According to some of my colleagues, on 3 April 2010 all innovation in information technology ceased. At least, according to them, there was no further progress from that day forward unless Uncle Steve said there could be. And this is because, on that fateful springtime day, the iPad was released and we were all immediately in thrall to it and the apps that Microsoft, oops sorry, I mean Apple, would allow us to run on that device. And this, dear readers, has ushered in the end of the internet, connectivity, and free choice, and would forever place us behind the Great Firewall of Apple.
The logic seems to go that the iPad is such a rip-roaring fabulous device, that it will change computing and how we access information forever. It will bring about, excuse the phrase, a major global paradigm shift the likes of which we’ve rarely seen. Remember watches before quartz movements? Remember the internet before the web? Remember life before the iPad?? Well??? Do you? After the introduction of each of those disrupters, nothing was the same as it was before, was it?
And — again according certain colleagues — sitting at the controls of this major change in the way we communicate and consume information is the great Napoleon, Steve Jobs. As gatekeeper, vicar general, General Secretary, or whatever you want to call him, he decides what is and what is not allowed in the new iPadded world. Because, if it ain’t on the iPad, it ain’t shit.
And it’s apparently not just some of my truly insane colleagues who believe this. The press (what’s left of it) and — mostly — the blogosphere was just awash with this dire prediction.
I don’t know about you, comrade, but I don’t remember joining this particular party.
The iPad seems to me to be an iPod Touch with a case of Elephantiasis. I don’t want one. I don’t know why I would want one. In fact, I can barely conceive of why anyone would want one.
But, for the sake of laughs, let’s assume that I’m the only person on the planet with this opinion. Let’s assume that everybody else on Earth (from farmers in Kenya to members of the always-connected generation-upload in Seoul) thinks the iPad is great and can’t wait to get their fingers doing those wondrous gestures. After all, somebody must want the damn thing, right? According to published reports, Apple sold something like 750K iPads in 10 days (most of them in California, incidentally… this should tell you something).
Even if everyone thinks the iPad is a great idea, and given that Apple will need to review and bless every application that will appear in the iPad App Store, this still doesn’t lead us anywhere remotely near technological slavery. If the “pad” genre catches the imagination of the market, there’ll be numerous clones developed. Not everybody will want, or be able to afford, the genuine fruity article. We can be sure that scads of very similar devices will be brought to us by the clever folks in Taiwan, at prices that will be hard to beat. Not to mention, as I write this, Microsoft is reportedly readying “Courier” (a dual-screen device that folds), and Google (according to press accounts of Eric Schmidt after a couple of pops at a recent party) is preparing an Android-based slate. Both of these are said to be direct competitors to the iPad.
But let’s say the world has to have the real article. Clones will not do. Well, we’re not even doomed at that point. The iPad isn’t nearly as closed as most of the doomsayers are making out. I’m sure Apple wants it closed, but there’s just no chance that they’ll get their way. There were reports of iPad jailbreaks within minutes of the iPads release (with convincing displays showing root shell access). Well known jailbreaker Geohot (George Hotz) apparently had his iPad running Cydia (an app that lets users download and run applications that are not Apple approved) within just a couple of days.
So, even if the pad/slate form-factor catches on, it’s far from certain that we’ll all fall into line and bleat on our way to the iPad Apps Store to pay big bucks to download some second-rate, Apple approved, shite of an application.
I will grant that the iPad is an interesting idea. Not revolutionary, but interesting. In fact, I will be veryquick to grant that there are lots of interesting devices out there. Given that print media is entering the infamous death spiral, content publishers are eagerly searching for “the next wave” that’ll allow effective content distribution (for, ah, money of course). Technology companies are similarly searching for the next form factor, the next “hardware combined with online service” that’ll be the new paper and ink. We all agree print is dying; we just haven’t figured out what’ll take its place.
Will that new content delivery mechanism the iPad? Or is it more like the long awaited (some would say, over-hyped) EInk-based Que Reader by Plastic Logic? Or, will it be something else?
I’ve had an EInk-based ebook reader (a Cybook G3 by the French firm Bookeen, a very good a device) for over a year now, and I positively love reading from it. And, I’ve been lusting after the device from Plastic Logic for ages now. The Que Reader is basically an 8.5″x11″ ebook reader, backed with a service offering (of course), that’ll let you subscribe to newspapers, magazines, and buy ebooks to read on the plane.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to read the New York Times or a novel on an LCD display. And that means I don’t want to read these things on an iPad. I spend all day long staring at LCD displays. I don’t need to bask in its back-lit glow at home, at night, while I’m getting my Stieg Larsson on. So, for me, a big freakin’ reflective EInk display trumps the transmissive iPad display any day.
Oh, and while we’re talking about technology companies and their eager search for new devices, shall we talk about the Kin? The Kin is the Microsoft phone that is cloud connected. Another device that comes with a service. No, you can’t read a book on it. But you can text, and talk, and update your Facebook page, and keep track of what’s on your friend’s Facebook pages. “The more you share, the more you get” it says on the Kin web site. Wow. OK, never mind. Let’s not talk about the Kin.
Plastic Logic people, if you read this maybe you’ll send me one so I can review it and say really nice things about it (you know, not that my opinion can be bought or anything, but…).
Peter Pontificates is a regular opinion column by OSR consulting partner, Peter Viscarola. Peter doesn’t care if you agree or disagree, but you do have the opportunity to see our comments or a rebuttal in a future issue. Send your own comments, rants or distortions of fact to: firstname.lastname@example.org.