So I was chatting with my buddy and loyal Apple customer JP yesterday, and he asked me if I would be buying an iPad, and I said ... wait, let me check the log ... I said, "Oh, heavens no. Maybe some sort of slate, someday, but on an open system." And it struck me that we'd had essentially the same exchange a few years back about the iPhone. Lovely as it may be, I just don't want to confine myself to Apple's walled garden. This is partly a philosophical thing, partly a preference for having the maximum number of options, and partly because I'm a tweaker by nature, and Apple products have never lent themselves to tweaking. No knock on Apple and no arguing with the success of its integrated approach. But for my purposes, Apple's big contribution is to keep driving new ideas into the marketplace so they can find their way into gadgets for the rest of us.
In the case of the phone, I had a long wait before the arrival of the right handset with the right operating system on the right network (and by right, I of course mean right for me). Then the Droid showed up, and I became the very happy owner of a powerful, versatile pocket computer with an open operating system, a beautiful display and apps for everything I need. In the case of tablet ... well, it's not a pressing issue for me due to certain constraints regarding disposable income, but the wait for worthy non-Apple contenders won't be nearly as long. In its form factor and niche targeting, the iPad may be a bold business move for Apple, but it's not the leap in technology and interface that the iPod and iPhone were. This time around, Apple doesn't have any secret sauce. Competitive processors, touchscreens, operating systems and content services are already out there, and manufacturers have the pieces to start pushing iPad alternatives out the pipeline almost immediately — devices that will come equipped with the features missing from the Apple tablet and will let you roam outside the garden. But, I can hear the Apple fans saying, you'll never have the cool design and elegant integration that comes out of a tightly controlled environment. Yep, that's true ... and that's just fine with me. I have no trouble accepting that life outside the wall can be grittier than life inside. The freedom to choose is worth it.
Too dramatic? Not compared to some of the commentary out there. Try this from Twitter engineer Alex Payne: "That the iPad is a closed system is harder to forgive. One of the foremost complaints about the iPhone has been Apple's iron fist when it comes to applications and the development direction of the platform. The iPad demonstrates that if Apple is listening to these complaints, they simply don't care. This is why I say that the iPad is a cynical thing: Apple can't — or won't — conceive of a future for personal computing that is both elegant and open, usable and free. ... Perhaps the iPad signals an end to the 'hacker era' of digital history. ... Maybe there's proportionally less need for freewheeling technological experimentation and platforms that allow for the same. Maybe the hypothetical mom doesn't need a real computer. ... The future of personal computing that the iPad shows us is both seductive and dystopian. It's not a future I want to bring into my home." Or this, from Holmes Wilson of the Free Software Association: "This is a huge step backward in the history of computing. If the first personal computers required permission from the manufacturer for each new program or new feature, the history of computing would be as dismally totalitarian as the milieu in Apple's famous Super Bowl ad."
And there's this from Adobe's Adrian Ludwig on Apple's unwillingness to support its widely used technologies on the iPhone and now the iPad: "It looks like Apple is continuing to impose restrictions on their devices that limit both content publishers and consumers. Unlike many other ebook readers using the ePub file format, consumers will not be able to access ePub content with Apple's DRM technology on devices made by other manufacturers. And without Flash support, iPad users will not be able to access the full range of web content, including over 70% of games and 75% of video on the Web. If I want to use the iPad to connect to Disney, Hulu, Miniclip, Farmville, ESPN, Kongregate, or JibJab — not to mention the millions of other sites on the web — I'll be out of luck."
Apple has said it isn't supporting Flash yet because it considers the experience sub-optimal on their products. Well thanks, Apple, but see, that's just the sort of decision I'd rather make for myself, and with Flash set to come to the Droid any day now, I'm free to do so. That's why I don't have an iPhone, and that's why I won't have an iPad.