Monday, April 5, 2010


What in hell is going on with these people?

Jeff Jarvis on the iPad:

The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again...We also hear, as in David Pogue's review, that this is our grandma's computer. That cant is inherently snobbish and insulting. It assumes grandma has nothing to say. But after 15 years of the web, we know she does. I've long said that the remote control, cable box, and VCR gave us control of the consumption of media; the Internet gave us control of its creation. Pew says that a third of us create web content. But all of us comment on content, whether through email or across a Denny's table. At one level or another, we all spread, react, remix, or create. Just not on the iPad.

From a blog post called The iPad: Where Creativity Goes to Die.

My response, in a comment:

the first thing I did with my iPad was make music. I draw with it, too. take a look at iElectribe, iDrum, Brushes, Sketchbook Pro, TouchOSC, Midipad, or any of the (very many) other apps for creative work. the New Yorker had already put three sketches done in Brushes on its cover back when Brushes was just an iPhone app and the iPad was barely even a rumor.

I also make music every day and draw from time to time as well. not a coincidence. creative people are doing creative things with the iPad. if you haven't done anything creative with your iPad, that's not the device, it's you.

even your own argument that Grandma has something to say fails here. Grandma can say it with an iPad. I'm writing this comment on an iPad. WordPress has an iPad app. all that Web 2.0 goodness is available on an iPad. the only Web technology it omits, Flash, is also the one Web tech that is more often consumed than created.

It only took a few seconds to poke holes in this guy's argument from two different angles. It was like playing chess against a Labrador Retriever. But that blog post was just one hurtling nugget in a giant tornado of horseshit. The iPad is driving the bloggowebz nuts.

I'm going to address this relentless blog noise about the iPad, but first things first: I bought one. I love it. Here's a few pictures. These all come from my photo set on Flickr.

DJing app Sonorasaurus Rex.

Watching Justice League on the Netflix app, my new TV.

iPads ship with a free copy of Winnie The Pooh.

My Hacker News mashup Hacker Newspaper looks great on an iPad.

Marvel comics look great on an iPad too.

This last pic is of Korg's iElectribe app, which simulates a Korg Electribe drum machine. I've owned two of these drum machines.

They're fantastic, and the app simulates them very well.

Here's a video with the Korg app (it starts with a harp app).

If you liked that, here's a couple mp3s I did with the Korg.

Here's another video, of a terrific video game called Geometry Wars Touch.

So there you have it - the reality of the iPad. It's good to start with reality. Very few blog posts about the iPad start with that step, but I think it's an important step all the same.

The post about "where creativity goes to die" disregards reality for corporate hype - Jarvis's core argument is that the iPad is anti-creative because Time magazine created an app for it - but the noisiest post which skips this crucial step disregards reality in favor of knee-jerk open source ideology. Cory Doctorow waves his hands like Glenn Beck and wails "Won't somebody think of the children?"

The way you improve your iPad isn't to figure out how it works and making it better. The way you improve the iPad is to buy iApps. Buying an iPad for your kids isn't a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it's a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.

Like much of Doctorow's writing, this is naïve, histrionic, and derivative. Doctorow copied his argument from Twitter developer Alex Payne:

The thing that bothers me most about the iPad is this: if I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I’d never be a programmer today. I’d never have had the ability to run whatever stupid, potentially harmful, hugely educational programs I could download or write. I wouldn’t have been able to fire up ResEdit and edit out the Mac startup sound so I could tinker on the computer at all hours without waking my parents. The iPad may be a boon to traditional education, insofar as it allows for multimedia textbooks and such, but in its current form, it’s a detriment to the sort of hacker culture that has propelled the digital economy.

In a postscript to his post, Payne showed a tiny bit more restraint:

First off, my remark about not learning to program if I had an iPad wasn’t intended to be a blanket statement about any child not learning to program on the device. There are plenty of kids out there who are way smarter and more motivated than I was in my formative years, and I’m sure they’ll tinker no matter what obstacles are put in their way.

As restraint goes, that's some pretty grudging, passive-aggressive restraint. Alex Payne is sure that some kind of driven superkid with incredible mental powers could learn to program with three rocks and a piece of string if they really wanted to. He's totally not being sarcastic at all. I recognize that kind of postscript; I've written them myself. I imagine he wrote it after his initial blog post got a lot of incoherent, angry replies. It happens.

He continues:

The iPad could actually be a great platform for teaching kids to program if Apple decides to remove the artificial restrictions on running interpreted code on the iPad/iPhone OS.

These restrictions upset a lot of people when the iPhone first arrived. Programmers, and the ideologues who pander to them, were hopping mad, because Apple banned their favorite toy. But how else do you prevent machines from being hacked? Apple made a strategic choice that enabled them to maintain extremely high standards in an era where people are hacking major city billboards to show porn just because they can - a hilarious trick, except it triggered a heart attack in one elderly motorist - and geeks worldwide, with characteristic social obliviousness, assume it's about them. Listen up, programmers. It's not about you. It's about that guy in his 80s in Moscow who you nearly killed by accident while you were doing something idiotic and childish because it was fun.

Comic: SMBC.

The proliferation of interpreted languages and ubiquitous computers means you can hack just about anything.

What should Apple do? Expose themselves to lawsuits over compromised business data and lost personal privacy, to avoid annoying a few nerds who can solve the problem themselves anyway? With Apple's hostility to hacking, the only people who can get hacked are the ones who went outside the system. It's like Warcraft, where the only way another player can attack you is if you choose to play on a server where that's allowed to happen.

It's not like the actual hacking itself is difficult in any way, shape, or form. You can unlock an iPhone and put it on T-Mobile with virtually no effort. If you're too lazy to do it, you can find a dude on Craigslist who'll do it for you for fifty bucks. Hackers unlocked the iPad in less than 24 hours. It's easy to hack your own machine. It's just very difficult to hack anybody else's.

I'm not a fan of Apple's closed-source attitude. In 2007, I blogged here about a class-action lawsuit which asserted that Apple violated Federal law when it bricked jailbroken iPhones. I support that lawsuit; I even think Steve Jobs should do time for that shit. But it's easy to see the business reasons here, and it doesn't constitute a threat to your four-year-old's future, or doom for creative tinkering worldwide.

John Gruber provides a more measured response, pointing out that "the children" - the ones we're supposed to be thinking of - are already on the App Store, selling apps:

The iPad and iPhone are closed compared to personal computers, yes. But they are remarkably open compared to so many kinds of computing devices. Here’s an email I received today from Sam Kaplan...

He’s 13 years old and he has created (with the help of his friend, 14-year-old designer Louis Harboe) and is selling an iPad app in the same store where companies like EA, Google, and even Apple itself distribute iPad apps. His app is ready to go on the first day the product is available. Not a fake app. Not a junior app. A real honest-to-god iPad app. Imagine a 13-year-old in 1978 who could produce and sell his own Atari 2600 cartridges.

Somehow I don’t think young Mr. Kaplan sees the iPad as hurting his sense of wonder or entrepreneurism.

I heard a sentiment similar to Gruber's from a longtime Mac developer and book author with a few apps in the App Store:

As for the app store submission process, it's generally a lot better than some loudmouths contend. Even with its faults, compared to delivering native code for any previous mobile platform, or god forbid shipping boxed software to stores, the app store model is so much better it's like a different planet. The problem is all these devs who cut their teeth on web dev, where shipping == "pushing to server" (or even "editing live page in vim"), for them waiting a week is like waiting for eternity.

(No link, this was a private e-mail.)

Now is as good a time as any to introduce Bowkett's Law: any time an argument comes down to "think of the children!", you've reached a threshold point which guarantees the presence of bullshit.

As an aside, it's kind of ironic that Doctorow's last book was a kids book about kids who use technology, when his argument can't even stand up to one kid who uses technology in real life.

This trend of bad logic and faulty reasoning among iPad haters continues with somebody who compares computers to stoves and iPads to microwaves, and then says that Apple wants you to buy only microwaves, never stoves, despite the fact that according to his own analogy, Apple sells both.

No one will become a world-famous chef by playing with making food in the microwave when they’re 12. The stove presents much more opportunity to mess up and spend hours cleaning up the aftermath, or even burn down the place. It also presents an opportunity for expression and exploration that just cannot be realized in the limited nature of the microwave oven.

It looks like Apple would really, really like it if more people would get rid of their stoves and only use microwaves.

I'm going to assume for the sake of argument we can agree that any time a company spends money to build something and sell it to you, they want you to buy it. That means we can disregard this foolishness as noise. Apple is not trying to destroy your precious computer. Apple is trying to sell you a stove and a microwave. Apple spends a lot of money and effort building and selling both types of product, and you can't use the "microwave" unless you plug it into a "stove" (an iPad is useless without a computer which runs iTunes). It's easy to explain this without some crazy conspiracy theory about the end of programming: they want to sell both kinds of product, because they believe that a market exists for both kinds of product.

This is actually the same mistake that Alex Payne makes:

The thing that bothers me most about the iPad is this: if I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I’d never be a programmer today.

The assumption is you're going to replace your "real computer" with an iPad, but that would be like replacing your real dog with an Aibo.

The iPad is going to destroy the laptop the same way that Linux destroyed the mainframe, which is to say, in no way at all:

Infoworld's Stewart Alsop famously predicted that the last mainframe would be unplugged in 1996.

That trend started to turn around in the late 1990s... The growth of e-business also dramatically increased the number of back-end transactions processed by mainframe software... Another factor currently increasing mainframe use is the development of the Linux operating system... IBM's quarterly and annual reports in the 2000s usually reported increasing mainframe revenues and capacity shipments.

Linux led to more mainframes being made and sold today than were made and sold during the days when the mainframe represented the pinnacle of computer technology. This is not actually an unusual phenomenon. Today there are more people making Stone Age arrowheads than there were in the Stone Age; we also have more blacksmiths than the Middle Ages did. The population explosion our species has seen in the last few hundred years is unbelievably fucking huge; hobbyist communities in obscure niches today are larger than the human populations of entire continents in the days before metallurgy or agriculture. Likewise, for all the money that "the music industry" is losing, the number of real honest-to-God musicians who make money from their music has increased since the dawn of mp3.

(By the way, if anybody else has read the book(s) where I found this stuff about blacksmiths and the Stone Age, please tell me on Twitter (@gilesgoatboy), because I can't remember, so I can't link to it, and this inability to back up a controversial argument with research is driving me nuts. Same with the music thing, although I do know that I found it after starting with Matthew Ebel's story.)

Anyway. The iPad haters think it's computers or iPads, us or them. This Malthusian attitude, that we'll have to choose one or the other, operates from a presumption of scarcity. Is it rational to presume a scarcity of demand for computing resources? Only if you disregard any and all historical and economic evidence. In a world where Linux drives mainframe sales, where you can still find COBOL jobs, and where new languages spawn new legacies almost every day, the idea that it's either your iPad or your "real computer" is ridiculous.

If you've used an iPad even once in your life, for just a fraction of a second, you know without a shadow of a doubt that the iPad is the future of computing - or at least a future - but take a look at the history here. Did the GUI destroy the command line, or do more people use a command line than ever before in the history of computing? I'll give you a hint: everything Linux did for the mainframe, it did for the command line too, but more so.

It's so easy to counteract all this mania with common sense that you have to wonder how it even got posted on the Web in the first place.

I think they're all just jealous.

I have an iPad and you don't.