Friday, April 2, 2010

The iPad, My Weighing In

Okay, so much has been written about the iPad. Sufficiently so that I won’t link to any reviews or the like here: there are just too many. This evening, however, I read Corey Doctorow’s take on the iPad (here) – despite the fact that it was really about Apple and the direction their tech is headed – and felt the need to say something to the world about it.

Firstly, I agree with Corey: the Apple ecosystem is fundamentally closed, and is completely sold out to yesterday’s economic systems for software, shined up and made respectable for tomorrow’s technology. I don’t believe that iPhones, iPads are the technology of tomorrow, nor are they on the road that will inevitably lead to tomorrow.

But they are the tech of today. They can and will (for the next little while at least) hold the marketplace rapt. People will drool over the latest iThing because it is pretty and novel and fulfills a niche in their lives they didn’t know they had.

But the problem with them is the same problem that news sources and software publishers and the MPAA and the RIAA are discovering: that the systems of humanity don’t work for the small people who are technically right, but for the masses who have a feeling – somewhere deep inside – that “technically” right isn’t good enough, and that they are fundamentally but inexplicably wrong.

This could turn into a pro-piracy rant, but I’ll save that for another day. The point is that, today, there is an iPad – a small computer with a touch-screen which can’t be opened, software altered, or altered in any other way - a pay-wall around news content, DRM on software, DRM on music and movies, and so on. And they are, legitimately, powerful forces, and will make massive amounts of money. But tomorrow, when the same things can be acquired free (as in beer and speech), these things will lose impetus, and gradually fade away. Who remembers having to pay for access to meta-search engines, that searched altavista, yahoo, excite, and all those others?

A soap-box, I have not. I’m not going to indulge in rhetoric about how we shape tomorrow, because you and I don’t. Tens and hundreds of millions do, and this blog doesn’t reach them. But even if I did, a voice of opinion and commentary isn’t going to sway folk. Wait for the wallet to vote. Wait for comfort, and functionality, and everything else that actually makes a difference to kick in. DRM was doomed from the start, but that didn’t stop it getting big. Industry pressure and stupid management just amplified the curve of apathy to popularity to deprecation by a few orders of magnitude.

I have no nice way of ending this, so I’ll just apologize for meandering with anti-DRM and closed-culture ranting, and bring this back to a close about the iPad:

It looks stunning. I want one, in the same way as I want a sports car, or a super-model for a wife, or chocolate cake for every meal. I also recognise that it doesn’t satisfy the needs I have, and it will ultimately be a toy that I’ll use for a bit and forget. I don’t much care for sports cars (and would probably put the wrong petrol in and screw up the engine or something), super-models would bore me to heck and stress me out (because MTV tells me their lifestyles wouldn’t go well with mine), and chocolate cake too often would make me a fat lump.

The iPad would be fun and cool and a status symbol, and after a few days would be put on a shelf, then found again a week later, toyed with, then put on the shelf again for months.

Some people run their lives via their cell-phones. I do not. I live mine in a combination of my head, and on a PC. The iPad isn’t enough for me, but holy cow is it pretty :)

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