Tim Cook's iPad-doubting straw man is real. He's IT consultant Bruce Berls.
In the run-up to unveiling the latest iPads on stage in Cupertino on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook blew through a barrage of glowing reviews meant to show how Apple’s gadgets were some of the most well-received in the world. He cited such well-known outlets as the Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, and even former legal nemesis Gizmodo. But when he wanted to show the audience how Apple had proved its harshest critics wrong over the years, the corporate titan brought his hammer down on a lone mortal, relying on a less-than-prescient quote from Berls, an obscure IT blogger who runs a site called BruceB.com.
Berls's quote from his 2010 review stated, "[The iPad] is not going to revolutionize anything, it’s not going to replace netbooks." The quote floated on a screen behind Cook’s head before the Apple chief asked the audience with a smirk, "Who remembers netbooks?" He then revealed that earlier this month Apple had sold its 170 millionth iPad. The audience, after snickering over Berls’s improvidence, erupted in cheer. The message was simple: Apple has proven the world wrong before; Apple can prove the world wrong again. It’s an especially relevant sentiment given the increasing skepticism Apple has faced recently from shareholders and consumers alike.
It was also the ultimate told-you-so moment, at the expense of Berls, an unlikely target for Cook. His quote carried the weight of iPad's deflated faction of "doubters," as Cook referred to them. Such established analysts as PC World, Forrester Research, Bill Gates, and Eric Schmidt were all similarly leery of the iPad’s potential—they arguably would’ve served as more satisfying targets of Cook's comeuppance. In singling out Berls, Cook was punching below his weight class—not that it matters much to Berls, who rejoiced at the shout-out from such a luminary. "I’m happy to be associated with it—I think it’s just great, just marvelous!" Berls says with a big laugh and not a stitch of snark. "I’m obviously a small fry—I’m not a journalist. So I’m flattered because he could’ve chosen [to reference] much more famous people than I am."
Funny enough, Berls was watching a live stream of the presentation, but somehow missed the reference. "I must’ve been looking away or something!" he says. It wasn’t until members of the media contacted him that he learned what happened. "I have since gone back and looked at the screenshots and thought, Wow, that’s pretty remarkable that Tim Cook would do that!"
Berls doesn't hesitate to admit that he was wrong—though with a slight caveat. Cook cut off his quote, which went on to say that he’s certain the iPad "will find large and devoted audiences."
"Even though I wasn’t quite right, I did say Apple was going to sell a ton of iPads—at least I got that part right," Berls says. "[The truth is] Apple did do something that turned out to be revolutionary, and I’ve since recognized that. But that all comes with the benefit of hindsight."
If he had one message to lob back at Cook, "It would be ... I got it—later!" Berls says.
So why target him? Perhaps Cook was treading lightly around more notable critics or media outlets as they gear up to do new reviews of the iPad Air; perhaps Cook just wanted to fire a warning shot at small-time bloggers, Twitter pundits, and anonymous YouTube commentators and let them know their words could show up behind him next time. Cook did call out noted Microsoft Windows blogger Paul Thurrott ("Anyone who thinks [the iPad is] a game changer is a tool"), but even then, Cook refrained from mentioning his name or blog on stage.
If the jab was intended to warn small-time critics, Cook might have achieved the opposite effect. Berls doesn’t mind that his name wasn’t mentioned by Cook—he’s not blogging for clicks or financial gain. Rather, Berls is happy enough to have been on the Apple exec's mind, for however brief a moment and for whatever purpose. He even wrote another blog post on the matter himself.
"It’s the most recognition my blog has gotten," Berls jokes. "I treasure looking at this slide—I’m going to save it in my photos!"