Are you considering the purchase of an iPad?
If so, you may be a bit late — the things are moving like hotcakes would, if hotcakes were popular electronic devices. But Apple is surely producing more of the things, so it remains a valid question — and one that you have some time to ponder.
Here at the Big Bad Blog we read quite a few tech blogs, and have read numerous reviews as a result. The two best reviews — one positive, one negative — both come (surprisingly enough) from the same source: Boing Boing.
The first of the two reviews is by Xeni Jardin, and is titled Apple’s iPad is a touch of genius. You may not be surprised to learn that it is the positive one.
If you want a look at the iPad’s browsing experience, what it can do, and what it feels like, this review is for you — and it’s glowing. The gist of the review is that Apple has not just taken it’s revolutionary hand-held device interface, and given it a larger format. Instead, they have actually put some thought into how that interface functions on the larger device.
The result is what you have come to expect from Apple — an excellent user interface, and an interaction with the device that is slightly inexplicable in that it is new.
If that conclusion is not apparent on reading her review, find the follow-up reviews on BoingBoing, of specific apps. The particulars come out when she drills down into actual interactions using the device.
The flip side of the iPad is given by Cory Doctorow, titled why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t either).
Not surprisingly, given the glowing initial review, Mr. Doctorow’s concerns are not about the device’s performance but about Apple’s closed approach. No sharing. A device design so closed that Apple will not even allow the battery to be swapped out.
It is, Mr. Doctorow asserts, a device for technophobes. The iPad moves us away from being familiar and comfortable with technology, and insists that all users be blind to what happens under the “hood” of the device we are using.
What will we do?
Ms. Jardin’s review make it clear that Mr. Doctorow is wrong on at least one count. Mr. Doctorow claims — or at least implies — that the iPad cannot be revolutionary because it comes from a large corporation.
This is simply not true. It is not true in the abstract, and it is not true here.
Mobile technology has long been about taking what we do on large scales, and putting them on small devices. From the basic idea of having a phone you can put in your pocket, to QWERTY keyboards and spreadsheet editors, phone makers and manufacturers were long trying to figure out how to fit the full-size computer (or telephone) experience in a handheld device.
Apple solved that problem for many computing activities, not by finally succeeding, but through a new way to interact with the device.
Now Apple is attempting to reverse that flow. Instead of looking how we interact with large devices and trying to apply it to small devices, Apple is instead looking at how we interact with small devices, and trying to apply it to a larger one.
As small an idea as that might be, it is significant, and has the potential to revolutionize the manner in which we interact with larger devices (regardless of the success of the iPad).
Ms. Jardin’s review makes it clear that they have found some level of success. The user experience is more than just the iPod experience in a larger package — there has been some thought put into how it should be different. This is positive.
But the remainder of Mr. Doctorow’s statements ring true.
Apple is creating a sterilized environment. Only those applications approved by Apple can be loaded to the device, and it cannot be opened for hardware modifications (or even battery changes). This closed environment is more easily accepted on the iPhone; your traditional phone does not need to be “open”. When you move closer to a pure computing environment, it becomes harder to accept a closed environment.
Due to this, in our final analysis Mr. Doctorow’s arguments win the day — we will not be purchasing an iPad. As revolutionary as it may turn out to be, at the end of the day it is only a gadget. There will be second and third generation iPads, where Apple might (we can hope) move to a more open approach. There will be similar devices that run on Operating Systems that are based on Linux or Google technology.
These devices, which are probably a year or two from surfacing, will be different from the iPad. The most notable difference is that we will be able to own them. We will have permission to open them, put what we want on their hard drives, change the batteries.
You can buy an Apple iPad, but you cannot own one.
And that is reason enough not to buy.