Confession: I pre-ordered my iPad and Breguet made me do it

I’m a sucker. It’s true. As much you guys think we rail against Apple, we’re like abused puppies, slinking back to our master’s hard ankles, shivering and awaiting praise. Why did I pre-order the iPad? Well, first I’m a gadget blogger. Second there is no certainty that mother Apple will grace us with an early review unit so I want to hedge our bets. Third? I want to see where computing is headed.

Bear with me here. Apple is not the bringer of fire to a benighted world. Far from it. In my recent writing I’ve been struck by a few parallels with Steve Jobs to Abraham Louis Breguet, a French watchmaker who lived in the 18th century. He was a mechanical genius, to be sure, but he was also a salesman. While the rest of the benighted world was sloshing around in an admixture of feces and mud in the streets of Paris and telling the time by whether the pikemen were stabbing them for being out after curfew, Breguet was selling watches that would not be out of place on the wrist (had they had straps) of a whale in Las Vegas. He invented secret anti-counterfeiting measures but made them part of the allure and not part of a DRM scheme. He designed elegant and beautiful watches in an age of rococo designs but wasn’t above creating a “subscription” watch for the masses who wanted to own a piece of the good life without paying an exorbitant sum of money. Other watchmakers were making commodities and following Breguet’s lead. That’s what’s happening here.

Like Steve Jobs, Breguet knew what his hipster, nobler-than-thou audience wanted and he supplied it. Sure it was expensive and sure it wasn’t generally popular but he made a boatload of money and in the end moved on to explore new avenues of inquiry, improve the general perception of scientific precision, create new forms of telegraphy, and his kids even became pioneers in airplane design. Linux and Windows geeks often put Apple down for locking things up but I say I can do more in the OS X command line terminal than I ever was able to in the Windows DOS window. I usually installed Unix tools under XP just to get any work done when I ran Windows.

Look at the watch above. It was one of the most complex watches in the world when it was made. It came with two dials – the crystal one you see and a while enameled on that hid the innards. If you put the white enamel dial on that watch, you’d have four visible hands. That’s it. It was as austere and beguiling as an early iPod. You saw it, you knew what it did, but there was nothing to get in the way of reading the time or, the the case of the iPod, playing your bluegrass albums. Behind it – complexity – in front – elegance.

I’m also not saying the iPad is the Marie Antoinette Watch of our day. It’s definitely not. I would wager that our current business climate does not allow for the sort of advances in the state of the art that the MA represents. Sure, there are better watches right now, but the MA was finished in 1827 using tools little removed from what was available in the previous three centuries and by 1900 watchmaking was a dead art and is now, at best, relegated to shoe repair bodegas that also specialize in watch battery replacement. The MA wasn’t just a watch, it was that generation’s mechanical moonshot and the ultimate steampunk artifact. Nothing Apple has done is worth that level of praise.

Also nothing – and I mean nothing – about the iPad is particularly new or particularly appealing to the geek in me. It’s a slate that I’ve seen countless times running an OS that is underpowered at best with a trade dress that we’ve seen a thousand times. But the whole is great than the sum of its parts. Apple is about to change how I browse the Internet in the bathroom, on the couch, and on the train. I bought a WiFi enabled model because I figure I’ll have WiFi more often than I’ll have 3G coverage with AT&T (HAR!).

So anyway, flame on, flame warriors. I’m sticking by my decision. Did you pre-order?