Monday, February 1, 2010

Why I actually care about the iPad, aka "Zittrain Was Right"

Yes, there's various critiques one can launch into about the design of the iPad. But there's one problem that matters a bit more than how hot-or-not this new device is. It's that this is one of the biggest confirmations that tech companies envision a future where they decide what you can or can't do with your electronic life.

Let me step back from hyperbole for a moment to explain myself. With the iPad, Apple has tried to expand the iPhone model into personal computer territory. The crucial difference between the iPhone and PC models is that you can make or download a program to a PC and run it, no matter what it is or what it does. You can make your PC do anything. The iPhone will only do what Apple lets it.

I'm really just summarizing Jonathan Zittrain, so for further understanding of what I'm talking about I'll just refer to his explanation:

If you actually want to get the whole picture, I'd highly recommend him in this talk.

Since I'm not saying anything new here and also because I don't have time for a full post, I'll just refer to the best quotes and posts I've seen that get at what I'm talking about. First, a great summary of the big distinction between an iPad and a real computer:
"Interactivity on the iPad consists of touching icons on the screen to change which application you're using.. ..Unlike a computer, the iPad is simply not reconfigurable."
- io9: Why the iPad is Crap Futurism
And here they spot the greater movement the iPad signals:
"This is Apple's big push of its top-down control over applications into the general-purpose computing world. The only applications that will work with the iPad are those approved by Apple, under very opaque conditions. On a phone, that's borderline acceptable, but it's not for something that is positioned to overlap with regular computers."
And then this great reaction from a disillusioned Apple fan, aghast at the fact that they haven't even included multitasking:
"I feel like a person who just un-jacked from the Matrix. I am taking a step back from being “content” in using Apple’s closed products. I’m scared. I am writing this on my Macbook Pro. Is Apple going to take all of my computing freedom on this thing too one day?"
- The Modern Geek: Apple Has Already Redefined Multitasking

Update: Zittrain has now written his official reaction to the iPad, published in the Financial Times: A Fight Over Freedom at Apple's Core"
It's not as "Look! Look! I was right! They're trying to push out conventional computers!" as I'd hoped, though others have now discussed Zittrain's future with the iPad included: iPad to Test Zittrain's "Future of the Internet" Thesis.

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