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iPad; Apple; UI; information appliance

What the iPad is and isn’t

So, a lot of people seem to want an iPad including those who are fully aware of its shortcomings. The iPad doesn’t support Flash, isn’t equipped with a camera, and lacks the e-Ink display.  Do I think it will kill both netbooks and e-Readers currently available in the market? Probably not. (But some think it will. )  Do I think it would be a wise thing to buy an iPad as soon as it comes out to the market? Absolutely not.

But, do I want one? You bet. And hopefully I will hack it.

I missed the announcement of iPad Wednesday that so many people watched. Of course, as soon as I found time, I watched iPad video. While watching the video twice (thank you, Comcast, for turtle-speed internet), these are the thoughts that passed my mind.

  1. OMG, it is so sleek! I can’t wait to try reading something on it.
  2. No e-Ink?  So iPad’s just a touch-screen netbook without Flash/peripheral support?
  3. Stupid information appliance. Who needs that for $$$?
  4. But maybe my aunt who doesn’t do any internet would like this because using the iPad will be easy and intuitive.
  5. Still not fair that buyers can’t configure or control the iPad that is practically a computer!
  6. How would the iPad change what we think about computers and the web?

The video on the Apple website was more than impressive. It was made perfectly to open people’s wallet. However, the advertisement video was also clear in that the iPad was designed to be an appliance. Something that you turn on and use without thinking to surf the web and consume online media.  The iPad is more similar to Roku, a box that plays Netflix movies onto a TV than to a netbook and closer to a less portable iPhone that cannot make a call or take a photo than a MacBook. Unlike Annalee Newitz who thinks that Apple is marketing the iPad as a computer, I think Apple advertises iPad as a piece of electronics rather than as a computer.

However, I agree with her that iPad is a media consumption device more than anything. In “Why the iPad is Crap Futurism,” she says:

“One of the fundamental attributes of computers is that they are interactive and reconfigurable. You can change the way a computer behaves at a very deep level. Interactivity on the iPad consists of touching icons on the screen to change which application you’re using. Hardly more interactive than changing channels on a TV. Sure, you can compose a short email or text message; you can use the Brushes app to draw a sketch. But those activities are not the same thing as programming the device to do something new. Unlike a computer, the iPad is simply not reconfigurable. The iPad emulates television in another way, too: You can channel surf through the Apps Store, but you can’t change what’s playing. Every single app that’s available for the iPad has to be approved by Apple first, just like apps for iPhones. That means censorship of “offensive” apps, no apps that compete with Apple (i.e., no Google Voice), and no random app somebody wrote to do whatever obscure shit you want to do. So you’ve got thousands of channels and nothing on. You can only keep flipping through the channels, hoping in vain to see something other than reruns of Cheaters and Alf.”

Considering its computing power, the iPad is really a computer. With its large screen, the iPad has no excuse to be such a locked-down device that gives users no control over it. It seems that we are forced to take convenience over control, and this is worrisome.

Adam Pash of Lifehacker warns about the possible ramification of Apple’s attitude towards its products in “The Problem with the Apple iPad”:

“The iPad, much like the iPhone, is completely locked down. The user has no control over what she installs on the hardware, short of accepting exactly what Apple has approved for it. …… Apple requires you to hack the device if you actually want control over it yourself. Apple’s gotten into the habit of acting like you’re renting hardware. ”


As someone fascinated by apps, I believe iPhone/iTouch contributed to democratizing media on the web. More people now take photos, make drawings, and create videos using iPhone/iTouch because they made it so easy to do so.  And those are creative activities, not the mere consumption of any given media.  The iPad could have done more in this direction of promoting the read-write culture of the web. (See “Apple iPad – The content revolution that wasn’t” )

The very innovativeness of iPhone OS emphasizes the danger of it being a completely locked-down system.  Have you ever wondered exactly how iPhone’s user interface is so revolutionary? In “The Apple Tablet Interface Must Be Like This”, Jesus Diaz explains this by showing how iPhone materializes Jef Raskin’s idea of a morphing information appliance that could do every single task imaginable perfectly, changing its interface according to your objectives.

Because the iPhone OS works well and intuitively, there is an even stronger need for it to be configurable. Why can’t it be both ways, Adam Pash asks, just as MacBook comes with a terminal that most people rarely use but is still essential for some who like to see under the hood. Like he says,

To say that “either a device is user friendly or it’s open” is a false dichotomy.


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