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.