This is not a cool thing to admit in at least some of the circles I travel in. The open source/open content folks I know are understandably concerned about the iPad’s status as a tethered device, closed to programs and content not Apple-approved. I get that, and I’m concerned about it, too. At least for the couple of hours it’ll take before somebody posts a jailbreak for it, the iPad will be a closed system.
Except: there’s that web thing. While web apps on the iPhone haven’t been quite as flexible as one might like them to be, those difficulties have been due at least in part to the restrictions on browser window size, and in part due to the inconvenient crashiness of Safari. I have no sense, of course, that the latter problem will be fixed on the iPad, but the former certainly will be. And not having to use restricted mobile versions of web apps might change the game entirely; using Gmail in all its non-mobile glory might make me not care that it’s a web app. And as more and more of the stuff I do becomes browser-oriented, there’s decreasing cause for me to be concerned about the restrictions Apple places on the app store.
The other concern that many folks I know have voiced is that the iPad isn’t just tethered; in Jonathan Zittrain’s term, it’s appliancized. It’s a device primarily meant for consumption rather than production. And the more we allow our computers to devolve into appliances, the less likely they are to be generative devices, devices that allow for unexpected uses, for productive surprises, for hacking.
I agree with that logic, generally, but not as applied to the iPad in particular. The iPad is indeed primarily meant for consumption — which means that it can’t really replace the computer, and indeed shouldn’t. At least not yet, in any case; the iPad as it will be released tomorrow is a device that one can program for, but not yet a device that one can program on.
But that doesn’t mean that it will always be so. As Stephen Fry reminds us in his article in Time, the Mac was at its release “derided as a toy, a media poseur’s plaything and a shallow triumph of style over substance,” but the creativity that the Mac inspired transformed the landscape of personal computing; similarly, the iPhone was seen “as a plaything, but it transformed the smart-phone landscape.” None of us have any way of knowing what people will do with their iPads as yet, but don’t count ingenuity out. Engaging devices have a way of producing unexpected results.
I also take issue with the consumption/production divide that, as Matt Kirschenbaum pointed out this morning, is being reified by much of the technorati’s response to the iPad. On the one hand, I want to say “what’s so bad about consumption, anyhow?”; I’ve never been upset with my television for not allowing me to broadcast. And on the other hand, I also want to note the myriad ways that consumption has always led to production, has always been a necessary stage on the way to production. Writing is something we should all aspire to, but writing without reading is an impossibility. Devices that can provide for more engaging reading — and I mean that in the broadest sense, not just in the interaction with text but with images, audio, video, games — will inspire new kinds of writing, new kinds of creative production, in forms that we can’t as yet even imagine.
Play is inspiring. And as of tomorrow morning, I hope to be inspired, in new ways.