Saturday, January 30, 2010

Geeks Man the Barricades over the Apple Tablet

Boy, the internet is awash with geeks vehemently opposed to the recently announced Apple iPad.

The consensus of critical geeks is "It's a not a real computer."

To that, I say "Exactly."

And that's why its going to be a huge success.  Not just the iPad, but some of the other tablets coming to market.

Update 2-1-2010 : iPads were also the subject of this week's Family Tech column.

Haven't those critics ever watched someone who is not enthralled with the very idea of technology try and use a computer?  They laugh at the stupid things people ask tech support, with out understanding everyone of those people is earnestly trying to benefit from their computer.  They just do not have the same desire to learn and experiment and play with technology like a geek does.  They just want the expensive device they bought with their hard earned money to work.  Over the years, their call has become rather plaintive and angry.

The tech industry has sadly failed those folks.

The iPad is not a computer.  It is the first Computer as Applicance.

A computer is complex.  So is our refrigerator.  But we don't have to spend hours learning to use it, or spend time on tech support when we want to store milk in addition to meat.  We don't have to buy a new app for our fridge because we want the light to come on when we open it.

The refrigerator is carefully designed to just work to cool our food.

Why shouldn't a computer be setup to just do the things we most commonly want to do, easily?

The amazing thing about the iPad and their ilk isn't that they exist, but that it has taken our industry 30 years to get here.

Tablets will let us easily buy and read books.  We can carry a library with us in a pound and a half.  Ask any 80 pound middle schooler who has to carry 20 pounds of books with them in the school day if that isn't a good idea.

Tablets will let you watch the videos you want.  No more watching "Jersey Shore" because that's the best thing on in some odd time period.  Watch the episodes of West Wing you missed when it first aired.

No need to go downstairs to your computer to check e-mail late at night.  Pick your iPad up off your nightstand and do it from under the covers.

The most ridiculous criticism I've read is the iPad does not run OS X but instead the iPhone OS.  Have those critics thought about how hard using a menu system would be on a touch pad?  A touch pad requires a OS built for it.  Like, say, the iPhone OS.  Or the Android OS--I can't wait to see the variety of tablets running under Android.

Another critic, programmer Alex Payne, lamented how he'd become a programmer because he had access to a computer as a kid, and kids raised with iPads wouldn't have that experience.

He's right when he criticizes the iPad for being closed.  But it is that closed environment and draconian App store that will keep this machine safe and considerably user friendly then an open computer.

Besides which, the iPad will not be the only tablet.  For the iPad that is like a Macintosh (that is closed), there will be tablet that is like a PC, open and a bit messy and a tweaker's delight.

Maye programmers who want to evangelize programming to the young should write an iPad application that teaches Logo programing.  Or a game that sneak in programming concepts?

Critics of the iPad seem to fear the Computer as Appliance will spell the deathnell of what we now regard as a regular computer.  A regular computer is a tinkers (like me) delight.  There is always something new you can do to tweak it to make it work better or look different.  There is always new free applications to discover that make every day like Christmas morning with something new and shiny.

Those open computers are not going to go away, as long as people want to buy them.

Radios became an appliance.  Radio production became a profession.  Yet there are still ham radio folks out there building their own equipment, and spending hours upon hours casting about the air waves with their only goal to do something neat that their community of fellow hams will acknowledge.  Computers, and computer geeks are much the same.

Geeks who never buy an iPad and vehemently oppose and almost violently speak against them, will benefit from iPads.  How?  They will have to spend less time helping their parents and friends who migrate to tablets and away from what they regard as vexing, unfriendly, even openly hostile computers.

Update 1/31/2010 9:30 AM EST : I found a great comparison of the known tablets on Gizmodo.

Update 1/31/2010 2:35 PM EST : Looks like the iPod wasn't well received either.

Update 1/31/2010 3:57 PM EST : I like this quote from TechCrunch Guest Blogger Ethan Nicholas:

(referring to the writer's not-computer-saavy mother) "There are millions upon millions of people just like her out there. They outnumber us. And they finally have a chance to become productive, self-sufficient computer users instead of constantly asking family members to fix their computers or, even worse, keeping the Geek Squad in business."


  1. "Maye programmers who want to evangelize programming to the young should write an iPad application that teaches Logo programing."
    It'd be pretty much as interesting as a book, because Apple will not allow apps that run any interpreted code.

    I personally became interested in programming when I found a Visual Basic book, installed the software, and ran a simple program that moved a form when I clicked it. What happens when the next generation doesn't have the opportunity to do this? Where will our programmers come from then?

    I don't think the tablet is a bad idea, I just think the App Store policy of not being allowed to install from a third party is. If that wasn't the case, the mainstream would use the App Store because it's easy and the tinkerers would run what they want and suffer the more unstable user experience because they like it. Everyone would be happy.

  2. Yes, the App store needs to be re-thought, but I doubt Apple is going to do it anytime soon.

    That's why some of the tablets from other manufacturers stand a chance.

    And I suspect tablets could be an awesome educational platform. Programming will just be one subject they could teach.

  3. You nailed the flaw in Alex Payne's post. He missed the fact that every generation of 'hackers' (read hobbyists) has had its own technology that waned (as a hobby) as it became mainstream.

    My grandfather's generation tinkered with electricity, my father's with crystal and ham radios. My generation built hifi's from HeathKits and later delved into the wonders of programming personal computers. At some point in the past there was probably someone who lamented the introduction of iron rims on wheels.

    The iPad is going to invert the market. Today's kids bug their parents for an iPod, iPad whatever. Their kids will want a general purpose computer so they can program - if they aren't more interested in hacking gene sequences in their pets...