I wonder if it’s possible that all the worry around the Web about the iPad is, perhaps, not the iPad’s fault. Surely there’s nothing about a computer that’s just a touchscreen and only runs one program at a time that will bring about the downfall of civilization.
I do think there’s a lot to worry about how Apple’s leaning lately, though. If the iPad represents Apple’s future, we certainly should be concerned about a future in which one computer company has complete say over what programs you can and can’t run (and takes a 30% cut of all the sales).
But the concern isn’t about that, even, if it? If Apple really were to move all of its products to a closed system like the iPhone, Windows and Linux would still be out there. The concern is that, well, we all really like the Mac. Apple’s products are well designed and fun to use, and I do think I’m much more productive on a Mac than on Windows. We don’t want to have to stop using Apple products because of the company’s censorship. For years, we’ve loved using Apple computers and we stuck with the company through its “beleaguered” years. We humored people who thought that Macs were just good for graphics, and Windows was for doing real work. And having stuck with the company for all these years, we don’t want to see it turn into Big Brother. Apple has a shot at becoming the new Microsoft, an evil empire, and make no mistake: app censorship, closed designs, and DRM is how it could get there.
Apple could solve the problem very easily by simply allowing the ability to download and install apps by dragging them into iTunes in addition to using the App Store. If there’s a concern about hackers trying to take down the cellular network or whatever, maybe unapproved apps could be wi-fi only. Making the SDK free would help, too. The current developer fee could even stand for people submitting apps to the app store.
In 1988 Donald A. Norman wrote about computers of the future in The Design of Everyday Things:
This imaginary calendar looks like a calendar. It’s about the size of a standard pad of paper, it opens up to display dates. But it really is a computer, so it can do things that today’s appointment calendar cannot. It can, for example, present its information in different formats: it can display the pages compressed so that a whole year fits on one page; it can expand the display so that I can see a single day in thirty-minute intervals. Because I frequently use my calendar in conjunction with my travels, the calendar is also an address book, notepad, and expense account record. Most important, it can connect itself to my other systems (via a wireless infrared or electromagnetic channel). […] The computer is invisible, hidden beneath the surface; only the task is visible. Although I may actually be using a computer, I feel as if I am using my appointment calendar.
This sums up the iPad, I think. It’s the first computer that’s not a computer. It’s just the internet, or a calendar, or your email, without most of the other stuff you used to have to know about operating a computer. But it’s not like “real” computers are going to go away, is it? The strength of the iPad may well turn out to be that it does limit what you can do with it, so that it can be perfect for the few things it does well, and stays out of the way the rest of the time.
There’s no question that Apple is doing a bad thing for everyone (but itself) when it becomes the sole decider on what we can do with our computers. But it’s this business decision, not the iPad, that’s the problem. Clearly the tablet format has some potential. The crew of the USS Enterprise uses them all the time, and they’ve saved the entire universe a few times.