Why the iPad is Not the Future

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The question on everybody’s minds is not whether the iPad is a good device or not, but whether it is good enough to be thought of as a wonderful futuristic gadget. The answer sadly is no and it is worthwhile going into why that is the opinion.

The iPad and what the future holds

The iPad is very similar to the iPhone albeit with a screen that is 9.7 inches big. The software is the same, you can browse the internet, can read books and magazines, watch videos of your choice, look at Google maps , send and receive emails and also indulge in casual gaming. Just as the iPhone, this gadget also does not have a keyboard and you can either buy the optional keyboard attachment or touch-type onto the screen itself.

So what is the excitement over this bigger version of the iPhone? Well, the iPod and iPhone have made people think differently about computers. They now know that computers need not always be the desktop ones and can also be presented as music players and mobile internet toys that one can carry along easily. The internet can reside in your pocket and thanks to the wonderful shapes, colors and the manner in which these gadgets are being presented, they have become synonymous with futuristic technology for today’s generation.

The All in One Fantasy Gadget?

The iPad is something that is as path breaking as some of its predecessors as it stands for the mythical all in one gadget that gizmo freaks and technophiles have been dreaming about for many years. This kind of a gadget was discussed with great enthusiasm way back in the 1990s where you could get access to different types of media such as the television and the internet and is now bearing fruition.

Since a lot of television is already available online, the iPad only makes it more convenient to access it and also happens to have the ideal shape of that of a convergence box. The screen size is big enough to qualify it as a mini television and you do not have to strain much to view it as you would when looking at the iPhone to either read a book or watch videos.

This gadget is therefore the ultimate fantasy creation so eagerly awaited by consumers and can do everything possible when it comes to consuming media.
But that is where the problem lies.

The New TV

Apple is promoting and touting this gadget to be a computer when in reality, it is nothing but a gadget helpful in consuming media or to give it a better word – a convergence enabling box. The reason is that unlike the very interactive attribute of a computer, wherein you can change the configuration to your liking by making changes at the root level, the iPad does not allow for such changes and the only interactivity is limited to choosing application icons on the touch screen, which can be compared to changing the various channels through the remote on the television set. Yes, you are able to send the email or the text message and even make use of the Brushes application to get creative, but these are rather superficial and cannot be compared to the reconfiguration or reprogramming possible with a computer.

The iPad is also similar to the television in the manner you can surf the Apps Store, but not make any changes to the stuff there, very much like the channels and the content they hold. Any change to any of the applications have to be approved by Apple just as in the applications for iPhone and that automatically means heavy censorship of anything offensive, stymieing of anything remotely considered competition to Apple such as Google Voice and no freedom for anybody to come out with application software. Very similar to the many number of channels that you can get access to on television but can do nothing about the content they hold. You can only keep changing channels in the hope of finding something you may like but cannot make that happen.

Yes, if you do want to introduce something novel, you can make an attempt at submitting written application software to the Apps Store or test it amongst your technically brilliant and savvy friends. We know that not everybody would be able to do the latter though.

This is what Jamais Cascia – the famous futurist had to say:
Apple is trying to make its impact through a top-down approach and assume control over all applications used in computers today and they are sending out a clear message that only those that have been approved by Apple under rather closed and protective conditions will work on the iPad. While this approach is okay when it comes to phones, it appears that this is not practical when it comes to the computing world as it exists today.

Ironically, the iPad seems to have many of the problems associated with television with very few of the advantages associated with computers.

Back to the Basics

If the iPad is not considered worthy enough to be a computer, then what is it exactly? Is it just a spruced up eBook reader that is trying to be in competition with Kindle or is it a new avatar of the book, duly presented in a wonderful novel package. Even here, the comparison to the book does not hold water according to famous science fiction writer Karl Schroeder as it does not have the latest technology necessary for an eBook such as e-ink.

Schroeder went on to write:

Apple has tried to gain first mover advantage by bringing out a gadget which blends business functionality and technology. They wish to swamp the buyer who would want to purchase the iPad for just the ereading feature with other Apple patented applications such as their iTunes, 3G, other applications, iBookstore and so on. The iPad boasts of a closed platform and the buyer would have no choice but to take to the various applications and technology foisted upon him by Apple. They therefore want to thrust the entire Apple ecology upon the buyer though he was only looking for certain attractive features within the iPad.

That makes the iPad nothing much to shout about and should be viewed as a glossy, well designed entrance into a superstore holding everything from reading material to visual media. The iPad it would appear has not taken us forward but is dragging us back into a world that was dominated by television and strip malls.

One more perspective on the future

Is the iPad dragging us into the 1980s or worse still into the 1950s? It may emerge as a gadget that galvanizes us into the future but that would be a space where innovation and creativity would get swamped by a strange blend of media consumption and shopping extravaganza.

However, there is hope and according to John Connor, it is up to us to influence change that is beneficial to all of us. It could be something as uncomplicated as persuading Apple to develop its Apps Store offerings to cater more to computers and less to television. Adam Pash puts it in a different manner when he says that it is the limits placed on the Apps Store by Apple that is the main issue rather than the Apps Store itself. He has a suggestion and that is for Apple to develop or set aside a separate “Restricted Section” on its Apps Store.

He adds further that Apple would do well to just place applications it has yet to vet into the Restricted Section, rather than rejecting them outright and confusing the user. Examples are Google Voice and Google Latitude or applications that enable users to get access to pornography and so on. He feels that the user must be informed and has to agree to the possibility that the application they are seeking to use may confuse or offend their sensibilities or even lead to a slowdown of their gadget’s processing speed. He opines that the iPad must function as the package manager it is supposed to and must permit its users to contribute their own repositories as raw inputs for other interesting applications. The broad point being made is that users must be at the minimum be permitted to take responsibility for how they wish to use the gadget. Only when such flexibility and liberty to reconfigure the gadget like we do with computers, can we truly say that we are making progress.

Developers and people wishing to invest can also look at the possibility of concentrating on the hardware and make it really futuristic. According to Schroeder:

The iPad has really nothing new and if you are interested in path breaking technology that can be made available at the price of the iPad, he recommends projects of Pranav Mistry and in particular the Sixth Sense one.

The Sixth Sense project involves the use of a mobile device that has a projector and controlled through gestures. You only need to focus the phone on an object and press the required buttons. The novel thing about this is even gestures can be used to take snaps. This really represents a big step in mobile communication and computing and is most likely to influence the way computer networks are going to be used in the future.

So what is the next step?

I am aware that many gadget freaks and hackers are well into placing orders for the iPad and are getting impatient to make first use of it. Though they hate any kind of limitations, they love anything that is new and glossy. Though I do not grudge their enthusiasm in getting hold of this new toy, my opinion is that this gadget is nothing special and is not going to be the revolutionary introduction that people have been hoping for. In fact many people are likely to get disappointed.

I feel the only manner in which iPads can really become gadgets of the future is by allowing interested technocrats and hackers to break into it and install applications of their choice rather than suffer the ones provided by Apple.

After all, why should you be satisfied with a TV set when you can get access to a computer?
So break away from the products of yesterday and look forward to the machines of tomorrow.

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