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1/29/2010
05:49 PM
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Apple iPad Arrives Amid Controversy

Skeptics dismiss the iPad as underwhelming and limiting while developers see dollar signs.

The problem with comparing cars to computing devices is that a tool for transportation isn't inherently political. A tool for content consumption and creation, however, is inherently political.

While both cars and computing devices may be regulated for "safety," the safety measures employed by car makers to protect drivers from harmful impact cannot really be compared to the safety measures employed by Apple to protect users from content that Apple doesn't approve of.

Although Gruber likely is correct that many forms of computing will be managed experiences in the future, device oversight need not be paternalistic, patronizing, or capricious.

For many developers, revenue potential appears to be what matters. iPhone developer Nick Dalton predicts Apple will sell a lot of iPads and says he, like Apple's Scott Forstall, believes another gold rush is at hand.

Veteran Apple developer Jeff LaMarche takes a line similar to Gruber's by dismissing the iPad's lack of openness. "I'm a techie, but I don't need to be able to program on every electronic device I own," he states. "I don't hate my dishwasher because I can't get to the command line. I don't hate my DVD player because it runs a proprietary operating system."

Yet even as he tells iPad haters that, "it's not always about you," LaMarche makes his acceptance of the iPad about him. He might come to hate his DVD player if its regional encoding system prevented him from watching certain movies. And even if not, citing his disinterest in openness doesn't really address whether the complaints have merit.

But LaMarche does make a point not heard enough in the debate about the iPad: That it is an appliance and not a personal computer in the traditional sense. Complaining that the iPad is a sub-par computer is a bit like lamenting that one's hat makes a poor umbrella.

The short summary of the iPad is that it's not for everyone.

Though it's supposedly a "revolutionary" device, it's far less revolutionary than the iPhone, which put a Web-capable computer into the pockets of millions.

At the same time, not every device needs to overturn the old order. The first iPod wasn't nearly as good as the iPod touch has become. If Apple's iPad doesn't meet your needs, you can be sure that Google, Microsoft, and a whole host of PC makers and consumer electronic companies will try to do better.

It may turn out, however, that criticizing the iPad ends up being considerably easier than engineering, manufacturing, and marketing a superior alternative.

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