It’s a smallish chunk of glass, plastic, and silicon that has stirred up debate about computer technology like no other device before it (not even the iPhone).
Apple fanboys, as one would expect, are almost embarrassing themselves in their earnest efforts to hail the device.
Meanwhile, folks from the other side of the tracks are relentlessly attacking it as though it were some sort of heretical anti-computer. Which it is; but that’s the point.
This latter group’s actions are so reckless and violent, in fact, that they resulted in the temporary closure of the public forums on the internet’s largest technology blog, Engadget.
All of this for a device that almost no one has seen or, more to the point, held.
But it isn’t so much the iPad itself that has everyone worked up, though the debate centres on this device.
It’s more about the future that beckons (or threatens, depending on your perspective), should the iPad’s driving philosophies take hold.
Because even as the iPad promises a blissful nirvana for users, it damns geeks to a world of irrelevance.
In designing the iPad, Apple clearly focused on two key aspects of the user experience: simplicity and stability.
These are good things for people who just want to use the device without incident.
But it’s bad for geeks, who live off of the failings of complex, archaic computer systems like Windows and the Mac OS.
My grandpa used to say, there are only two certain things in life: death and taxes. To that short list I would add computer crashes.
Desktop and notebook operating systems like Windows and the Mac OS are bloated behemoths of functionality that constantly threaten to fail us.
We use them begrudgingly, tip-fingering our way across the keyboard as though it’s a minefield.
Companies like Microsoft, Dell, Acer, HP and, yes, even Apple (with its Mac computers), take for granted our acceptance of their products’ instabilities.
Hence the Geek Industry.
At some point in your computer’s life, someone will have to fix it for you. It might be your neighbour’s kid, it might be a licensed service technician. But it goes without saying: if you have a computer, you need a geek.
Most of what geeks do for you is superfluous, however.
Because you really only need about 10% of what a computer can do, and it’s typically within the other 90% that failures occur.
Enter the philosophical underpinnings of the iPad.
It’s the 10% device that never crashes and never needs a geek.
And believe me, it’s a world of bliss.
I don’t have an iPad, of course, but I do have an iPhone. The two devices are very similar. So I can safely assume the iPad experience will be like that of the iPhone.
And in over a year of heavily using my iPhone for tasks that most people do on their desktop computers, such as word processing, calendaring, instant messaging, emailing, blogging, and photo editing, I’ve only suffered one crash.
That one crash was as simple as my iPhone resetting itself. It lasted all of 3 minutes and I lost no data.
Even my Mac doesn’t have that clean a track record (which is why I find myself avoiding it these days). And I won’t even go into the litany of horror stories I’ve heard from friends and colleagues who have been using Windows during that same period.
Of course, the idea of a 10% device freaks geeks out.
Geeks love the other part of computing that the iPad is threatening to take away, the part that crashes constantly and drives normal people crazy. That’s where they play. That’s where they make their money.
If computers stop failing, what’s a geek to do?
So, in a noble effort to obfuscate the issue, geeks are howling about how the iPad “traps” users and “limits” them and “closes them in.” The iPad isn’t a computer, they cry, since it can’t edit video and code web pages and end world hunger.
But the anti-iPad argument is hollow and misses the point entirely. It’s like complaining that fridges don’t come with built-in vacuum cleaners, or that couches don’t magically fold out into dining room tables.
The idea behind the iPad is that a device performs a limited set of tasks admirably, efficiently, and without fail in absolute service to its user. In other words, it’s an appliance.
This is very different from a traditional computer: the classic jack-of-all-trades, but master of none (with a mind of its own, to boot).
Whatever its perceived technical or functional shortcomings, Apple’s forthcoming iPad has drawn a line in the sand. Apple wants to take the geek out of personal computing and give the user a pure, rewarding and risk-free experience.
If Apple succeeds, it will spark an industry-wide trend that will undermine the grassroots industry of technology support amateurs and professionals who have come to depend on and live off of the spectacularly complex failings of the traditional computer industry.
Hence the rabid maelstrom of anti-iPad trash talk that’s clogging the interweb these days. Geeks are fearful of their livelihoods, indeed of their very culture.
But pay no attention to their tearful cries. The iPad and its kin will make the world a more pleasant, less aggravating, and more productive place for the rest of us.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, February 5, 2010.