I was wrong about the iPad

So I made a couple of predictions about the iPad, Apple’s tablet, and I realize in retrospect that, while I got some of the details right, I got the gist completely wrong. I thought it was going to be a special-purpose device. And most commentators are saying just that. But I was wrong and they are wrong. The iPad is very much meant to be a new approach to how we use computers in general. Still think it’s just a big iPhone? Watch these few minutes of video, a summary of how you interact with the iPad to create slides and edit documents in Apple’s productivity suite:

This is different. Much more natural to use, a different experience altogether. It’s going to sell like mad, and developers will be building apps for this in no time.

The real Apple fanboys (I’m only a poser Apple fanboy) are saying almost what I’m saying: this is a new model of computing, the critics are suffering from future shock. Yes, and yes.

That said, the Apple fanboys are taking one critical step too many by accepting the hand-waving argument that this revolutionary computing model justifies the Apple-controlled App Store. Apparently, it’s like driving an automatic vs. a stick-shift, or better yet it’s like the Prius where you need special skills to maintain it. Spare me the kool-aid, these analogies are incredibly bad. If you really want to use that analogy, at least realize that adding your own app to a computer is more like installing a GPS on the dashboard, not tuning the engine. Would you be okay with a Prius if somehow you didn’t have the right to install Honda-made seat covers, or tires made by Michelin? Well, if the Prius were good enough, you’d grind your teeth and deal, but in what world would you argue that it’s a feature that you can only install seat-covers approved by Toyota?

Yes, the iPad looks amazing, and yes, it will sell lots, and yes, it will redefine the way we interact with computers. But would we lose any of those things if Apple allowed you to add your own applications? No. The Apple death-grip is entirely orthogonal to all of those wonderful things. There could be a scary-red toggle deep down in the preferences, or a magical swipe pattern, or a software download from the Apple site with a big fat warning that says “be careful, if you enable the ‘risky install’ feature, you may be forced to reset your iPad to factory settings.” Most people would use the iPad untouched, but the ability to open it up to other stores would bring more competition and would prevent the App Store overlords from making clearly anti-competitive decisions like rejecting the Google voice app.

So I was right about one thing: the iPad is going to move us one step closer to Zittrain’s dystopic Future of the Internet. But because the iPad is much more of a general computing device than I expected, that step is going to be a much larger step, and Zittrain’s vision is coming true much faster than I thought. And that part is incredibly sad, no matter how badly I want to edit slides using finger-swipe gestures.







One response to “I was wrong about the iPad”

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