Cory Doctorow Shouldn’t Buy an iPad, but Maybe You Should

On BoingBoing, the always interesting Cory Doctorow writes of the Apple iPad:

Then there’s the device itself: clearly there’s a lot of thoughtfulness and smarts that went into the design. But there’s also a palpable contempt for the owner. I believe — really believe — in the stirring words of the Maker Manifesto: if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Screws not glue. The original Apple ][+ came with schematics for the circuit boards, and birthed a generation of hardware and software hackers who upended the world for the better. If you wanted your kid to grow up to be a confident, entrepreneurial, and firmly in the camp that believes that you should forever be rearranging the world to make it better, you bought her an Apple ][+.

That sort of thinking, alas, is why most of the population has such a hard time connecting with the tech world, and why many view computers and kindred devices with fear and suspicion. This is a divide that David Pogue nailed with his twin reviews of the iPad.

I fall firmly into the Doctorow camp. I have been using computers since I learned to program an IBM 7090 mainframe ion an Algol variant called the Michigan Algorithm Decoder in the 1960s and my current project is building a WordPress-based content management system. Though I never have been much good with a soldering iron, I love the Maker culture.

But I also recognize that people like me represent an infinitesimal slice of society. The overwhelming majority of consumers don’t want circuit board schematics or programmer’s cards for their computers. They just want the damn things to work, without baffling errors and intimidating error messages.

There’s a payoff for Apple’s control freak approach to what is allowed on the iPhone and iPad. I don’t believe I have ever seen an error message generated by the iPhone operating system, something I cannot say for Android or BlackBerry, let alone a Mac or Windows PC. This is an important reason why the iPhone has been–and the iPad will be–a wonderful user experience. The locked-down nature of the device is a price that most people are more that happy to accept.

I also think the fears of Doctorow and others, such as Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard’s Berkman Center,  that locked-down devices will kill creativity and innovation, are misplaced. The fact is that the iPhone, for all of the restrictions and obstacles that Apple has placed in the way of developers, has unleashed an explosion of software creativity.

Doctorow observes of his experience with a decade of seeing cool ideas at BoingBoing: “Most of the really exciting stuff hasn’t come from big corporations with enormous budgets, it’s come from experimentalist amateurs.” The odd thing is that sentiment applies equally well to the iPhone, to apps developed by the likes of Smule, Toktumi, Layar, and many, many others.

My first car was a Triumph that required more or less constant fiddling to keep it running. I learned how to set the ignition timing and deal with carburetor icing. I now drive an Acura on which I can;t do anything more complicated under the hood than check the oil and better yet, never have to. I miss the days of the Apple][, where the first thing any brave and dedicated owner did was apply the “shift key mod” to allow it to generate upper- and lower-case letters.  But hardly anyone else does and, pace the Marker community, the world really is better for it.

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