Something you should consider before buying an iPad (2010-04-01)

Everyone can agree that Apple does indeed very appealing (sexy) products which are also fairly good in many other ways. Understandably, many people would love to put their hands on one of them but because the direction towards closed and controlled systems Apple has taken, people should think about the consequences that can happen if they all are going to buy them.

The latest product Apple is about to launch is the iPad, it has been generously defined as a “magical” device, and some people think it will revolutionize the computer world as the iPhone did in the mobile scenario. The main reason people think that is because its accessibility, natural interaction and very simplified computer management, basically a super-sized iPhone. Unfortunately this simplification hides pretty well other political and economical reasons which limit in many ways what the user could do with a device like that in an open world.

Not everyone was so impressed during the presentation of the product. Someone, me included, thought straight away “no Flash Player? …you gotta be kidding!” especially if the product is promoted as the best internet browsing experience. Clearly there is a lot of politic involved in the decision and may not be much about the technology itself, which of course is not perfect (as the device which would host it). If Flash Player is such a dangerous plugin, why not having it disabled by default and make people enable it when needed, maybe as many third party softwares already allow you to (ie. ClickToFlash), I’m sure it wouldn’t take so long to implement it.

Do Apple really think that most of people these days don’t need Flash when browsing the web? I’m sure there are many others which regularly see websites with Flash content, like the one showed during the presentation, which are not the popular large Web 2.0 sites (YouTube, Vimeo), many small and personal sites can host videos these days, or maybe the future is Facebook pages not websites, maybe… but the reality that not even Google, which is a big promoter of web standards, thinks of ridding of the Flash Player, in facts they just announced the plugin will be embedded, and better integrated, in their browser. On a personal level, the lack of Flash Player in the iPhone is the reason why I don’t use Twitter on it, too many links points to sites with Flash content and not only videos!

If many people will buy an iPad (or an iPhone), browser plugins (i.e. Flash Player, Java VM, Silverlight, etc…) won’t be used any more on the web, bringing the web many years backwards.

Other very important aspect is the apps distribution. As mentioned earlier, Apple has basically full control on choosing which application you can run on it, this might be one of the reasons they want to keep Flash out of it (since there are many flash games on the web). Create a close system where any paid content has to give a part of the revenues to Apple has proved to be a winning solution for their pockets, it also allowed to be very aggressive with the price of the device itself, exactly the same thing happens in the Game Console market. Don’t get me wrong, Apple is entitled to try their very best to monetize from their inventions. But I can’t help to see this also as a step backwards in computer history. So far people didn’t mind and many bought 1 or 2 iPhones, me included. In my mind a mobile phone wasn’t really a computer and, also because the other options were not really competitive, I didn’t mind. With the iPad, though, Apple kept pushing in this direction to the point that, if they will be proven right, in the future instead of having an iPad with MacOS, which I would buy straight away, we might have a PowerBook with iPhoneOS! This is just too concerning for a Pax 2 vaporizer! I can agree that an iPad can be a good device for people not very digitally-savvy (ie. elderly) and as content consumers we don’t need much more from a device (Flash Player apart) but it can be very dangerous if kids start using it as computer. Who is gonna create the content or the channels of the future? Sure people can be creative also with an iPhone, but still it would limit a lot the media options. I think Ben Fry summed up that aspect pretty well. You don’t have to be a geek to realize how computers, and programming, today are key tools for creativity.

“Jailbreaking” the device is still a valid option, and I reckon, if Apple keeps this direction, it will become a more popular practice, especially for devices “less essential” than mobile phones (which should be 100% reliable when it comes to phone calls).

I am sure anyone would enjoy a lot the unboxing of an iPad but, before deciding if to buy one, we should just think about all the consequences. Not buying a product sometimes can be the only way to vote against a direction which we don’t agree with before it’s too late and all the competitors following it make the need to change in the future less relevant.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately I am not particular neutral to the argument because recently I bet the astronomic amount of £10 on the fact that Apple will sell less then 1M iPads in 2010. It’s more of a hope than a possible way of income, for the very same reason I’m writing this post. I’m sure no one is so crazy to think this post will help me to win the bet. Actually I feel pretty stupid after the rumors about Apple planning to sell 5M units in that period, especially considering how aggressive their marketing can be, but at the end I just hope it won’t go as smooth as many people believe so that Apple had to question their strategy. I do not own Apple shares but probably if I had money on the side I would, not because I love their products unconditionally, like many, but because I think Apple is very good on doing profits and the future is still bright for them. If I had some shares I would have probably written this post anyway because I’m confident Apple can find the way to good profit also without being so closed.