What the iPad is good for

<webwereld column – in Dutch>

In 1994 maakte ik een jaarboek lay-out op een tablet, niks nieuws dusI have in recent months, with some surprise, seen how the drone armies of the Steve Jobs Cult of Mac have hyped a 15 year old concept into sainthood. From the moment the technical specifications of the iPad became known, it was clear to me that I would not be buying. The iPad is an iPhone + + and that is unfortunately the level of control that Apple will take over all aspects of the use of it. Apple determines which applications you can run, which media sources are acceptable and in what formats those media sources are stored. The iPad is comparable with the AOL Internet experience of over 12 years ago. A walled garden where customers are ‘protected’ from the chaotic freedom that is the open Internet and are made to pay for the privilege.


Critics of the iPad have in recent months rightly explained in detail how the iPad is in many respects a step backwards compared to the rich read/write Internet. Steve’s tablet is primarily a media consumption device, much like a DVD player. You read, watch and listen to something that someone else has created for you and are passive, like a TV couch-potato (TV, you know, from the past …). Determining what things you are viewing is also done by Apple. Having people simply choose their own content and using formats of their choice is obviously not the way things are done on the iPad. The Apple Politburo also chooses what "dirty" words you can and cannot read on the e-book reader.

Like the AppleTV, the device is a direct pipeline to the iTunes and App store. For Apple is it a direct pipeline to your credit card. For the AppleTV there is now a good alternative: XBMC gives the choice over media source and format selection back to the owner of the hardware. Probably there will be something like this for the iPad, a jailbreak or something, so .mkv files can be played and fans can install their own apps without first having to ask permission from Steve.

There is another way. On the Archos Internet tablet, the possibility of installing a completely different OS is even explicitly allowed. If I have a ‘third’ device (in addition to laptop and phone) I want to buy that kind of freedom and I’m willing to pay for it. Buying an iPad in its current form is not for me. Perhaps the device will be more open in the future and then I will reconsider, but not now.

In spite of all this I’m glad that Apple makes these things and hypes them. Apple forces other suppliers of these products to innovate where otherwise they would not, at least for a while. There are now more than ten other parties involved in the release of tablet-like devices and existing devices suddenly get extra attention and software upgrades. More importantly, Apple sets a bar for high usability. This gives the open source community something to strive for. Usability is traditionally not the strongest aspect of open source software. Security, stability and portability were always the focus. For the Linux desktop, Windows is no longer the benchmark, as this has been largely achieved (including CPU-hungry eye-candy with bouncy windows). MacOSX is the standard being pursued (and imitated) by the Ubuntu team and others and that is fine. As Steve himself once quoted Picasso: "Good artists copy, great artists steal", and he would know.

IPod MP3 players were poorly used and uninteresting for the majority of people. The iPhone has motivated Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Google to develop great new phones. So although I will never buy another iPod/Phone/Pad, I enjoy its effect indirectly because of the new concepts that these products have made mainstream. In the same vein I am now, after two MacBook Pros, again enjoying a Thinkpad (X301, Lenovo’s answer to the MacBook Air) with Ubuntu. Thanks Apple!

A 5-7 "tablet with 32Gig fixed memory and an open architecture sounds very nice to me, stick some HSDPA capability on it and I am happy to shell out 600 euros or so.