I have to admit, when speculation first came up about Apple coming out with a netbook killer, I was excited. When that speculation turned to a tablet, and then the more recent rumours of it being a giant-sized iPod Touch, the excitement wore off — so much so, that when the iPad was unveiled, all it got from me was a mild grunt.
Looking at it, the iPad is clearly one heck of a device. It's light-weight, slim, boasts great battery life, and has fantastic multitouch capabilities, but that's where the benefits start to run dry for me. What I've been looking forward to is a way to run OS X on a netbook, a mini-MacBook if you will. A glorified iPod Touch is a rather boring proposition in comparison.
Don't get me wrong; I can see the appeal. There are certain groups of people that will love this thing. Students, for one, could make great use of this. My mother would like it (it's low-tech enough for her), and my eight-year-old daughter would love it. People who like reading ebooks (iBooks?) will love it.
Too locked-down, too little choice
The iPad is definitely a Kindle killer, but it's no netbook killer. There is plenty going for it, if you accept the restrictions and don't mind the completely locked-down environment it provides.
Further, Apple is aiming to set a very dangerous precedent with this device.
Calling this a personal computer is like calling a toaster an oven. Yeah, it can warm things up, but it's very restrictive and there are only certain types of food you can prepare with it. That's what the iPad is: a restrictive device that lets you do certain things in a certain way. Apple will tell you that, of course, that's the best way — regardless of whether you agree or not. It certainly restricts choice.
Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of apps for the iPad on the App Store, and yes, you can choose as many dictionaries or games as you like — if — they are available on the App Store. How do they get on the App Store? Through a draconian approval process where Apple gets the last say. The App Store has some great apps; I love my iPhone, and I can do some fantastic things on it. But it, and the apps I can put on it, are no replacement for my computer. The idea of being restricted to this Apple-approving process of applications on my phone is one thing. I can live with that, because it's an on-the-go device, a phone, a PDA.
But the iPad is supposed to be the missing link between the iPhone and a laptop. Instead, it's a glorified iPhone, without the phone. Only applications Apple has approved can run on it. You have little control and limited choice.
Apple controls this one from top to bottom: hardware and software. The difference here is that on the iPad, unlike OS X on Apple hardware, Apple controls all the software. They may not write it all, but they certainly make the decision as to whether or not it will be made available because they control the only vehicle of delivery: the App Store.
It should have been a netbook
With a true netbook running OS X, you have freedom. Sure, not full, open source freedom like you would running Linux or FreeBSD, but you can pretty much do whatever you like with it. Want to run a server, or three different office suites at the same time, compile software, or even write your own? Easily done.
A plethora of open source software is available for the picking and, perhaps most importantly, Apple does not control what you can do, or what you can install, on the computer. If OS X is your thing, there is a lot of choice to be had.
With the iPad, on the other hand, if you wanted the same freedom you get on OS X, you would have to jailbreak it (as with the iPhone), and even then you get nowhere near the choices and freedoms you would on an actual computer. This is exactly what makes this kind of "computer" so scary. Apple gets to dictate to you exactly the experience you should have with it and you get to pay for the privilege!
No thanks, iPad. iPass. I want a netbook with a real keyboard, with real applications, real multitasking, and real choice. You could throw the multitouch in there as well and have a definite netbook killer. The iPad, as far as I'm concerned, is an iPod for the visually impaired.
Related: See Molly's Rant, "The Apple iPad: It's just ahead of its time" at CNET News.
Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.