My apologies to our readers for the (almost) week which has passed with nary a peep about the Apple iPad, as an iPad post or article is apparently de rigueur if you write about… anything. The problem is, we have had nothing interesting to say, and I’m pretty sure I still don’t. Instead, here is Daniel Beunza, of the fantastic Socializing Finance, with my favorite bit of mulling over the iPad:
Before going into details, let me clarify why I laugh at the tablet skeptics. Essentially: because we cannot judge a new technology by how it fulfills our present needs. “No-one we know takes photos with the cellphone… who needs one?” Such was the reasoning by Nokia back in 2003. And thus Nokia got stuck with camera-less phones for too long, giving away part of its market to the Asian manufacturers. What Nokia missed was that people would take tons of photos with the phone if they had the ability to do so. New affordances create new needs. The challenge is to imagine those needs before they arise.
Interestingly, Steve Jobs does not get this simple point. Or at least that’s what I got from watching his presentation of the iPad. For the tablet to be justified, Jobs said, it should let you browse the web better than a computer and a phone. Actually, it’s the opposite. The tablet should focus on new things that only a widescreen mobile wireless device can do. Social web browsing, for instance. Or situated problem-solving. Marrying mobility and Excel, flicker and pubs. (It is also puzzling, by the way, that Jobs presented a social, mobile device sitting by himself on a comfy chair).
This is followed by an example of the sort of revolution he has in mind, regarding the potential effect of the iPad on financial exchanges. Beunza’s argument that the point of a new technology being the new features it has, not the existing ones which are missing, is well stated, but it doesn’t allay my fear that Apple is moving toward closed computing systems. Do I wish the iPad could support multitasking? Sure. But far more troubling is the fact that it can’t run Flash on its native browser (because Apple decided they don’t want you to), and you have no ability to install a different one with the functionality you like. Computers ought to be able to do whatever you can figure out how to instruct them to do, and seeing that potential artificially limited is frustrating.