Friday, 29 January 2010

You could argue that one shouldn’t complain about a product before it lands in your hot little hands, but a common theme over the past few days among the pundits on the web has been the newly-announced iPad and it’s apparent lack of openness. as Alex Payne comments, “Apple has decided that openness is not a quality that’s necessary in a personal computer. That’s disturbing.”

While I think the iPad is a cool device, and that it will be useful, and that I will likely buy one… I have to agree with Alex. He’s right. That’s an interesting and complicated place to be: I want to and probably will use an iPad to do good things, and make valuable use of it. But there’s a big part of me that won’t like it too much.

The risks of closed platforms have been debated for some time, in many venues and over a variety of companies, platforms and systems. Lots of catchy terms like “walled garden” and “black box” are used to describe essentially one thing: Vendor-provided ecosystems that you can only interact with they way the vendor allows you to.

It’s why the iPhone “hacking” community has been so active, and so popular. Everywhere I see teenagers and aducts with iPhones that have been “jailbroken” so they could run third party apps and get around Apple-instituted limitations, or unlocked so they could drop in a T-Mobile SIM card. The numbers are staggering when you look at how many iPhones have been modified. And I think we all know that the same community will step up and take the same approach with the iPad. After all, “it’s just a big iPod touch,” as they say. Well, whether you look at it that way or not, the software is a common denominator for sure.

Apple needs to step up and find a way to work their garden so the walls can at least be lower. There must be a healthy balance between truly closed, which is what we have today. Apps can’t be installed on the iPhone unless Apple sells and approves then (unless you jailbreak your device). Allow multitasking and background application activity, in the very least. Some restrictions are simply unacceptable.

The closed nature of the device – and I call it that purposefully – foretells the possible future, one where consumer devices replace computing systems. The iPad may have a computer chip in it, but so do my clock radio and televisions, and those are devices – not computers. If I can’t have unfettered access to the computer, it’s a device in my mind. When I was a kid we used to get into the guts of the computer, physically and programming-wise. We were able to make them do whatever our little hearts desired. That might be something good or bad, smart or stupid, broken or functional. But we learned and we created, we discovered and we built.

The iPad is a design feat (with a fat bezel, but still a cool design). The OS is another design usability marvel. The ecosystem built around the devices is popular, usable and works. But it stifles creativity, choice, flexibility. Are we at another of these inflection points, where things like common-person usability and “it just works” are acceptable trade-offs for flexibility and capability?

My hope is that Apple will step up to the plate and make some hard choices that benefit their customers’ bigger-picture needs. It’s the right thing to do, and would add some traction to what otherwise appears to be a deceptively  slippery slope. I can envision a software switch (which would be set to the “safest” mode by default) that a device user could manipulate to “lower the garden walls” electronically as a matter of choice, with the potential consequences clearly spelled out (and I should point out that this would be a useful enterprise capability as well, should they wish to properly and securely enter that space someday).

Choice. What a concept.

Ready – Set – Comment.



Add/Read: Comments [3]
Apple | Mobile | Tech | Things that Suck
Friday, 29 January 2010 11:38:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Friday, 29 January 2010 12:12:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Greg...

I think you hit the nail on the head though. This is NOT a computer. It is an appliance. A computing device to be sure... but not a computer that you have full control on. You should buy it only if you are satisfied with the existing functionality of and in-the-box features. All the apps in that app store are a bonus.

Sure, it "would be nice" if Apple allowed you to install stuff outside of the app store. But, they know if any app crashed the device, or violated your privacy or anything like that, they would be blamed. The same way Microsoft is blamed for every virus or BSOD... even though the BSOD is usually due to a third party driver that isn't stable.

Oh... but Windows is "open" you can put anything on it. Right... I guess that's an advantage.

BOb
Friday, 29 January 2010 23:51:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Greg,

I'm not so concerned about this. It's a secondary device. And, even Apple, can't shutter the web. Safari is there and any developer worth their salt when imposed by the limitations of the device will go to the web. I've been using (and developing) for the iPhone since the original 2G device. The apps are awesome, but every time I hit a road block with them, the web (Safari) is there to rule the day.

The larger point, to me, is that the Genie (the web) is out of the bottle and can't be put back in. No matter how hard any one company tries to do so, they won't be able to. The iPad and iPhone are great devices and platforms, but IMHO, the market place is at work...Android, MS Mobile, RIM, Lenovo, Asus, etc. will be offering lower price devices. Choice.

I just don't see a scenario where Apple's closed system will stifle innovation. If anything it will increase it. Hope I'm right.
Monday, 01 March 2010 20:59:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I'm used to use an iPad to do good things. yes, unfortunately, there are potential risks of closed platform and in its system. I hope Apple will step up to improve the system in Ipad. Thanks for sharing
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