“It’s a tradeoff” and other uni-dimensional thinking

Many folks, like John Gruber, are responding to criticisms of the iPad’s closed ecosystem with the “it’s a tradeoff” idea: to have such a great computer, you need to lock it down. Some use the argument that Linux has never conquered the desktop, so there, open is incompatible with good usability (I’m looking at you engadget).

That is some twisted backwards logic.

Apple needs to remove apps it finds “not useful enough” for the iPad to work well? Apple needs to be the sole app distributor for the iPad to be so desirable? It would make the iPad worse if, say, Firefox were allowed to compete with Safari on it? No, absolutely not. There is no inherent tradeoff. Apple chose to close the ecosystem. They could have had just as good a product with an open ecosystem… or, gasp, maybe an even better product where fixing a bug doesn’t require approval from the appstore overlords.

So enough with the uni-dimensional thinking. Those of us criticizing the iPad aren’t saying it’s all bad. If it were all bad, we wouldn’t be spending any time worrying about its impact on computing, because, if it were all bad, it wouldn’t have an impact. John Lilly and Ben Fry, who also expressed issues with the iPad, are probably getting one. I may well be getting one.

Apple is very good at bundling a little bit of badness with a lot of goodness and making you think there’s an inevitable tradeoff: iPod DRM, iPhone approved apps to prevent the phone network from being “taken down by a rogue app,” etc. But the only tradeoff here is that, if Apple opened the ecosystem, they would make a little bit less money. (Apple does not benefit as much as others do from an open ecosystem because their closed hardware is already so freaking popular.) For the user, the closed ecosystem is not a trade-off, it’s an unnecessary constraint.

4 thoughts on ““It’s a tradeoff” and other uni-dimensional thinking

  1. > It would make the iPad worse if, say,
    > Firefox were allowed to compete with Safari on it?

    Yes. Not because of the competition per se, but because some people would try Firefox on the iPad and find that web pages “don’t look right” and the controls “aren’t in the right place.”

    Apple clearly wants the iPad to have a very consistent user experience, and this necessitates tradeoffs. I respect Apple’s choices and choose Android instead.

  2. > It would make the iPad worse if, say,
    > Firefox were allowed to compete with Safari on it?

    Yes. Not because of the competition per se, but because some people would try Firefox on the iPad and find that web pages “don’t look right” and the controls “aren’t in the right place.”

    Apple clearly wants the iPad to have a very consistent user experience, and this necessitates tradeoffs. I respect Apple’s choices and choose Android instead.

  3. The argument about user interface consistency as a reason for banning Firefox is, I think, untrue. You can include Webkit inside another app that needs to render web content, and which will have a very different UI, i.e. Tweetie. This is about control.

  4. The argument about user interface consistency as a reason for banning Firefox is, I think, untrue. You can include Webkit inside another app that needs to render web content, and which will have a very different UI, i.e. Tweetie. This is about control.

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