If you are paying attention to the blogosphere, the iPad frenzy here in the US is at fever pitch. I for one can’t stop refreshing the UPS page to see where my iPad is. Apparently, it is in Alaska along with everyone elses but we are assured that it will be delivered tomorrow. Most of the reviews have been very positive but there is a new class of person emerging: the iPad denialist.
This is best exemplified by Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame. He doesn’t want an iPad and thinks no one should have them as they are likely to destroy civilisation. His core objection:
Relying on incumbents to produce your revolutions is not a good strategy. They’re apt to take all the stuff that makes their products great and try to use technology to charge you extra for it, or prohibit it altogether.
Huh? Did I miss something? Was there some little start-up out there who produced an iPad like thing while I wasn’t watching? How is it relying on an incumbent to produce a revolution when the incumbent actually delivers?
Let’s get to specifics. Objection No.1: comics
I mean, look at that Marvel app (just look at it). I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup, and the thing that made comics for me was sharing them. If there was ever a medium that relied on kids swapping their purchases around to build an audience, it was comics. And the used market for comics! It was — and is — huge, and vital. I can’t even count how many times I’ve gone spelunking in the used comic-bins at a great and musty store to find back issues that I’d missed, or sample new titles on the cheap. (It’s part of a multigenerational tradition in my family — my mom’s father used to take her and her sibs down to Dragon Lady Comics on Queen Street in Toronto every weekend to swap their old comics for credit and get new ones).
So what does Marvel do to “enhance” its comics? They take away the right to give, sell or loan your comics. What an improvement. Way to take the joyous, marvellous sharing and bonding experience of comic reading and turn it into a passive, lonely undertaking that isolates, rather than unites. Nice one, Misney.
So the problem is that Marvel has worked out a way to get comics to people at $1.99 a pop but that doesn’t allow them to share them the way you could with printed comics? Instead, how will siblings and friends read them? Well, I don’t know, maybe you could lend them your iPad for the evening. Maybe if you both had one you could just swap. Or maybe at $1.99 a pop rather than $10.00 or something that they actually cost in physical form you could all just buy them? How is the iPad standing in your way? Perhaps kids today might actually read comics again.
Objection No.2: the hardware
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.
So it is bad because you can’t pull it apart or maybe don’t want to because it works. Apple’s crime is making things easy so you don’t have to? Come on. If you want to pull things apart, there are tons of things still out there that don’t work. There is no problem in supplying that to satisfy your demand. But maybe the idea is that kids today shouldn’t be coddled with technology that works lest they miss the opportunity to become great engineers that produce products that do work. Like the folks at Apple. Only to be criticised for acting according to plan.
Objection No.3: easy to buy software.
And let’s look at the iStore. For a company whose CEO professes a hatred of DRM, Apple sure has made DRM its alpha and omega. Having gotten into business with the two industries that most believe that you shouldn’t be able to modify your hardware, load your own software on it, write software for it, override instructions given to it by the mothership (the entertainment industry and the phone companies), Apple has defined its business around these principles. It uses DRM to control what can run on your devices, which means that Apple’s customers can’t take their “iContent” with them to competing devices, and Apple developers can’t sell on their own terms.
Yep, Apple set it up so it was hard to copy software. At the same time, they set it up so there was a ton of software choice so prices plummeted. Good grief. People are buying software and software developers are making money otherwise they would have given up on Apple. And what is more, there is nothing stopping programmers from putting DRM software on the web. It is just not going to go on the iPad which I think Doctorow hates anyway.
Objection No.4: it won’t save the newspapers
I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of “content” isn’t just that they can get it for free, though: it’s that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targetted more narrowly than the old media ever managed.
Actually, he is probably right about that. So what? Either people will like reading and paying for the news on it or they won’t. Either way, how is that the iPad’s problem? But then again, it is grabbing people’s attention, there will be a way to fund good content from it. No one was asking you to buy an iPad out of charity for the news media.
Overall objection: it won’t change society
Gadgets come and gadgets go. The iPad you buy today will be e-waste in a year or two (less, if you decide not to pay to have the battery changed for you). The real issue isn’t the capabilities of the piece of plastic you unwrap today, but the technical and social infrastructure that accompanies it.
If you want to live in the creative universe where anyone with a cool idea can make it and give it to you to run on your hardware, the iPad isn’t for you.
If you want to live in the fair world where you get to keep (or give away) the stuff you buy, the iPad isn’t for you.
If you want to write code for a platform where the only thing that determines whether you’re going to succeed with it is whether your audience loves it, the iPad isn’t for you.
If you want to do any of those things, it won’t make a squat of difference whether buy and iPad or not. That creative universe, fair world or platform you want will come if someone else produces it. Apple don’t seem to be claiming to be providing any of that and you don’t have to buy what they are selling. Either way, it won’t magically create the world you want.