iPad Hate

I’m a little amazed by the iPad hate. It’s quite a few of the usual suspects, so it’s not necessarily surprising. The iPad doesn’t have enough ports, or it needs a stylus — there are plenty of angsty laments from people who’ve watched Win-based tablet after Win-based tablet fail to gain any traction at all. My gut reaction to them is that they haven’t given any thought to why Apple went in a different direction, and those people are generally not buying any Apple products, so there’s no reason to expect them to welcome this one.

But with the iPad, Apple critics have been joined more vociferously than usual by (perpetually) disappointed Apple true believers, who have always had a hard time seeing where their devoutest wishes end and Apple’s real-life product development begins. That the iPad will transform all who touch it into DRM-constrained consuming machines. That having to go through the app store will destroy innovation. That it will kill communication. What? No, really?

Were today’s iPad contrarians outraged that when the Sony Reader was released, you couldn’t write a book with it? Do any developers of smartphone applications do all their design, prototyping, and coding using a smartphone as their primary work environment? I don’t take hi-res macro photos with my laptop, and I don’t color correct, generate multiple file formats, and manage photo libraries on my SLR camera. Just because a device has a computer inside doesn’t mean it has to do everything, or even be elaborately customizable and configurable.

A low barrier to entry is the single best hook for nascent makers, but iPad critics are simultaneously condescending and overdemanding about what constitutes a barrier and what constitutes creativity. With my photography, for example, what I want from computer-based devices is anything that enables me to better pursue my photography. I do not care about my computer’s schematics. I do not care about exploring programming. Somehow I find it hard to believe that this attitude toward tools is killing my creativity. And the iPad supports a text editor. Let me remind iPad haters: a text editor is all you need to build a website.

General-purpose devices can encompass novice-level tools with ease, but once the novice is hooked and has to know more, he or she moves on to different tools. Not only will the iPad refrain from killing creativity or communication, but Apple will continue to make and improve flexible, powerful tools that enable people to create stuff that can be used and displayed on the iPad. As with the iPhone, developers are already making apps for the iPad, some that focus entirely on display and others that will enable creativity and communication. And of course, the iPad itself will develop, getting new features and capabilities — Apple’s track record is crystal clear on this path.

The iPad is not Jesus. It is not the Devil. It will not rescue magazines, and it will not enslave users. It is a device, a tool whose major defect is that people outside its development team are projecting too much of their own fantasies onto what it can — and can’t — do.

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