Wait, Who Wants A Proprietary, Locked Down Device That Limits What You Can Do?
from the why-are-you-buying-an-ipad? dept
I honestly didn’t have very much to say about Apple’s introduction of the iPad, which seems like something of a non-event, really. However, it’s fascinating to see some, such as Nick Carr, react to the device by suggesting that it’s the beginning of the end of the “PC era” in favor of specialized proprietary devices that allow companies to lock things down, act as gatekeepers and, perhaps more importantly, tollbooths:
The transformation in the nature of computing has turned the old-style PC into a dinosaur. A bulky screen attached to a bulky keyboard no longer fits with the kinds of things we want to do with our computers. The obsolescence of the PC has spurred demand for a new kind of device — portable, flexible, always connected — that takes computing into the cloud era.
Suddenly, in other words, the tablet is a solution to a problem everyone has. Or at least it’s one possible solution. The computing market is now filled with all sorts of networked devices, each seeking to fill a lucrative niche. There are dozens of netbooks, the diminutive cousins to traditional laptops, from manufacturers like Acer and Asus. There are e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. There are smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Nexus One. There are gaming consoles like Sony’s Wii and the Microsoft’s Xbox. In some ways, personal computing has returned to the ferment of its earliest days, when the market was fragmented among lots of contending companies, operating systems, and technical standards.
While it’s true that all of those offerings exist, with some being more successful than others, I still wonder how sustainable most of those really are in the long term. We’ve said before that limited, locked-down proprietary solutions often win early on, but over time they quite often get surpassed by more open offerings. This isn’t always true, but it does happen quite frequently. The locked down offerings may be better initially due to a benevolent dictator — and the open solutions may be quite messy at first due to the design-by-committee nature of the crowd, but over time the crowd gets better (or, more accurately, those who are better within the crowd begin to shine and take over), while the benevolent dictator has trouble keeping up.
Instead, I think Tim Lee’s analysis of the iPad makes a lot more sense, noting that Apple is making a mistake in simply trying to funnel people into a proprietary setup with a tollbooth and controls:
The [iPhone App] store is an unnecessary bottleneck in the app development process that limits the functionality of iPhone applications and discourages developers from adopting the platform. Apple has apparently chosen to extend this policy–as opposed to the more open Mac OS X policy–to the iPad.
With the iPhone, you could at least make the argument that its restrictive application approval rules guaranteed the reliability of the iPhone in the face of tight technical constraints. The decision not to allow third-party apps to multitask, for example, ensures that a misbehaving app won’t drain your iPhone’s battery while it runs in the background. And the approval process makes it less likely that a application crash could interfere with the core telephone functionality.
But these considerations don’t seem to apply to the iPad. Apple is attempting to pioneer a new product category, which suggests that reliability is relatively less important and experimentation more so. If a misbehaving application drains your iPad battery faster than you expected, so what? If you’re reading an e-book on your living room couch, you probably have a charger nearby. And it’s not like you’re going to become stranded if your iPad runs out of batteries the way you might without your phone. On the other hand, if the iPad is to succeed, someone is going to have to come up with a “killer app” for it. There’s a real risk that potential developers will be dissuaded by Apple’s capricious and irritating approval process.
Furthermore, the same two pieces seem to differ on the ability of Apple to really significantly create such a world where Apple gets to act as the tollbooth for all content. Carr notes:
Today, Jobs’s ambitions are grander than ever. His overriding goal is to establish his company as the major conduit, and toll collector, between the media cloud and the networked computer. Jobs doesn’t just want to produce glamorous gizmos. He wants to be the impresario of all media.
Which suggests a rather forward thinking position of Jobs. Lee, on the other hand, sees it in exactly the opposite manner:
Apple seems determined to replicate the 20th century business model of paying for copies of content in an age where those copies have a marginal cost of zero. Analysts often point to the strategy as a success, but I think this is a misreading of the last decade. The parts of the iTunes store that have had the most success–music and apps–are tied to devices that are strong products in their own right. Recall that the iPod was introduced 18 months before the iTunes Store, and that the iPhone had no app store for its first year. In contrast, the Apple TV, which is basically limited to only playing content purchased from the iTunes Store, has been a conspicuous failure. People don’t buy iPods and iPhones in order to use the iTunes store. They buy from the iTunes store because it’s an easy way to get stuff onto their iPods and iPhones.
Certainly, both Carr and Lee seem to agree about Jobs’ ambitions and plans over the iPad, but where they seem to differ is the likelihood of it actually happening in any real way. If I could bet on either prediction, I’d go with Lee’s.