Sunday, April 04, 2010

iPad Pros & Cons

UPDATE: Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain has an excellent summary of the dangers of Apple's closed system here.

Like many, I am bemused by the Yin/Yang posts on BoingBoing from Xeni (Apple's iPad is a touch of genius) and Cory (Why I won't be buying an iPad, and think you shouldn't, either). I'm pretty firmly in the Cory camp on this one, but I think we do ourselves no favors when we understate the upside to the iPad.

Pro: The iPad is a revolutionary device. This seemed obvious to me the moment I saw Jobs demo it. The iPad is the first really useable, beautiful tablet and it will change the way we interact with information and technology--just the way the iPhone did. As Xeni points out, we have no idea all the transformations the iPad will wreak (here's one take), but it's definitely going to be a bumpy, exciting ride.

The iPad, frankly, is a sweet, sweet ride. Apple will sell a bazillion of these honeys. They have opened up the market for the unlocked tablets to follow.

Con: By being a locked, proprietary walled garden, the iPad contributes mightily to an anti-competitive ecosystem in which certain types of innovation--those that threaten the existing order--are stifled. It doesn't matter if a majority of its users aren't makers and hackers. Indeed, I'm sure the typical iPad customer doesn't want or need to root his or her device. But the fact that you can't has major repercussions. Makers and hackers innovate on behalf of the entire society, whether you know it or not. The iPad deliberately impedes this innovation, even as it facilitates other types of creativity.

The fundamental premise that every app anyone might want to make for the iPad has to pass through the narrow gatekeeper walls of Cupertino is creepy and ought to at least give anyone pause. The fact that you can "jailbreak" the device (what a telling term!) is actually a compelling argument not to buy it in the first place. If you need to jailbreak a device you own to do what you want with it (a move Apple claims is illegal, by the way), then it truly is Defective by Design.

I love my iMac but I would never buy an iPhone or an iPad. This is more than a personal choice; saying no to locked, proprietary technology is a political act on behalf of the society around me. I have an Android phone and am waiting excitedly for the emergence of Android or other unlocked tablets. Until then, I'll remain (sadly) un-tabletted.

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