By Jacob WeisbergPosted Friday, May 14, 2010, at 3:32 PM ET
In a brilliant column published 16 years ago, the Italian philosopher Umberto Eco explained the difference between Apple and Microsoft in terms of the divide between Catholics and Protestants. In the DOS-based universe, he noted, there are many alternative paths to salvation. The One True Church of Macintosh, by contrast, "tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach—if not the kingdom of Heaven—the moment in which their document is printed."
With the ascendance of the iPad, aka "The Jesus Tablet," Apple's Lateran tendencies have grown ever more baroque. The arrival of the new device was shrouded in something better described as religious mystery than mere corporate secrecy. The spiritual leader, recently returned from near death, celebrated the birth of his "magical and revolutionary" gadget at a ceremony akin to a high mass, beneath a glowing Apple icon that must be approaching the crucifix as a universally recognized symbol.
In this metaphor, content publishers are like the halt and the lame who flock to Lourdes in search of a miraculous cure. The pilgrims' desperate hope is that Steve Jobs will restore their businesses to health by blessing them with "apps"—a new way for them to charge readers for content and revive full-page advertisements in electronic form. Burn me for saying so, but they're dreaming.