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The iPad and closed computing. | immaterial labour

The iPad and closed computing.

This post is only tangentially about the iPad, which truth be told, I think is a very good consumer product. I don’t think it is the be all and end all of tablet computers, or even Apple products.

What I find particularly strange is the mention that Apple has closed off this device, which it has, and that this is a terrible thing, which in some ways it is. However, is this anything really new? I first ran into this when reading Peter Kirn’s response on Create Digital Music. He writes about how previously Apple fan’s railed against Microsoft’s closed mentality, which they did, but now are cheering a particularly closed device.

Here is where my problem arises from. Apple is proprietary and closed, always has been and always will be, so is Microsoft. OBVIOUSLY both are open to some extent, and in some ways Apple is maybe a bit more sympathetic to the idea of being open, as my collague Eric reminded me today with the example of Webkit. What bothers me is that Apple and Microsoft are even being bandied about as one is more open than the other. This is essentially saying that World War 2 was more peaceful than World War 1 , a certainly interesting hypothesis but one that misses the crux of the issue in a tremendous way.

Neither of these companies should be spoken about as a model for open computing. Kirn is 100% correct to criticize Apple fans who do not see the problem or limitations of closing off hardware like the iPad that has such tremendous potential. Those Apple fans were more interested in putting “their” chosen computer company on a pedestal while taking shots at Microsoft. These are people who care nothing about open computing, they care about Apple.

This is a short post on a larger idea, wanted to get it out before it ran away, obviously there is more to say about all these topics…


  1. ideletemyself
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    great point. I completely agree. Seems open source STILL has quite a fight and years to go.

  2. Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Ha, well, yes – the lesson is, perhaps, don’t blindly emulate any large technology corporation or assume everything they do will be to your benefit.

    I think the Microsoft – Apple *comparison* can still be apt. The fact of the matter is, countless Windows-based slates and tablets and netbooks will be competing with the iPad, and will offer basic technologies missing from Apple’s offering, like USB. They’ll let you read books and play music without Microsoft being the gatekeeper. That doesn’t mean Microsoft represents “best practices,” but I think it does qualify as a quantifiable difference – at least in this case.

  3. pjc
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Peter, I certainly agree that the gatekeeper argument is very apt, and hope we see an OS X multi touch machine sometime soon.

  4. cache
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    even Webkit, although open, is introducing non-standards features that are contributing to the splintering of the web, which Apple has already done a great job of by not including Flash on the iPad. like you said people used to knock MS for doing this, but now it’s Apple. I read elsewhere that Flash has essentially become a web standard, and Apple decided to not implement it. hard to say what’s right or wrong, and what their motivations are, but all I know is that, as a web developer, I’ll now have to make 3 sites for every site I make – one with Flash, one for iPhone, and one for iPad? or I bail on my bread and butter occupation of Flash development, which makes me really sad. I guess the ‘nets are always changing, but this was a kick in the balls to Flash developers.

  5. BobTD
    Posted March 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    The problem here seems to the the assumption that “open” automatically leads to “better”. Apple believes their competitive advantage lies in their unique combination of hardware and software. Their software is written to work only on their hardware, and their hardware is designed to only work with their hardware. So where’s the benefit from Apple’s point of view in making their software open source?

    With regards this “gatekeeper” thing: the iPad supports many common, DRM-free audio, video and ebook formats that allows anyone to put any of their own content onto the device. So what’s the problem there? If you want to buy music on the iPad, then it comes in unprotected AAC format. If you buy video or books on the iPad then those files are protected, just as the same content would be if you bought it from any store. So it’s not just Apple, so why single them out?


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