Cory Doctorow has written something and it’s making the rounds in my twitter feed. At first I ignored it, but it’s been retweeted enough times now that I want to respond. But it’s going to take more than 140 characters to do so.
In a sense, I agree with Cory. Apple did not create the iPad for him and it does not meet his needs or desires. Therefore, he should not buy one.
If that was what he had written he would have been correct and he would have been Yet-Another-Person-Not-Buying-An-iPad. I know lots of those people. He wouldn’t be particularly unique in that regard. Unfortunately, Doctorow also decides to make value judgments about All-The-People-Who-Are-Buying-An-iPad. This group includes me. And about that, Doctorow is just wrong. And so are the people who agree with him.
Doctorow’s article is written as a series of points. I shall discuss each in turn.
Incumbents made bad revolutionaries
The immediate problem here is that Doctorow skipped a step. Instead of demonstrating that the iPad is supposed to be a revolution or that we even need a revolution, he assumes it and moves on from there.
Don’t get me wrong. There was a revolution. But, with Apple’s marketing aside, the iPad is not that revolution. The Web was. The iPad is merely one more step as the world slowly learns to cope with its new reality. Look at the way the iPad is designed to “let you hold the Web in your hands” (as Mr. Ive might put it) or at all the work Apple has done with HTML 5 and it’s plain that the iPad was designed with the Web in mind.
It’s a part of the current revolution. It’s not a new one. We don’t need a new one. We’re still coming to grips with the one we’re in the middle of.
And part of that coming to grips will involve missteps. Doctorow spends some time talking about how terrible the Marvel app is because you lose the ability to share comics with friends or resale them. (He doesn’t mention all the things the app gains you however: being able to buy a new book wherever you have WiFi, being able to carry an entire library around with you, being able to buy comics without having to actually walk into a comic book store).
Are there trade-offs with the new model? Of course. Do I think the new model is perfect? No. Heck, I’ve bought a few comics on my iPod Touch and while I like the experience, I don’t feel it offers nearly enough value for my money as the physical books do. So I actually agree with Doctorow about this app, but my conclusions go in an entirely different direction. I hope that market forces make Marvel (and other publishers) move away from the restrictions. I want to have my cake and eat it too.
I hope that the Web’s revolution (and this *is* part of that revolution; it’s extending way beyond HTTP) shakes out in my favor here. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s life. But we don’t know yet and writing it off already is probably fifty years premature.
Now, Doctor spilled a few pixels talking about Marvel and then moved on. But I think it’s worth talking about iBooks as well. Well, I haven’t used iBooks. So let’s talk about the Kindle instead (or, at least, the Kindle iPhone app).
I love books. I love reading them and sharing them and talking about them. I love holding them and smelling them and feeling the paper under my fingers. I thought I would hate eBooks because they take away all of that.
But goodness: Kindle (and Project Gutenberg for that matter) books are amazingly convenient. Having recently read Pride and Prejudice, I decided I wanted to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But I didn’t have a copy with me and didn’t want to leave to procure one.
That didn’t matter. I just bought it from Amazon and started reading it within seconds of deciding that I wanted to. Are there trade-offs? Sure. I can’t lend it to my friend when I’m done with it. I wish Amazon and publishers would change that. But it doesn’t matter. If I ever really want to lend it to someone, I’ll buy a paper copy. I already tend to buy multiple copies of books so it’s not even that out of the ordinary. And the amazing convenience of having an entire library in my pocket is more than worth the few extra dollars.
Again, this idea that information should be available anywhere and everywhere is part of the Web revolution. I don’t need a new one right now. I’d like to see where this one goes before we start blowing it up for no good reason.
I think I’ve made my point about this: the iPad isn’t a revolution and it’s not meant to be a revolution. Instead, it slots rather nicely into the existing revolution: almost as if some incredibly creative people spent years trying to figure out how to make it work.
Doctorow is annoyed that the iPad does not have screws and that it’s not meant to be taken apart and tinkered with. I can see his point. When I was a kid, I loved taking things apart and putting them back together again. The fact that they didn’t work as well after I was done usually didn’t deter me.
As I got older, though, and my time became more valuable, I noticed that things which are designed to be taken apart usually require you to take them apart to fix them. A lot. And fixing these things stopped being fun. I started longing for stuff that would just work. As a rule, Apple delivers things that just work. They remove the screws to do so, but that seems a reasonable trade-off to me.
It’s not going to be for everyone. That’s fine. This stuff is not for you. It doesn’t make it wrong. It doesn’t make the hardware infantalized. It just means it’s solving a different set of problems for a different set of people: people who want to focus on things other than their broken gadgets.
Doctorow doesn’t stop there. He then criticized the iPad for not allowing you to create things; for being aimed at consumers (who, as near as I can tell, Doctorow despises). He’s right, though. It’s difficult (though far from impossible) to create things with or for the iPad. Interestingly, it’s also difficult to create things with a bicycle. If you want to create something, go buy a canvas and some paint. Or a computer. Use the iPad when you want to sit on your couch and read blogs like Doctorow’s. It’s a different use case. That doesn’t make it a bad use case.
Inside all of this is the unspoken fear that somehow the iPad is going to take away our existing computers. But it’s not. It will still be sitting on your desk and it will probably still be broken in small ways, but that’s okay because it has screws and you can fix it. Heck, you’ll probably be able to buy a new one.
And even if Steve Jobs stole into every house and whisked everyone’s computers off to his secret fortress, it wouldn’t matter. Because people who want to make things are creative. And creative people are creative. Which is to say, they’ll figure out something else. The Apple II did not appear fully-formed from Woz’s skull. He made it up and then put in the work and made it appear. Even if Doctorow’s worst fears are realized and Apple locks up every creative tool in the world, creative people will still continue creating. They’ll still be burning men in the desert.
And those of us who’d rather listen to music instead of make it will be able to do so on a device that isn’t broken.
Doctorow then slyly insults my mother because she has more important things to do than learn UNIX. But no one’s ever accused him of not being an asshole, so I suppose that’s to be expected.
Wal-Martization of the software channel
Doctorow is right. The App Store sucks for developers. I still don’t know why so many developers risk so much by putting apps for it. Clearly they consider it a winning proposition. I’m not going to fault them for it even if I don’t understand it.
But then he says that the App Store sucks for customers. He doesn’t support this other than saying that iPad users should be able to side-load apps. I actually agree with this. I don’t ever expect it to happen, but I’d love to be able to side-load apps. I don’t think NOT being able to has really hurt me. It hasn’t stopped me from using Tweetie or Things or Simplenote. But it’d be nice.
The fact that these apps aren’t on similar devices (like the Nexus One) does hurt the customers on those phones. But they seem to be okay with it so I won’t be writing a blog post about how no one should buy Android devices.
Journalism is looking for a daddy figure
I’ll be honest. I have no idea what he’s on about here. He talks about Rupert Murdoch and Google for some reason, makes some phallic references to sabers, and then says that the iPad won’t save publishers.
Okay. Sure. Why not? I have no idea. I’m not a publisher though, so that doesn’t really affect my decisions. Maybe Murdoch won’t buy an iPad. Or maybe he’ll buy thousands. It seems sort of irrelevant to the piece.
Gadgets come and gadgets go
Since Doctorow isn’t living off-grid in a cabin in the woods somewhere, I’m going to conclude that his heart’s not in this one. I see no point to try to rebut it since the entire history of Western Civilization since the Industrial Revolution has already done so.