On the Apple iPad

In some circles, it is considered unfashionable to criticize Apple, because apparently Jobs can do no wrong. This seems to have its roots in the wave of new Mac users who came to the Mac platform only after the iPod and iPhone became a pop-culture fad; for those of us who have been with Apple for longer, Apple is indeed capable of committing wrongs, and the iPad is one of them. For what it’s worth, I am far from being the only one to complain about the iPad.

First and foremost, the iPad commits the same errors as the iPhone—with its closed architecture and use of DRM, it’s defective by design. The real concern is that the iPad may be the beginning of a shift towards what John Gruber calls ‘automatic computers’ where, to continue Gruber’s automotive analogy, it’s as if the hood is welded shut (in fact, Jim Stogdill said the same thing). Computer users should have full control over their computers, right out of the box, and anything less is a sign of trouble to come. We’ve already been there with Amazon remotely wiping books from Kindles; a computer manufacturer having that level of control over my desktop—what I get to read, what I get to run, what I can do with my own property—is an unacceptable notion. As Alex Payne put it, the iPad signals the tinkerer’s sunset, a future where the average person simply can’t just fire up an IDE and start writing code, because the ability to create content, of whatever form, will be vested solely in the few corporations and media conglomerates who hold the cryptographic keys necessary to sign code so it will run on these future devices.

Then there’s the OS. Even if the iPhone OS were completely open, I question its utility on the iPad. People seem to have forgotten that a 1024×768 screen and 400 MHz processor were once decent specs for the full-blown version of OS X, not that many years ago. Of course, dumbing the device down with the iPhone OS is fine if you want something which is useful solely for consuming media—but what if you want your tablet to do more? Sure, Apple’s offering the iWork suite, but then you’re tied to Apple’s cloud, and besides, what if you don’t want iWork? It’s more than that, though; like the iPhone, the iPad can’t multitask. While multitasking might not make sense on an iPhone, it makes perfect sense on a more substantial device, like the iPad. What if you want to run a messaging client in the background while you work on something else, or flip back and forth between a mail client and a web browser? The iPad can’t do it.

On the subject of electronic books, I find it surprising that a company as visionary as Apple would continue to be stuck in the dead-end notion of electronic books, newspapers, and magazines being presented page-at-a-time, with the user ‘flipping’ pages. I have little more to say about electronic books, because most of the written content I consume nowadays starts out on the Web. I see no need to pay a publisher to take a web site, turn it into a book, and then sell me an electronic version of that book. That’s just asinine.