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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

Apple's iPad is a sad, sad thing.

What the Ipad means

Ev­ery­thing I will say here was prob­a­bly bet­ter said by Mark Pil­grim but what the heck, let's give it a shot.

Here's what's wrong with the iPad: it sucks for me.

Be­fore any­one says "don't buy it then!" I'll say it first: I don't in­tend to buy one.

I think there is a place for iPads and it would go agains most of my be­liefs to say it should­n't ex­ist, but I al­so ex­pect it to make our world poor­er, if it's pop­u­lar enough.

Yes it's hos­tile to tin­ker­ing. Yes, to read about that, see Mark Pil­grim's ar­ti­cle, he's a much bet­ter writ­er than I.

I once post­ed the README file for a piece of soft­ware called At­last. It said things like "make ev­ery­thing pro­grammable" and "[It is] far bet­ter to in­vest the ef­fort up front to cre­ate a prod­uct flex­i­ble enough to be adapt­ed at will, by its user­s, to their im­me­di­ate need­s."

The iPad and most oth­er Ap­ple prod­ucts are the an­tithe­sis of that. They are prod­ucts meant to be ex­act­ly as they are, and that's all they are goint to be. If you want to change the way it act­s, you need to pay and be sub­ject of Ap­ple's whim, or "break in­to" your own de­vice.

That hurts me. I see peo­ple give up even the pos­si­bil­i­ty of chang­ing what a (let's say it) pret­ty, use­ful, pow­er­ful de­vice is ca­pa­ble of, just be­cause they don't what that free­dom. I can un­der­stand that from, say, a used car sales­man, or what­ev­er, some­one with­out any in­cli­na­tion for that craft.

But I see freak­ing pro­gram­mers buy­ing ap­ple kit. And I see them hap­py with their iPhones and iPods and (soon, sure­ly) iPad­s, buy­ing apps from the on­ly source en­abled to sell them, buy­ing the apps that are al­lowed by a sin­gle par­ty, that de­cides, hey, this ap­p? you won't need it!

I see them and I say to my­self, dude, that thing you hold in your hand is more pow­er­ful than any­thing we had 10 years ago, there must be some­thing cool you could do with it that noone else is do­ing.

What's the vi­sion a pro­gram­mer has of his fu­ture if he en­dors­es Ap­ple's closed kit? A fu­ture where he can pro­gram some­thing on­ly if Ap­ple ap­proves? A fu­ture where a "re­al" com­put­er is a SDK for the things "re­al peo­ple" use in their ev­ery­day lifes?

What is wrong with you? What hap­pened to you? Are you now the kind of guy that's just hap­py with what he's given? Are you now a freak­ing util­i­tar­i­an? Are you old now?

Have you no­ticed the trend in Ap­ple's new prod­ucts is to­wards less con­trol by the user? First it was just hand­held­s, now there's a tablet. What was the last new in­ter­est­ing Ap­ple prod­uct that was­n't locked up?

Here they had a de­vice which could have OSX or Iphone OS, and they went with Iphone OS. There is a rea­son for that: it makes them more mon­ey.

For OS­X, they make mon­ey of the hard­ware, the OS up­grades, and some app­s. On the iPad, they make mon­ey ev­ery time you buy any ap­p, ev­ery time you buy a book to read in it, ev­ery time you use 3G with the pre­paid plan, and I am sure they are go­ing to find oth­er ways too.

And what's the key to mak­ing mon­ey that way? Con­trol. If they had no ex­clu­sive con­trol of the App store, they lose a source of rev­enue. If they al­lowed for easy de­vel­op­ment of hob­by app­s, they would lose rev­enue. If they could let you re­place the freak­ing bat­tery, they would lose rev­enue.

And if there's one thing com­pa­nies hate is los­ing rev­enue. Ap­ple saw two paths ahead, one lead­ing to huge mon­ey, the oth­er to just big mon­ey. They have tak­en the huge mon­ey path, and it's work­ing for them. They are not go­ing back.

If ev­ery­one goes along for the ride, it will be a sad thing.

Michael Foord / 2010-02-03 12:43:

I don't think revenue is the primary driving factor in keeping the App Store locked - I'm pretty sure the main motivation is to have control over what is released (no private API usage, no malware, minimal breaking of UI guidelines, etc). Deride it if you will - but it is a big part in the massive iPhone success.

Above all developers want people to *use* what they create. The hundreds of thousands of developers writing code for the iPhone do it not because they have sold out or settled for less, but because what they create will be used.

Roberto Alsina / 2010-02-03 14:20:

What happens when Apple adds a feature to the iphone OS, and suddenly a whole category of apps will not ever get another version approved because it now is in conflict with the guidelines?

Well, then those developers will be older and wiser about supporting a system where another company tells them what they can and cannot sell or even give away. And it will be too late for them.

If apple wanted "no private API usage, no malware, minimal breaking of UI guidelines", it's trivial: create a non-mandatory apple store. Make the user have to jump hoops to install from other sources. Void the warranty. Offer a "restore to factory+approved apps" switch. Disincentivate non-approved apps, instead of forbidding them!

Give a *choice* to have a fucked-up phone, if the user is willing! That is the cost of freedom: freedom to fuck up on your own.

Jim Deville / 2010-02-04 04:23:

Don't they already have that with jailbreaking?

Bård Aase / 2010-02-04 08:11:

Sort of, but then there would be no reason to fight the jailbreaking in every subsequent release of the iPhone OS

Michael Foord / 2010-02-03 12:45:

For what it's worth I really dislike the locked down app store and in particular some of the *specific* policies Apple seems to act on. *However*, I suspect that the locked down nature of the app store is part of the reason that is so successful. I think there is an *enormous* amount for developers of all kinds to learn about what consumers really want, and how they really use computers, from the iPhone and what will become the iPad stories. I'm afraid that rants like this indicate that many developers are *completely* missing what is there to be learned.

Roberto Alsina / 2010-02-03 14:25:

I would be delighted to publish apps for ipad or whatever if I wasn't subjected to approval by a third party. So no.

Michael Foord / 2010-02-03 22:21:

You're stilling missing my point. :-) It isn't about what you as a developer want, but the experience Apple is able to bring through the control they exert is obviously striking a chord with what consumers want. Fine if you don't want to give up that freedom, I agree with you of course, but us geeks have not so far been capable of producing user experiences (in terms of usable software and operating systems) that people really enjoy using. That is the challenge ahead of us and the lesson to be learned.

Roberto Alsina / 2010-02-03 23:12:

I don't expect IPhone OS is written by marketing specialists, but I get it. That's why I say it's sad "us geeks" are buying these things.

Jim Deville / 2010-02-04 04:23:

I do find it interesting that there aren't any real development choices on the iPhone or (presumably) iPad.

lucio / 2010-02-04 00:57:

thats why wap walled gardens were so good, they were controlled by the owners. oh, wait.

open/closed has nothing to do with how good/bad it is.

lucio / 2010-02-03 15:14:

i saw the palm ecosystem grow out of nothing last century, it did not need to be closed to get the attention of everyone and be successful for free and paid apps. So dont tell me that you need a closed device to be successful.

Roberto Alsina / 2010-02-03 15:23:

a) You also saw it become nothing again, didn't you? ;-)

b) Who is telling you that? I am however telling you that Apple's closed ecosystem is very succesful.

lucio / 2010-02-03 17:55:

a) yes i did. like the apple II, or os9, or commodore, or DOS games.

b) you are not the one saying it, but let me quote from above: "*However*, I suspect that the locked down nature of the app store is part of the reason that is so successful.".

Christophe / 2010-02-03 18:38:

I completely agree with your article and I'm depressed to see people who like free softwares (as in free speech) interested by this piece of locked hardware.
I really don't understand them.