Several people have asked me what I think about Apple’s newly-announced iPad.
While there’s no doubting it’s a significant technical and design achievement, and is filled with the usual Apple lusciousness, the iPad scares me, and why it scares me is well-expressed in the blog post Is the iPad the harbinger of doom for personal computing?, the heart of which is this:
The fundamental difference between a Mac and an iPhone is that I can run any software I want on my Mac. I can buy it on a DVD, I can download it from the Internet, or I can compile it myself. I can get rid of OS X and install another operating system. The Mac is a general purpose computer in the classic sense. The iPhone is not.
Apple decides which software I can run on my iPhone. Apple provides the only means by which I can get it. The platform is for all intents and purposes, closed, and the hardware is closed as well. Sure, the iPhone is great to use, but the price of using it is that you’re rewarding Apple’s choice to bet on closed platforms.
What bothers me is that in terms of openness, the iPad is the same as the iPhone, but in terms of form factor, the iPad is essentially a general purpose computer. So it strikes me as a sort of Trojan horse that acculturates users to closed platforms as a viable alternative to open platforms, and not just when it comes to phones (which are closed pretty much across the board). The question we must ask ourselves as computer users is whether the tradeoff in freedom we make to enjoy Apple’s superior user experience is worth it.
I agree completely.
I don’t want the spirit of the digital devices in my life to become more iPhone-like, especially the devices at the heart of my digital nervous system; the prospect of owning an iPad seems awfully like buying a pair of exquisitely-design shoes that can only be shined, re-laced or repaired by sending them off to the manufacturer.
The iPad, like the iPhone and the iPod touch, represent another step down the road toward Internet devices being kneecapped into a conduit for us to passively pay for and consume tightly controlled and regulated content.
The power of the net for me has always rested in its utility as a vehicle for freely producing, sharing, mashing-up and distributing stuff, not in its utility for allowing me to watch re-runs of LOST more easily. While there’s no doubt that the iPad is a sleek device to enable the later, it fails abjectly as a device for the former, and if anything it has me thinking it might be time to sell the MacBook and invest in a more open solution for my desktop before it too falls prey to this emerging ethos.