When to Worry About Apple’s Control Over the iPad

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When does control cross over the line from certifying reliability to being an intrusive burden? That question crossed my mind Monday morning when I was listening to an NPR story about the iPad. Part of the story involved interviews with iPad owners, and as I was listening to people talk about how they were already using their devices, I realized…well…a number of things (to give credit where it is due, our Monday morning TMO staff meeting helped clarify some of them).

First, however, let’s look at the background that frames my thoughts today.

I’ve been a big fan of the iPad since I accurately predicted that Apple would address the netbook market with a device I was calling an iPod super touch (I never get tired of crowing about that). That hasn’t changed now that it’s shipping, and I am quite confident that the iPad is going to be a paradigm shifter, for good and for ill.

In particular, it’s going to change the way many, many people consume their portion of the Interwebs, especially at home, and it’s here where my lead-off question is most important. So, while I am sure the iPad is going to find many vertical markets that adopt it, not to mention the juggernaut I think it will become in the education market, the issue of Apple’s control over the device is a non-issue for those markets.

Just like it is with the iPhone. I’ve been listening to people whinge about Apple’s control over the iPhone and the demands (from a tiny portion of the market - super nerds) that the company open it up for non App Store apps for years now. I’ve never had one ounce of empathy or sympathy for such complaints.

If you want to be able to install any ol’ piece of crap app on your smartphone, or if viewing Flash content is that important to you, go slum it on an Android device or something from Palm, etc., and enjoy your inferior experience. I’ll take the iPhone experience any day.

Apple’s control over the iPhone and the App Store helps ensure that the device works, and it all but guarantees that any app I install on it is going to be free of virii, trojan horses, and other troublesome nonsense. To me, those two things far outweigh any possible annoyance at not being able to install some app or another, and not being able to view all that crappy Flash content out there.

Why, you may ask? Because it’s a phone!!

I want my phone to work. Always. Every time. Yes, I want to be able to surf the Internet and use all those cool apps, but the reality for me is that the vast majority of my Internet consumption is going to be done on my main computer, which in my case is a Mac Pro. The iPhone’s smart abilities make it a killer phone - it’s phone abilities do not make it a killer computer.

So to me, I was, and am, happy to trade Apple’s control for a device that will always work. I’ve yet to come across anything I’ve wanted from the App Store that wasn’t there, save perhaps clients for the major online poker sites, and even there it hasn’t mattered to me - the iPhone is awesome.

Up until Monday morning, the same sort of thought process applied to the iPad in my mind. Yes, Apple has just as much control over the iPad, but again it has been, and is, a tradeoff that sat well with me. Flash? Who cares? Apple controls the apps? So what?

I think the key moment came when some analyst said in that NPR story noted above that many people are likely to make the iPad their main computer in the future. Whether that will be the case is certainly up for debate, but I think there is a 100% chance that the iPad will become the main way that many users consume most of their Internet content in their homes.

From ebooks, to newspapers, to magazines, to movies and TV, to e-mail, to Web surfing…Many people are going to do the vast majority of these activities on their iPad in the not-too-distant future.

It’s one thing for a single company to have so much control over a smartphone (see my arguments above), but I have some concern about that being the case for a device that is the main conduit for information for a not insignificant number of people.

Don’t mistake that to mean that I think the iPad is bad or that I don’t want one - I think it’s awesome and I am annoyed that I have to wait for the 3G-equipped units to ship before I can get one (someone at TMO needs a 3G unit for testing, and every other staff member already has the WiFi-only model, so guess who gets to wait? I know, I lead a hard life…).

But I’ve always thought of the iPad as an extension of my computing world, not a replacement or substitute, just like the iPhone’s smartphone capabilities. So again, those tradeoffs involved in Apple’s control are a no-brainer to me.

I guess what I’m trying to express in this column is little more than worrying about the iPad being so good at being an iPad that many people begin relying on it as their main conduit to the Internet. No one company or government should have the kind of control over such a main conduit as Apple has over the iPad, at least in its current iteration.

Apple’s ban on political apps, on porn apps, on obscenity and profanity, on apps that allow you to extend your device in ways that don’t fit into Apple’s game plan (think Google Voice or tethering)…these are serious issues if the iPad becomes the de facto computer of your house. Yes, you can access most of those things through Safari on the iPad, but you can’t access Firefox, Internet Explorer or Chrome, so that’s no real counter argument.

And in the long run, maybe it’s just those sorts of things that will keep the iPad from becoming the computer in most houses. Maybe Apple’s control will keep it a great device that just works, but one that is just one of the ways you get your Interwebs fix.

If that’s the case, there’s nothing to be concerned about. If not, however, I think that we should all re-examine just how much control we’ll let any one company have over our computing lives.

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Comments

Tiger

Yes, you can access most of those things through Safari on the iPad, but you can?t access Firefox, Internet Explorer or Chrome, so that?s no real counter argument.

1. Internet Explorer…really? You’re gonna throw that in there since it’s been OFF the Mac platform realistically since before 2006 and didn’t work well even then?

2. Firefox is dealing with security issues of its own right now. Read some blogs. It’s got REAL security issues. Chrome is BARELY functioning on Mac Desktops as of yet. Maybe if Google weren’t being so hostile toward Apple (and vice versa), this could get resolved. Chrome is a casualty of war.

3. You sort of forgot one though. Opera IS about to release their browser for iPhone and iPad pending approval. Which is likely since the developers tend to be non-antagonistic toward Apple.  http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/opera-browser-to-launch-on-iphone-ipad/

And I don’t actually buy into the iPad replacing the home computer. I went by and experimented with one yesterday at my local Apple Store. It’s very nice. I hope the keyboard does improve, or my skills with it. But since I just bought an iMac to replace my 9 year old G4, and sales of Apple’s computers have continued to grow substantially over the last 3 years, I don’t believe it will become the new desktop. It’s great for the coffee table, the morning commute on a train, and yes, even on a plane. In class. In waiting rooms where we spend hours of our lives. Places like that. But since I can’t burn a CD or DVD with it, run my scanner, or use my TV Tuner, it’s really NOT going to be where I, or most people for that matter, do my daily computing needs.

It’s a companion device. It’s a really nice one. I hope the cameras come into play. HP debuted the Slate today on CBS News. Nice concept video if they can make it work. It has major edges over iPad 1.0. But I can already tell one BIG difference…with Windows 7, Flash, and an SD card reader, the user will NEVER get 12 hours out of the battery. 3.5 max.

Tiger

Ok, now that I’ve had some coffee and gotten to work, my post sounds a bit snarky Bryan. That’s unintentional. Chalk it up to foggy morning brain and read between the lines.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Bryan, In edu markets, Apple control is a huge issue. School purchasing is way behind the curve on licensing trends, especially in what some would label “disadvantaged schools”. Right now, they get the concept of site licenses. They don’t get the value of something in the cloud. While I would prefer that we sell them our cloud-based service and give the software away, we’d go broke doing that because, initially, they wouldn’t see the dollar value of our facilitated online collaboration and they would think they could roll their own. After year one, the case is much clearer. That’s why we sell the licenses and include the online portion year one, then renew the online portion in subsequent years.

With site licenses, teachers expect the luxury of installing at home. With server based registration, we can observe how a license is used and deal with an activation code getting out of hand. By controlling that ourselves (imagine that!!), we can be lenient or hard-nosed as each case merits. Sometimes, we can anticipate what a customer is trying to accomplish and just help them do it. With Apple managing licensing, developers don’t have that option or even the same level of information.

If the iPad (as Apple has incarnated it) takes off big in education, I think what you’ll see is a quick shift to cloud-based services that developers charge schools for, along with free software. I’m more than sure that there will be clashes between Apple and developers over how the cloud services are upsold, because they won’t funnel through the in-app store, that’s for damned sure.

I have had a couple inquiries about iPad, and I’ve recommended Acer Aspire One and ASUS t91mt netbooks. 1 GB standard vs. 256 MB in the iPad, and they can continue to buy our software under a model they already understand.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Also Bryan.. consider… Where are the viruses and trojan horses plaguing the Android platform right now? Or jailbroken iPhones? Some estimates claim 5% to 10% of iPhones have been jailbroken. That’s a lot of phones if you want to distribute a killer virus! And what of the South Park app? Is that Flash crap? What of swimsuit catalogs? I know you see far more objectionable content at any concert you play! App Store control is all about the revenue stream for Apple. When developers wise up, just go free, and depend on cloud based revenue streams that don’t flow through Apple, the App Store game will come to a quick end. Or Apple will exercise even more onerous control.

mrmwebmax

+

So long as the iPad requires a Mac or PC with iTunes to operate, I fail to see how it could possibly become anyone’s main computer, rather than a portable extension of their computing environment. Furthermore, so long as Apple doesn’t block actual websites from the Safari browser, people will still be able to see all of the (non-Flash) Internet content they want, regardless of whether or not there’s an App for said content.

The day Apple starts blocking sites from Safari (be it Safari on any device) is the day I become truly worried.

nytesky

It’s a good thought exercise but the question of control is moot. iPad will not be the only tablet computer, just like iPhone is not the only smart phone. So you’ll be able to get an HP or Dell tablet in the same way you can get a Droid or a Pre. You’ve really already answered your question from the beginning.

I, like you, don’t mind if Apple does quality control on the experience, if the experience is easy, reliable and fun. If that bothers a consumer, there will be lots of other slate style computers coming to the market that are around the same price point.

Apple did the hard work and paved the way and now others can glide in their wake.

graxspoo

“NOW” The whole idea of the iPad is way too “kinder-computer” for me. It’s designed for us to passively sit back and absorb content like good little consumers. This is not a computer for free-thinkers, crazy-ones, or creative types. I think its great that Apple created an almost maintenance free device in the iPhone. I love my iPhone. I love my MacBook. I have zero use for an iPad.

mrmwebmax

+

?NOW? The whole idea of the iPad is way too ?kinder-computer? for me. It?s designed for us to passively sit back and absorb content like good little consumers. This is not a computer for free-thinkers, crazy-ones, or creative types. I think its great that Apple created an almost maintenance free device in the iPhone. I love my iPhone. I love my MacBook. I have zero use for an iPad.

As a free-thinking creative type (website, seo, and graphic design consultant), I do think the iPad has something for me, but that’s because I don’t have a laptop. I have an iPhone for portability, and for the heavy lifting, I have a 24” 3.06GHz dual-core iMac. The iMac is far more powerful than any MacBook Pro I’ve used, and the screen real estate is a big plus for productivity (especially compared to a laptop screen).

For certain on-the-go tasks, though, I could see the iPad being ideal. It wouldn’t ever replace my iMac, but it could certainly replace my dead-tree Franklin Planner, help me take (and manage) notes when at the vet’s office (I have ten cats and need all the help I can get), demo websites to clients (OK, gotta ditch the Flash video….), keep up with email, and—if iPad’s Safari works the kinks out of using online forms and embedded rich text editors—I could manage my client websites on-the-go, as they’re all based on Drupal CMS now.

Nothing short of a Mac running OS X will ever cut it for tasks requiring Adobe Creative Suite (Illustrator is part of everything I do at some point), Cinema 4D (3D graphics and animation), and robust file/FTP management (Finder plus Transmit). But given an iPad version of Navicat (MySQL database management) and a perfected iPad Safari, and I could certainly do everything needed to manage and update websites on-the-go.

I’m still waiting for Gen 2 iPads, but given how much productivity I squeeze out of my iPhone (I proofed a print job while in a vet waiting room once), I’ve no doubt the iPad will prove just as indispensable.

JonGl

To answer the question in the title, the time to worry is before Apple actually gains the control you are warning against. Once it’s done, it’s done, and incrementalism is the way to do it without people “feeling” the pain. It’s the frog and boiling water idea. For people concerned about privacy and freedom to say that the iPad is not a threat…. well, I wonder just how concerned they are…. At least, Bryan, you are the one voice on this site that shows any interest in this very important issue.

-Jon

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