The Fool's Gold At The End Of The iPad Rainbow

from the control-ain't-the-answer dept

The media has been making a huge deal about how the iPad is supposed to "save the business," because suddenly everything will return to apps, and people pay for apps, and toss in a big dose of "Steve Jobs!" and there's some sort of magic formula which includes some question marks and inevitably ends in profit! Now, the iPad does look like a nice device, and I have no doubt that it will do quite well for Apple, and many buyers will be quite happy with it. But it's not going to save the media business in any way, shape or form. It's just the media chasing a rainbow in search of gold that doesn't exist.

A few months back, I tried to ask a simple question that we still haven't received a good answer to: all of these media companies, thinking that iPad apps are somehow revolutionary, don't explain why they never put that same functionality online. They could. But didn't. There's nothing special about the iPad that enables functionality you couldn't do elsewhere. But, it goes deeper than that. People are being taken down by app madness. Because the iPhone has sold a bunch of apps, suddenly old school media players are suddenly dreaming of the sorts of control they used to have, and pretending it can be replicated on the iPad. But that's a big myth.

Danny O'Brien has a brilliant post on the similarities between the iPad and the CD-ROM. The CD-Rom was supposed to save old media (as the iPad is supposed to now) -- but tried to do so mainly by trying to make the old format move to a digital world, by retaining the control, and by adding a little digital razzle dazzle. But what it failed to do was really enable what the technology allowed -- and that was because what the technology allowed totally undercut the old business model.

The media is running to the iPad because they think it's magically going to transport them back to a world where there is scarcity and they can charge ridiculous prices again. The Wall Street Journal, for example, is apparently offering an iPad app that's more expensive per week than getting a combined subscription to both the paper version and the online version. There's a lot of wishful thinking going on here.

Cory Doctorow does a great job further unbundling this myth, by pointing out a key fallacy that many in the media are making: that the average consumer is as dumb as a doorknob and needs a super simplistic device to function:
I remember the early days of the web -- and the last days of CD ROM -- when there was this mainstream consensus that the web and PCs were too durned geeky and difficult and unpredictable for "my mom" (it's amazing how many tech people have an incredibly low opinion of their mothers). If I had a share of AOL for every time someone told me that the web would die because AOL was so easy and the web was full of garbage, I'd have a lot of AOL shares.
In effect, the iPad, as beautifully designed as it is, is trying to take away many of the benefits and flexibility in digital computing these days. It's trying to limit what you can do, because it thinks people want to be limited. And, while closed platforms often are great at the beginning to get people to move to something new, in the long run, they are regularly superseded by more open platforms.

But, as Cory points out, the whole interaction model of the iPad seems to have been developed with the mindset of the media companies, not the real end users:
But with the iPad, it seems like Apple's model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother as appears in a billion renditions of "that's too complicated for my mom" (listen to the pundits extol the virtues of the iPad and time how long it takes for them to explain that here, finally, is something that isn't too complicated for their poor old mothers).

The model of interaction with the iPad is to be a "consumer," what William Gibson memorably described as "something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth... no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote."

The way you improve your iPad isn't to figure out how it works and making it better. The way you improve the iPad is to buy iApps. Buying an iPad for your kids isn't a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it's a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.
Again, the beautiful design and the power of Apple/Steve Jobs to market the product will undoubtedly allow the product to do well initially. For Apple. But it's not going to save the media industry... and it seems unlikely to be any more revolutionary in the long run than the CD-ROM was.

Filed Under: ipad
Companies: apple


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  1. icon
    Chargone (profile), 5 Apr 2010 @ 3:40pm

    Re: Re:

    ya know, generally speaking, the big media companies do have one thing right:

    the vast majority of the general public are idiots...

    (I'm reminded of Churchill's 'best argument against democracy'... then there's this comment thread :S )

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