I kind of like Cory Doctorow—he’s a good writer, and even when I don’t agree with him he’s usually thoughtful. In his recent missive, “Why I Won’t Buy an iPad and Think You Shouldn’t Either,” though, he’s not. Because he’s a good writer, he looks like he’s being thoughtful—but he’s victim to the same fallacy afflicting a number of otherwise bright hacker types: the computing experience on the iPad is managed and controlled by a third party (in this case, Apple), and if it becomes the norm it means the death of amateur tinkering, non-corporate innovation, owning your own content, and generally all things bright and beautiful.
Okay, Dr. D. We’ve already demonstrated that apps != internet, so you’re not going to make that argument, right? Of course you are. But you’re going to go much, much farther. All right: bring it on.
Relying on incumbents to produce your revolutions is not a good strategy. They’re apt to take all the stuff that makes their products great and try to use technology to charge you extra for it, or prohibit it altogether.
I mean, look at that Marvel app (just look at it). I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup, and the thing that made comics for me was sharing them.
Whoa there. What “made” comics for you is the ability to “share” them by swapping them with your friends and being able to buy them used? Really? I’m pretty sure that what made comics for you were artists and writers, Cory. I’m not intending to be a pedantic cuss by drawing that line: what makes products great is their innovation, their creativity, other ineffable qualities. Not the applicability of the first-sale doctrine.
Sharing is great, and so is being able to buy used paperbacks—but you know what? If we’re moving into the bright new future of electronic distribution for everything, everything is going to change. If paperbacks go away, so does the concept of “used paperback,” and the same is true for comic books. Yes, a future of “rights-restricted” media is radically different than what we’ve grown up with, but the future that Doctorow clearly prefers, one of digital media that allows everyone to make perfect copies at no cost with no restriction, is just as radically different. The consumer in me prefers that future, too, but the writer in me—who, unlike Doctorow, does not expect to be paid handsomely for jetting around the world rhapsodizing about free content—is not so enthusiastic. And what ends up being the norm a decade from now may well be be none of the above.
Doctorow also—both here and throughout his article—downplays the notion that “incumbents” can produce innovative and creative work at all. “Open platforms and experimental amateurs would eventually beat out the spendy, slick pros,” he writes. But by the time Apple made the Mac, they were a big spendy company. The seminal work in GUI and mouse-based computing came from Xerox, an even bigger, spendier company. Innovative things often come from small teams—but frequently they’re small teams at places like Bell Labs.
Then there’s the device itself: clearly there’s a lot of thoughtfulness and smarts that went into the design. But there’s also a palpable contempt for the owner. I believe—really believe—in the stirring words of the Maker Manifesto: if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Screws not glue.
I, for one, am certainly stirred. Slogan me again, baby!
The original Apple ][+ came with schematics for the circuit boards, and birthed a generation of hardware and software hackers who upended the world for the better. But with the iPad, it seems like Apple’s model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother as appears in a billion renditions of “that’s too complicated for my mom” (listen to the pundits extol the virtues of the iPad and time how long it takes for them to explain that here, finally, is something that isn’t too complicated for their poor old mothers).
I’ve poked at reviews by Walt Mossberg, Ed Baig, Andy Ihnatko, David Pogue, Bob LeVitus, and some lady with the weird name of Xeni Jardin, and none of them talk about the iPad as being a dumbed-down computer for their poor old mothers. Apple’s model customer is “anyone who will give us $599–$829 for an iPad”; all the insulting is being done by Doctorow.
The way you improve your iPad isn’t to figure out how it works and making it better. The way you improve the iPad is to buy iApps. Buying an iPad for your kids isn’t a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it’s a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.
There are many ways that I’ve made my laptop “better,” and darned if a whole lot of them don’t involve using applications that I like. There are things that you can do to “customize” a full-fledged computer that you won’t be able to do with an iPad: there won’t be AppleScript or Automator, no shell scripting (no shell, period). Doctorow and others treat this as a critical design flaw, but is it? You can take the kids to school in both a heavy duty pickup truck and a subcompact, but you can’t haul around nearly as much crap in the subcompact. Yet I’m fairly sure that companies that make subcompacts don’t secretly hold their own customers in contempt.
And let’s look at the iStore.
Only if you stop putting “i” in front of everything to make a point, unless the point you’re honestly trying to make is “I am a smug self-satisfied fop.”
Having gotten into business with the two industries that most believe that you shouldn’t be able to modify your hardware, load your own software on it, write software for it, override instructions given to it by the mothership (the entertainment industry and the phone companies), Apple has defined its business around these principles. It uses DRM to control what can run on your devices, which means that Apple’s customers can’t take their “iContent”
with them to competing devices, and Apple developers can’t sell on their own terms.
Again, we’re subtly conflating “content” and “applications.” Apple sells DRM-protected content on the terms of the content providers. Apple has already proven, with iTunes Plus, that they’re willing to get rid of DRM even when one could make the business case that they shouldn’t. If they stopped selling TV shows and movies with DRM, it would make you happy, sure—but they’d stop selling TV shows and movies, period. If you buy media with DRM, you can’t take it with you to competing devices unless those devices support the same DRM. Singling out Apple for this is nonsensical.
There’s a false implication here that’s becoming increasingly common: that iTunes and associated devices only work with media from the iTunes store. If you don’t want music and movies and books with DRM, don’t buy them. There’s a whole lot of DRM-free media out there, and damned if it doesn’t all go onto iPods, iPhones and iPads just fine!
If we’re talking about applications, then yes, we all know that iPhone OS devices are limited to what Apple allows to be sold. But two points. First, just because you can’t program on the iPad doesn’t mean you can’t program for the iPad. You know who’s creating a lot of those “iApps” you’re dissing? That’s right. Tinkerers. Little software companies. One man shops. Even guys giving cool stuff away for free. Apple can prevent these things from coming to market, and that’s problematic—but they have a business interest in not exercising that power too capriciously, and whatever criticisms may be made of Apple, “poor business sense” is not among them. Second, you can’t take applications on any platform to a competing device. It’s a really insidious form of DRM known as binary compatibility.
As an adult, I want to be able to choose whose stuff I buy and whom I trust to evaluate that stuff. I don’t want my universe of apps constrained to the stuff that the Cupertino Politburo decides to allow for its platform. And as a copyright holder and creator, I don’t want a single, Wal-Mart-like channel that controls access to my audience and dictates what is and is not acceptable material for me to create.
Nice para-Godwin there, dude. Again, do you publish your material in unprotected ePub form? PDF? HTML? Then you can bypass Apple entirely. Also, you can use CD Baby or Smashwords as a conduit to get your stuff into iTunes/iBooks; a friend of mine who hardly qualifies as an Apple fangirl may well have a self-published novel available in iBooks when it launches tomorrow. Apple doesn’t “dictate” what’s acceptable for Doctorow to sell, and saying that it’s exercising that kind of control over what he can create is sophistry, pure and simple.
If you want to live in the creative universe where anyone with a cool idea can make it and give it to you to run on your hardware, the iPad isn’t for you.
Nor is any game console. Assuming, of course, you have only one device that someone can give you cool stuff for. I’m sure that describes the vast majority of BoingBoing readers. (And assuming that the “cool idea” never makes it into the App Store, because, as we all know, Apple hates cool.)
If you want to live in the fair world where you get to keep (or give away) the stuff you buy, the iPad isn’t for you.
Uh-huh. I think the first book I’m going to download on the iPad is Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I don’t really want to read it—I just want it on an iPad for the sake of irony. If only I could get Cory to autograph it.