On Wednesday morning, Apple revealed to the world a device so rumored, so rife with brazen speculation for the past decade, that nothing could ever live up to the fever dreams of the geek world that descended upon it like a pack of ravenous animals. The iPad took the stage, and the world was forever changed, whether you like it or not. Let me begin by saying that I’m not an Apple fanboy – I’m a fan of innovation, and devices that change the face of our world, and our lives. I think this device can be both, despite the naysayers and cynics, content to deride it based on nothing more than a spec sheet, a presentation, and the opinions of others.
Let’s get over the name right off the bat. For God’s sake, there’s a million other “Pads” that we never had a problem with before, ThinkPad being the most obvious. Not to mention the fact that when it was introduced, the Wii was completely skewered because of its chosen moniker. Now it’s the biggest-selling console in the world, and everyone shut the hell up about it relatively quickly. Get the period jokes out of your system now, because they’re not really that funny in the first place, and you’re going to be eating your words when you eventually buy one. And we both know you will eventually buy one.
People are crying over the locked-down environment and the death of “free computing”. Well, let’s be honest: first, aside from people who are willing and able to learn about computing and spend the time and money to stay on top of things, the rest of the world isn’t interested. They just want their email, and their pictures, and their Facebook, and that’s enough for them. And if you’ve ever had to do support for a barely-tech-literate relative, you likely thanked the gods of free time when you saw that thing unveiled. Most people don’t use computers the way we do, and they don’t care if they can only run certain apps in a walled garden. They like it that way. Not having to worry about exploits and issues because of a sealed computing environment is what the world actually wants, despite the market’s best efforts thus far to persuade them to the contrary.
Second, the idea of “free computing” is terrific in principle, terrible in practice. Since people don’t bother to learn, the ability to manage their own systems becomes a liability that for which we all pay the price. Spam, viruses, zombie botnets – they’re all largely connected to a massive group of people who don’t pay attention to what happens on their computer, or don’t even know how to. So protecting processes and users without them having to think about it is not necessarily a bad thing for anyone, save software zealots who believe everything they own needs to be under their full control. It’s simply not reality, and that’s a fact. If you don’t like the way Apple manages their devices, there’s a ton of other options for you. Quit your bitching. They’re not obligated to do what a small, vociferous group of computer patriots wants. They’re in the business of making money, and making software accessible to everyday people without command-line experience. Period.
Apple simply said “this is where we see things going”. You don’t have to agree! That’s what is so wonderful about living in a world with choices! Don’t like that UI or platform philosophy? Don’t buy an iPad. This is a consumer electronics manufacturer, not an oppressive government regime. To equate their choices in product development as such is insane.
There will always be a place for full-on computing. Apple is not saying you can’t have that. Hollywood is not going to edit days of HD footage on an iPad. Professional designers are not uninstalling CS4 as we speak in unfettered anticipation of a brave new world with the iPad. Professionals need professional tools. They will always have them, in whatever form they take. To become senselessly reactive and defensive to a non-existent threat is beyond irrational.
I’ve also heard arguments that it turns everyone into passive consumers of media as opposed to creators. Guess what? Most people like being passive consumers. The droves of people who walk into a store and buy a computer because they think they need one are not the people who are changing the face of media and driving the industry forward. In fact, the greater number of people who use computers are those who read, watch, and listen, not write, film, and compose. It’s just numbers, I’m not trying to be judgmental. However, those who want to create will do so, and a platform shift will not change that.
I want to create, hence I will find ways to use that device to change the way I do it – to enhance my ability to do it – and to get my creativity out into the medium in which I choose to deliver it. So the argument that we’re losing something when nothing was there in the first place is invalid. Furthermore, given the amazing amount of creativity that was spawned on the iPhone platform, I would not even be surprised to see the same kind of new tools on the iPad. It’s a foregone conclusion as far as I’m concerned. Creativity will take a new shape, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
To the industry pundits, analysts and self-proclaimed “experts”: savagely criticizing the iPad before you’ve even had a chance to touch it is just asinine. I’m pretty sure not all of you were there on Wednesday. Yet most of the comments from those actually coming out of the event conveyed the same thought: seeing isn’t believing, until you’ve had your hands on it. I wouldn’t even begin to argue emphatically that a certain car was a piece of crap without ever getting behind the wheel myself and driving – yet that’s exactly what most tech writers are doing in their write-ups. It’s bad journalism, and even worse overall decision-making as a human being. We teach small children better than that (“How do you know you hate that food? You haven’t even tried it!”); certainly you can make the same leaps in logic. You can theorize that it won’t do as well as others might think, but to look at it and call it a giant iPod Touch is oversimplification to the point of hyperbole. Clearly, it’s not, and Apple simply wouldn’t release a product that was. You can think what you want about Apple; it’s not the mid-90s anymore – they’re just not that dumb.
I know how the Internet can be, and I know it’s always the same cycle. I just don’t understand when it became more productive to blindly tear things down for no better reason than pageviews than to at least entertain the notion of what might be. There’s no way anyone – even Apple themselves – can see the future. This platform could become something so much more than what we saw in that presentation. In fact, it’s almost a certainty that it will. I was a serious critic of the original iPhone, and it wasn’t until the development possibilities opened up through the App Store that I began to see potential where I scoffed before.
The iPad presents a unique shift for computing, and the fact of the matter is that any movement is good. We’re using essentially the same kinds of boxes now that we did 30 years ago, just with fancier guts. Isn’t it time to just try something new?