Now the iPad is definitely a slick piece of kit. Apple has created a beautiful hardware product. It is gorgeous in its simplicity and solid metal and glass construction. The size is a ideal for transporting while being big enough to handle some real reading tasks. The benefits end here. Unfortunately the iPad is saddled with a few crippling weaknesses.
Cory Doctorow has a great explanation here. The main argument is against the restrictive software model. Computers are meant to be examined, experimented with, tinkered with, and optimized. Even if a casual user wants only to to check emails and browse YouTube, he benefits greatly from those who are more inclined to take a closer look at the machinery in front of them. These "power users" are the ones who create free and open source software. They're the ones who keep the big guys honest by discovering flaws in commercial software. They're the ones who evangelize the latest technology. This is particularly disturbing to find technologically informed people praising and pushing the iPad.
The iPad is not a computer. It is a glorified media consumption device. A computer can run arbitrary code. It can do what the user tells it to do. The iPad tells the user what he can do, and he should be happy to pay for the privilege. In order to run software on the iPad, a programmer must write a program according to Apple's specs in a specific language (Objective C) and then submit it for approval to the app store. Then Apple must approve of this software before it is published. If the developer wishes to charge for the software, Apple automatically takes a fixed cut of 30% of the proceeds. This means a developer must play by Apple's (and perhaps AT&T's) Draconian rules in addition to sacrificing 30% just for the privilege of writing software for the iPad.
And because I'm a sucker for lists, here's a list of flaws with the iPad:
- Relies on the app store for ALL software
- Requires iTunes for loading files
- No multi-tasking
- XGA screen (1024x768) cannot display HD content
- No user accessible file system
- No replaceable battery
- No expansion ports (arguably not a flaw)
The starting price on the iPad is $499, which is respectable given the hardware design. However, just like the automobile industry, the hardware options will affect the price considerably. Adding a 3G radio and 48GB of flash memory increases the price a whopping 66%.
Apple clearly creates different products with different customers in mind. I've been heavily using a MacPro with OSX Snow Leopard Server lately and I am very satisfied with the experience. I'm no UNIX whiz yet (I'm probably still more comfortable with a DOS prompt), but having terminal access right on the dock is a fantastic feature. Like any respectable server, I can connect remotely via SSH and hack until I'm happy. In fact, the Apple II+ even included schematics for the circuit boards. In contrast, Apple's first foray into the ultra-thin and light computing market, the MacBook Air, didn't even include an ethernet port.
In an attempt at streamlining (ahem, asserting control over the user), Apple has eliminated the concept of files with the iPad. Until cloud computing and services like Google docs are ready for prime time, the iPad is useless as a content creation tool. That leaves it as a media and internet consumption device. Such media players aren't necessarily bad, and the form factor of the iPad is quite suitable. But Apple has dropped the ball again, this time by forcing iTunes usage. We all know how Plays for Sure TM turned out; even a juggernaut like Microsoft was unable to salvage the music libraries of paying customers. There is no place for DRM is today's technology climate, though this is a rant for another time. It is easy to fill up the iPad's memory with media content and applications remotely, but it is impossible to remove media content without docking to an iTunes workstation (with wires, no less, even though Wifi is already built into the iPad and ubiquitous).
The critical praise of the iPad reeks of irresponsible, lazy journalism. The reviewers are too lazy to truly identify what the iPad is and what it is not. It is not a computer. It is a handcuffed media player mashed with a mediocre internet browser wrapped in a sexy package. It's much easier to be seduced by Apple's rhetoric and entranced by the pretty hardware design than to truly evaluate the capabilities and merits of the device.