Yes, I know, we’re all bored to death already by the iPad, and the iPad lovers, and the iPad haters, and the iPad feminine hygiene jokes, and the…
But let’s still take a moment to consider the real problem with the iPad. As Defective By Design notes, it is probably one of the most restricted and centrally-controlled computer platforms ever sold. Not only is all iTunes content (other than music) still controlled by Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), but:
All applications must be signed by Apple if they are to run, an unprecedented level of control for a general purpose computer.
As Defective By Design continue:
The iPad’s unprecedented use of DRM to control all capabilities of a general purpose computer is a dangerous step backward for computing and for media distribution.
The iPad was being widely touted as a “netbook-killer”. That will be a shame if so, as the netbook is a much more “pro-freedom” device, as Jeff Atwood argues in his post A Democracy of Netbooks. As Atwood points out, the netbook features:
No monthly fees and contracts.
Nobody telling you what you can and can’t do with your hardware, or on their network.
In contrast, smartphones (the target of Atwood’s post) “will forever be locked behind an imposing series of gatekeepers and toll roads and walled gardens”:
I don’t care how “smart” your smartphone is, it will never escape those corporate shackles. Smartphones are simply not free enough to deliver the type of democratic transformation that netbooks – mobile PCs cheap enough and fast enough and good enough for everyone to afford – absolutely will.
I’ve been concerned for some time about the rise of the locked-down mobile device and its implications for software freedom. The iPad takes the “corporate shackles” of the smartphone and attaches them to the general purpose computer. This is worrying in itself, given how (as Defective By Design point out):
This past year, we have seen how human rights and democracy protestors can have the technology they use turned against them.
A task which only becomes easier where devices are under centralised control.
Even more worrying is if devices like the iPad begin to supplant the general purpose computer as we know it today. That would eventually make it easier – particularly in the face of concerns about “cyber-terrorism” or copyright “piracy” – for governments to argue that only devices under such tight control should be permitted for ordinary citizens.
So, what’s it to be? Do we want the shiny but tightly-controlled world of the iPad, or the messy (even occasionally “crappy”) freedom of the netbook and other general purpose computers? On second thoughts, don’t answer that question…