Apple sells 1 million iPads

In the January 13, 2010 issue of The New York Times, writer Steve Lohr raised the ugly notion that the iPad did not “fill a clear niche”. That perhaps real innovation happened in teams, wisdom of the crowd, open innovation, and other pop notions.

But what do crowds know? They can tell you what they want, but they can’t flash forward to what they might want. Research has always been likened to a rearview mirror, and nothing signals that more perfectly than in technology. A category where, as consumers, we simply don’t know what we don’t know.

Few among us have claimed they desired, much less foreseen the popularity of thin screen TVs, Bose noise-canceling headphones, or GPS, much less an iPad.

It wasn’t so long ago when first adaptor wannabes were pecking away at their PalmPilots with that quirky little stylus thing. As an attempt in handheld multitasking, the Palm Pilot foreshadowed all the awe-filled and awful digital gimcrackery to come: the iPhone apps, ringtones, movie downloads, GPS, joke of the day and all the rest. In that land before time, we sat right on the edge of hi-tek arranging our calendars, sending emails (not txt), and (maybe?) playing a game or two.

Today all that is trashed by any teenager’s $29 Nokia. Which is something the wisdom of crowds can create: something for everyone. An advance not in the high slipstream of innovation, but the mainstream. Today’s cellphone is a handheld digital toolbox. It’s a compilation of greatest hits.

It takes a personality with vision–and the courageous ability to repeatedly say “no”–that creates the extraordinary hand of god that has become Jobs.

As sales of the new iPad indicate, Steve Jobs’ innovative vision may be personal, but his effect is global.