The iPad isn’t a threat to anything except the success of inferior products. And if anything’s dystopian about the future it portends, it’s an American copyright system that’s been out of whack since 1996.
Mark Pilgrim, a man I don’t know but can easily presume is my technical better many times over if only because he is employed by Google, said this in a piece called “Tinkerer’s Sunset“:
Now, I am aware that you will be able to develop your own programs for the iPad, the same way you can develop for the iPhone today … And that’s fine – or at least workable – for the developers of today, because they already know that they’re developers. But the developers of tomorrow don’t know it yet. And without the freedom to tinker, some of them never will.
Then, John Naughton, writing for the Guardian:
For the implication of an iPad-crazed world – with its millions of delighted, infatuated users – is that a single US company renowned for control-freakery will have become the gatekeeper to the online world. The iPad – like the iPhone – is a closed, tightly controlled device: nothing gets on to it that has not been expressly approved by Apple. We will have arrived at an Orwellian end by Huxleian means. And be foolish enough to think that we’ve attained nirvana.
This noxious attitude has permeated our tech culture for the last couple of decades, from a half-decade of open-source devotees crying about Microsoft on Slashdot, on toward the last few years of Apple ascendency. It’s childish. It’s defeatist. And it shows a simultaneous fear to actually innovate and improve while spilling gallons of capitulative semen to a fatuous, dystopian cuckold wank-mare.
Stop trembling, start creating
Nerds! You’re not smarter or better than the people who just want to use your creations for their own purpose. You want it both ways: to be able to complain about the incompetency of your family when you’re asked to help them work on their computers, but to swing around the half-understood ideas of dead authors when a company actually decides to build a computer that doesn’t crumble to dust as a matter of course.
You learned to love technology by tinkering? That’s great! Please explain to me how a closed ecosystem like Apple’s will impede a curious child’s ability to explore in the least way. It’s not 1980. It doesn’t cost a month’s salary to buy a computer. And as long as it takes code to make programs, there will still be plenty of “real” computers around.
Worse, this inviolate right to tinker you claim, the oh-so-horrible future you’re trying to frighten everyone with literal think-of-the-children fearmongering, is the imagined possibility that future engineers won’t be able to create their own tools.
Well guess what? Only shade-tree tweakers give a flip about creating their own tools. Most people want to use the quality tools at hand to create something new.
Fix the law
Is the DMCA a travesty? Is it bullshit that someone should go to jail for cracking the firmware of a device they own? Of course. Only monsters would allow the curious to go to jail for exploring. Every song ever recorded, every movie ever filmed – they’re all together less important than a person’s freedom.
But you know what will fix those issues? It’s not bitching about how those stupid customers may or may not buy an iPad. It’s fixing the legal system. (Or for most of us, myself included, letting the EFF fight those battles for us.)
The number of engineers complaining about Apple’s decisions who aren’t using products of other capitalist corporations who thrive in the shadow of patent law and the DMCA approaches zero: Moan away in your Google browsers on Windows running on your copyrighted Intel processors. You’re really fighting the good fight.
Hilariously, the great open-source hope is Google’s Android, but its best apps are designed – and tightly controlled – by Google, which has used its clout to roll over countless web-based companies in a manner just as Orwellian or Huxleyan or whoever it is we’re invoking now as Apple or Microsoft.
If you want to walk the walk, you can follow Stallman’s lead and do all your computing on a tiny netbook, interfacing with the internet from a text console running emacs. Let me know how that works out for you. Be sure to take a picture of yourself using your Lemote Yeeloong next to the biodiesel engine you made on your handforged anvil.
Fix your product
“Now it seems [Apple is]doing everything in their power to stop my kids from finding that sense of wonder. Apple has declared war on the tinkerers of the world,” whimpers Pilgrim. Grow the fuck up. Apple has no more “declared war” on your children than Henry Ford declared war on colours besides black.
Apple is selling a product. They’ve chosen to keep it closed for demonstrably reasonable benefits. And – yes, OK! – several collateral benefits that come from controlling the marketplace that services their products.
But Apple is not the government. There’s no mandate to buy an Apple product except the call of excellence. And if you think the average persona on the street doesn’t recognise both the ups and downs of buying into an Apple ecosystem, you’re eyeing them with the typical nerd myopia, looking down your nose with the same autistic disdain you cultivated in high school. Turns out the internet you helped build as a sanctuary ended up a great place for normal folk, too.
Consider a path that will truly inspire the coming generations of tinkerers and engineers: Working your arse off to make a product that competes with Apple on every count that matters – design, ease-of-use, a simple marketplace, customer satisfaction; you know, everything – and does it with the open-source licenses and values you claim to believe in; or fight to change the broken copyright laws that demonise the tinkering in the first place.