The Locked iPuzzle

So the iPad came and as expected, everyone can’t stop talking about it. I was cautiously optimistic about Apple’s tablet. I’m a sci-fi fan with a gadget fetish and I was loving the idea of carrying around a computer tablet just like they do in all of the latest science fiction movies. And Apple has a way of completely turning the computing world upside down. They have an elegance and polish that makes the intersection of software and hardware a nirvana.

Part of that is because they rule their platforms with an iron fist. The iPhone is obvious. It’s arguably the most closed platform in recent memory. Every application has to go through Apple’s approval process, can only be listed on Apple’s store, and Apple takes a cut. It’s a fantastic device, it provides developers a way to make money, but it is incredibly closed and arguably bordering on big brother. But OS X isn’t perfect either. While I can install my own applications and control my own settings, things like getting the right APIs for the Flash Player to handle video or multi-touch aren’t possible.

The iPad Cometh

So when the iPad was released and it was just a bigger iPod Touch, I was incredibly disappointed. If this is the future of computing then we’ve already lost. Apple is taking total control to a new and unfortunate level. It’s the same pay-to-play model as the iPod Touch so that you’ll be buying your applications from Apple (so they can take their cut), buying your videos and music from Apple, buying your books from Apple, and dealing with their DRM for all three. The ultimate lock-in.

The Honey Trap

This is what bugs me. As an evangelist I’m annoyed Flash isn’t on the iPhone. But as a user, I’m terrified that Apple has put a vice grip on getting content on my devices. It used to be that when you bought a device, you owned it and could basically do whatever you want with it. The model of the iPad and the iPhone is the opposite of that. You’re essentially paying for a device that then gives you the privilege to buy content from Apple. The honey pot of a seamless software-hardware experience has become a nightmarish trap that keeps you stuck and struggling.

As Mike Chambers said better than I can, having some support for HTML5 in Safari doesn’t make an open platform. One of the great parts of the “open web” is exactly how open it is. Anyone can put up any piece of content, at any time, without asking for permission. The web is accepting of Flash content, HTML content, Silverlight content, numerous video and audio codecs, and other plug-ins. Users have the ultimate choice about what they want to see and how they want to see it. That ecosystem has led to a lot of great, free content like games, video, and applications.

Which is why Apple has locked down the device. They can’t make money off of free. And instead of giving users choice and opening up their devices, they’ve decided to lock it down. The iPhone and iPad are each great pieces of technology and Apple deserves to make money off of them. But they could be so much better if they were open. The number of innovative things that an open ecosystem could do with this technology is mind-boggling. But that won’t happen because the only ideas that will see the light of day are ideas Apple lets through.

We’ve come a long way from 1984, but obviously not long enough.