevsky) were utterly effective. Both had their merits, as long as the fox was cunning enough and the hedgehog prickly enough.

The iPad doesn’t do a lot of things, and it only does them one at a time, but it is certainly foxy rather than hedgehoggy. And it’s the reason that Amazon (Kindle), Barnes and Noble (Nook) and Sony (Sony Digital Reader) are worried that T.S. Eliot was right and that April (iPad launch month) is indeed “the cruellest month.

What has this to do with women and Jews?

As I have sadly pointed out before, women are much more likely to read than men. Certainly novels. There is also a trend suggesting that older Jews of both genders are likely to read more than other segments of surrounding English-speaking populations (Jewish Book Week in London is now the largest book festival in Europe). But these are not the young men who are the early adopters of technological gadgets. So, although there are lots of people already walking around with these electronic readers (proving that they are indeed the future of one kind of reading), the market is still emerging.

Steve Jobs dwelt on its reading capability when he unveiled the iPad because he knew that reading was its selling point. Would you rather drop $300 on an emerging design that did only one thing, or $400 on a tried and trusted design that did that one thing almost as well (perhaps better), plus also did a whole variety of other things pretty well?

I haven’t tried the Nook, but I prefer to read books on my iPhone than on the Kindle or the Sony Reader. There are personal reasons for that which may not apply beyond the alignment of the lights around my bed, but the other readers are not clearly superior enough to merit their prickliness. They are not, in other words, hedgehoggy enough to merit their one trick survival.

Criticisms of the iPad are justified and numerous, but the iPad is not aimed at being a small laptop or even a Mac netbook, it’s a foxy eReader for second (or third) wave of adopters that will drastically increase the size of the market. It’s the eReader for women and Jews.