2.2.10

The iPad

Yes, I know - what a lame brand name. But not as lame as some of the stuff flying around the internets for the past week since the release of the iPad concept. Most people seem to have quite happily started bitching about a "concept" device without touching or in some cases even seeing the iPad. People have been busy drawing bullet points calling out things they can't see on the device, issuing challenges on behalf of other one-horse devices and moan and roll their eyes. Again, all mostly without seeing the device or justifying why they groan. On a personal note, I will probably never buy the device in its first iteration - the 3G connectivity price is way too much for me and I find the lack of a front-face camera a stumbling block.

I wanted to go over each and every point one at a time and tackle them. But for one that is a reactive post and secondly, it has been done elsewhere by better writers. John Gruber is someone I just started following, but he has been a great source of insightful reading. Here, here and here. Robert Scoble , who I personally think is a prick and a flame-baiter, had probably the most insightful software post here, but Alex Payne - who I had never heard about - had the best philosophical take ever.

Here's a list of required reading before anyone judges the iPad to be the worst thing since IE6 (nothing is more evil than IE6 - not even Col. Miles Quaritch):

Jim Stogdill applied the automobile analogy which will stick forever with the iPad, by calling it the iPrius.
Rob Foster at NorthTemple spoke about how this would bring a mobile computing device to the early learner.
Dan Moren at macworld spoke out for all non-techies who were waiting in the wings for a non-geek computer.
Andy Ihnatko had the best post on how it felt to *actually* hold the chimera at SunTimes.
Fraser Speirs hit out at all techies crying out on losing their background apps by reminding them *what* they should be aiming for - real world people who use their apps.
Milind Alvares attempts to reconcile our traditional idea of multitasking with the Apple paradigm.

What these voices are mostly perceived as, if you read the comments, is elitist - apple fanbois with time and money on their hands attempting to justify the unjustifiable. Except Payne - most people missed his point completely and got into tangential debates about usb port missing or multitasking not running or some other such iPad specific "fail".

But that perception is a big blindside on part of the larger tech community. Alex Payne is right when he says the iPad is the future of computing - the tinkerer's death and an artificial boundary on our creativity. Yes, someone will probably hack the iPad and run linux on top of it, but an open community that supports, say, Debian, will never ever rise for the iPad and the future that will be its legacy - there just won't be enough people to care because neither the iPhone OS or its API is open for n00bs. It is a walled garden. You would have to spend effort and time on playing the cat and mouse game of hack and rehack with Apple, which no one has. That is what is truly troubling, the fascination of most of the geekdom on perceived utility points rather than this Matrix-style dystopia. By making a difference between "user-friendly" and "open" apple has thrown open the doors to a future where openness is made a irrelevant, secondary goal. Openness is the driving force behind so many improvements and innovations that shape our daily tech interactions, its importance cannot be understated.

The Free and Open source software movements which followed the hacker culture are the real reason why we have a world wide web today. This is a feat which would not have been possible in walled gardens, the likes of which are dangled to us by Apple. Suppose Apple did give us USB ports and multitasking and a camera - what the? Do we give up on being open since the SDK offers everything? Are we to be satisfied with the "run a script on a server and STFU" school of thought? I hope not. By creating their private sandbox, Apple will effectively draw away people from a open web based world to one where you buy an app for everything - effectively killing all reason for people to play with technologies and come up with newer and better innovations in the web world.

Is this a very bleak picture? I don't think so because the iPad is an awesome device for a concept. It's conception prods rear in so many ways, I wouldn't be able to count them. Think on-the-go video conferencing, business tools which recognise handwriting on a blank slate, no keyboards or mice, streaming audio and video at the flick of a button or the motion of a finger - its every sci-fi movie and its not in 24 1/2 century. I remember the pain of teaching my mom how to use a mouse - its difficult for a novice. Imagine me telling her, here download this app for a shopping market, type in (or voice in) your requirements and people will come deliver. At the same time you can have iTunes on and be updated on Dad's location all at the same time (for the last time, multitasking works on the iPhone OS, just not for 3rd party apps). There is literally no barrier for adoption - everything requires a flick of the finger.

It is irrelevant whether the iPad succeeds as a product - Apple posted a 3.38 billion USD profit. They will still make money on the hardware and the loss of the iPad will be no big deal. But their vision of the future is probably Apple's legacy to the world. This is the future of computing devices - a low barrier, no brains involved approach which will find acceptance with the masses.

Whether this future remains open or not is what matters the most, not 16:9 aspect ratio. For that buy a TV.