Yesterday, Apple's small "inner circle" of tech columnists published reviews of the hotly-anticipated iPad tablet computer. By and large, it was a marketing coup for the Cupertino-based company. The Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossburg said the iPad "could change portable computing" forever. Time's Stephen Fry said the only way you could take it from him was to "prise it from my cold, dead hands." In no time, the laudatory reviews were rounded up, repackaged and regurgitated by the BBC, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and dozens of other publications including this site.

But something was missing. The two most popular gadget sites on the Web, Engadget and Gizmodo, were silent: they never received review units from Apple. This is especially surprising because Engadget's editor is expected to bring an iPad on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon tonight. Gizmodo found out it was getting snubbed on Wednesday when Apple canceled its meeting with editor Brian Lam. While these sites could very well publish iPad reviews later today, some are speculating that Apple's snubbing them to prevent critical reviews of the iPad from getting out:
  • It's Very Plausible, writes Dan Frommer at Business Insider: "It's possible that Apple just decided to snub the top gadget blogs because Apple may have been worried that they would be most likely to give the iPad a less-than-stellar review. Gadget blogs may have criticized Apple for not supporting Flash, or for something else that mainstream buyers wouldn't have a big problem with."
  • This Is All Very Unsettling, writes Pat Kiernan at Mediaite: "I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the relationship Apple has with tech reviewers. For each product launch, Apple taps a few reviewers on the shoulder with an offer to send a review unit a few days before the rest of the world has access. Huge numbers of page views and retweets are assured for the writer who is among the chosen few. But who can be completely objective under these circumstances? ...When the lucky group of reviewers is as small as it is, which of them wants to write a negative review that might prompt Apple to choose someone else next time? This seemed all the more obvious when I tried to find some objective criticism about the Flash issue in the many iPad reviews I read."
  • This Is Apple's Strategy, writes Joe Wilcox at Beta News: "Apple seeks to maximize the impact of the reviews, which it can only hope will be positive, by choosing respected reviewers. Are they impartial? Surely, Apple hopes not... Many companies place tremendous emphasize on social media and networking as part of their marketing efforts. However, Apple isn't buying into social media, because the company can't control the image, the perception. Apple's YouTube site is such good example. After years of abandon, Apple recently started populating its YouTube site with iPad videos. Apple wants people watching but not responding -- at least not there. Comments are disabled."
  • Maybe It's Quid Pro Quo--Maybe It's Not, reasons the Norge News Blog: "It's entirely plausible that, since most of these reviews were very positive, Apple decided not to put more time into shepherding further professional reviews. But people being people, some of those who got bounced are taking it as a personal ostracism by Apple, presuming it's punishment for some indecipherable offense against Steve Jobs. As Engadget's former Apple event blogger and a Wired product reviewer, my advice is not to bother trying to figure out who is thinking what at Apple. The company operates on its own internal logic (think: no Flash support.) In years past, Apple PR people sent me invitations to events when I wrote for Slate, where my editors didn't care about new Apple products. Yet Apple PR spent years not letting Engadget writers into events, until co-founder Jason Calacanis complained to Jobs, an Engadget reader."