iPad Reactions: Experience vs. Ideology

An interesting pattern is emerging in assorted pundits’ reactions to the iPad. The large majority of commentators who like the iPad are reacting primarily to the experience of using it. The more disdainful, including Ed Felten, Jeff Jarvis, and Cory Doctorow seem to object mostly to some of the ideas behind the iPad. In other words, the objections are more ideological than experiential.

The common theme is that the iPad is somehow anti-creative. Felton, whose blog is tellingly titled “Freedom to Tinker,” complains: “To me, the iPad is Disneyland.” In other words, bright and shiny but bland and mediocre, locked down by Apple’s “central planning.”

“The iPad is retrograde,” says Jarvis. “It tries to turn us back into an audience again.” And in his now famous BoingBoing rant, Doctorow accuses Apple designers of ” a palpable contempt for the owner.”

The problem with these complaints is that they are mostly nonsense. There are certainly things I would change about the iPad. I wish Apple were a lot more transparent about just what the rules are for app approval at the iTunes Store. I wish it were a lot easier to get data files in and out of the iPad. I wish there were a better way to move back and forth among apps. But I don’t want Apple to open up the iPad to the point where it becomes as complex and failure-prone as PCs, no matter what operating system they run. And complexity and instability will be the inevitable result if Apple allows apps much room to move out of the strict sandbox it has imposed or adds a USB port to allow the use of driver-dependent peripherals.

But beyond that, the notion that the iPad turns its users into passive consumers of content flies in the face of of experience. Brushes was a good enough painting app on the iPhone to allow creation of New Yorker covers and the big screen makes the iPad version a lot better. I’m writing this post on a Mac because I work much more efficiently with multiple windows open simultaneously on the display. But the iPad is terrific for reading and commenting on blogs and other online content. I think it is that ability to comment that changes the nature of the media audience, and Jarvis’ mourning its disappearance on the iPad just doesn’t compute. Nor does his complaining about the lack of a camera. A front-facing camera would be great for video conferencing, but the ergonomics of using a device the size, shape, and weight of an iPad as a camera are  awful.  Besides, how many people are walking around with an iPad who aren’t also carrying a camera-equipped phone? If so, just what is lost?

As was the case with the iPhone, the incredibly creative developer community is going to come up with uses for the iPad that Apple never imagined. iPhone surprisingly became an ocarina; the iPad has already become a pretty decent piano. There’s a lot more to creativity than being able to run a terminal window.

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7 Responses to “iPad Reactions: Experience vs. Ideology”

  1. Mike Bauer Says:

    Steve, I agree with you. The points they make strike me a shallow and self serving? Books for example are very creative and they were/are very locked down. One of the most locked down technologies all time has been one of the most creative outlets ever – television.

    Television technology is locked down (even to AC Power 110-220V) technology and it has generated a lot of very original content (of varying quality and interest of course) and with new transmission capabilities (also locked down) the creativity is even more pronounced.

    If they are fretting about it they can build one of their own or buy something different.

    Good column, thanks again

  2. Philippe Dewost Says:

    Nice analysis Steve !
    Don’t you think the naysayers are the same who blamed missing features early after it was annouced, as already pointed in http://www.imphotonow.com/2010/01/delighting-views-on-the-ipad/ ?
    Regards from Paris
    – P

  3. Don Bodnar Says:

    I also agree with Steve (and Mike’s comments above). I have been experimenting with my iPad since I got it on its release date and have found it to be an incredible machine. Do I care that it can’t multitask, no because I knew that before I bought it, but I like the fact that it starts up instantaneously. Everything in life is a “tradeoff”.
    Do I mind the Apple mind set of locking down everything to their proprietary standards, absolutely not. While I have PC’s that are needed for my business, I can do everything I could possibly want on my iPhone and iPad. I don’t need anything more.

  4. Joe Pratt Says:

    Whats wrong with “users into passive consumers of content”……? I’m not a brain surgeon or sturgeon or rocket scientist.

  5. Rich Repplier Says:

    I agree that the complaints cited in this post are mostly nonsense.

  6. Craig Gibson Says:

    I’ve had an iPhone for over two years and use it in many different ways, both business and personal. I’d be lost without it. But the problem I have with the iPad is conceptual as well – why should I spend $500-800 and more to have Yet Another [i]Device?? I like the idea of the iPad and agree that in its niche, it is a lot more convenient than its smaller phone counterpart and more efficient than its netbook / laptop older cousin. But I can already do all the stuff the iPad offers with either the phone (if I’m in between) or with my laptop.

    I went to the iPhone so I could stop carrying two devices (PDA and cell phone). I don’t need to add a third device to my electronics portfolio again. When the iPad is more of a laptop replacement, I’ll definitely be giving it further thought. Hopefully, that will be coming with iPhone 4.0 this summer.

  7. Alan Hart Says:

    I have to say (as an iPhone, not iPad, owner) that I have started to feel Apple’s contempt and control weighing quite heavily on me, to the point that I both like and resent my iPhone at the same time, and am dreaming of escaping to Android.

    I think it started with little things: why am I constrained to use Apple’s SMS tones? There’s really no reason for Apple to do this to its users unless there’s an underlying belief that users don’t have the good taste to choose well. But it’s got worse as parts of the platform have stopped working properly. And if you are going to lock people in to your way of doing things, it has to work properly.

    Let’s set aside how apallingly slow the iPhone 3G has become and instead talk about iTunes, which I use as a vehicle for syncing podcasts (because I have to). Syncing can take 5 to 15 minutes on my iPhone 3G, there is no proper podcasting functionality on the phone itself, and the App Store neither permits podcasting apps nor indeed apps that can play music in the background (the announcements of the last week are little comfort to 3G owners). The podcast playlist functionality on the phone has been broken since September 2009 when smart playlists of podcasts stopped working in iTunes 9. Users are, naturally, not permitted to downgrade to an earlier version of iTunes.

    I am sure the iPad will give a great experience for most people, and maybe I’m a control freak, but personally, I’m fed up with Apple. Maybe an open platform would suit me better.

    These arguments may or may not weigh strongly in the discussion of whether the *iPad* is too locked down, but in my view labelling as “nonsense” the accusations of excessive control and contempt is going too far.

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