Opinion: To iPad or not to iPad?

This is the first of two posts on Apple.  This one deals with their consumer products, the iPad, iPhone, etc.  The second deals with how I perceive they are relating to developers.

Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting opinion piece on the iPad recently over at BoingBoing about why you shouldn’t buy and iPad.  I found it via Slashdot, where many of these articles tend to get mentioned.  Many people have already commented on his post, analysing his position, arguments and thoughts;  I’m not going to – just Google and read a selection.  But it did set me thinking about Apple and their impact on how they are guiding consumers to view technology.

Those that know me, know that I avoid Microsoft wherever possible, will never buy from Sony, and I am coming to the same position on Apple.  

I’ll kick off by quoting Doc Searls  from his “Prisons vs. Horizons” EOF page in the May 2010 Linux Journal:

“… the iPhone is a silo that stands on one company’s closed OS and hardware. It is equipped with a slick SDK, rules galore about how products should run and developers behave, and a single retail sphincter – the iTunes ‘store’ …”

If you own an iPhone or iPad you have precisely one place where you can get your apps: the iTunes store.  That’s it. There is no where else that you can get an App and install it on your device.  And Apple has absolute control over what goes into that store.  And, it seems, it has a pretty arbitrary decision making process for allowing apps into the store.

Several things are fairly well known:

  1. If the App competes with something from Apple, then you won’t find that App.
  2. If it is digital content then you can only buy it from Apple.  i.e. music, books or just about anything else.
  3. If Apple decides they don’t like it then you aren’t going to find it.  Witness Steve Job’s latest outburst: Want Porn? Buy an Android Phone, Steve Jobs Says

Now, I’m not saying that you should go out an buy porn, but to have Apple dictate that you can’t have it, and shouldn’t have it?  It’s like Disneyland as Ed Felton at Freedom to Tinker wrote about.

It does not matter how good Apple products are if you, as the user, are not free to do what you want with it.  Yes they are nice shiny boxes. Yes, it’s a lovely Disney experience. But there just isn’t enough control left in the hands of me, the user.

To me, Apple with the iPhone and iPad are the AOL, Compuserve, and MSN of the Internet era: walled gardens, silos or prisons where everything is controlled by one entity.

Apple, for the consumer, is about a choice: as a user of the iPhone/iPad/etc., you have Apple dictate what you can do with the device, what apps you can use, where you can buy your content and even whether you can have Flash applications or not.

If that’s the choice, I think I’m going to choose something else.