The iPad: Turning Producers into Consumers, One Sexy Machine at a Time.

You’ll never guess who’s NOT going to get an iPad anytime soon. Yep. My dog, Rilke. Wait, what? I thought you were going to say me. Just shut up… it’s me. I’M not going to be getting one of the these things any time soon.

Why, you might ask? Well, I can tell you.

It’s not because they decided that cameras were a bad idea. It’s not like anyone cares about posting pictures or video to the internet. It’s okay. YouTube is dead, anyway. So is Facebook. So is Flickr. So is Skype. Wait… No they’re not.

It’s not because this little “i-can-haz-interweb-revolucione” machines can’t read Flash, one of my favorite internet technologies. Yeah, you heard me right. I love Flash. I’m not embarrassed about it. And the iPad can’t read it. It’s okay. Streaming videos are dead anyway. And so are very-fast, very clean vector-based navigation interfaces. Oh, wait. Those aren’t dead either.

It’s not for lack of a keyboard, either. In fact, I think I would love to type on this thing. Having to set the machine down on a table, look at the keys while I’m typing, and have the machine roll around and slid around on its super-shiny, no-flat-surfaces case sounds great. Or I could find somewhere to sit (nay, recline) and prop it up on my thighs… wait a sec, I’m going to have to get these thighs flat so the machine doesn’t slide down to rest on my crotch… okay, there. Whew. I didn’t really want a keyboard that I could type into while still actually holding the device. There aren’t prototypes available like a split-keyboard for thumbs. There are no interfaces that allow for handwriting or speech recognition, either. Nope, not available anywhere.

And it’s certainly not because I don’t need it, either. I mean, my laptop is only good for so many things, like web browsing, video editing, video capture, photo editing, word processing, blogging, watching movies, listening to music, downloading pod casts, reading pdfs and books, etc. And my phone is really limited, too. I mean all I can do with the little touchy-touch is to surf the web, check twitter, check facebook, make calls, read RSS feeds, listen to music, take pictures, upload pictures, make audio recordings, edit audio recordings, edit photographs, oh… and make calls. I just simply don’t have a device that does what the iPad does. … umm… Wait…. what is it that this does? Oh, right. I don’t yet have anything that is a “game-changer.” I don’t yet have anything that’s “the best things [Steve Jobs] has ever done.” I don’t have anything that so blatantly identifies me as a cutting-edge, conspicuous consumer.

And there’s no way it’s because of the name. I love that name. iPad. iPad. It just screams fast, cutting-edge technology. Monstrous processor technology. Crisp, vibrant, ultra-responsive screen. Razor-precise industrial design. Yep. The iPad. Do I really need to explain ALL the ways that this name is a horrible, horrible name for a cutting-edge electronics device?

Full-disclosure: If it were free, I’d take one. The processor does, actually seem revolutionarily fast. Blazing fast. And the 10-hour battery life in a bright, fast, 1.5 lb machine? That’s just sick. And the simplicity and efficiency of the software interface does, actually, look amazing. And the machine is pretty. And apparently it feels great in your hand. So there, I’m not a total prick. I actually love lots of Apple products. The iMac. The iPod. The iPhone. The Macbook Pro. Lovely and useful. Genuine must-have’s for me.

So what’s the real reason that I am not going to be getting one of these anytime soon? Because this little machine, from start to finish, from the initial design concept to the glaring design omissions, embody one simple principle: consumption. Not production. Not communication. Although each of these principles is an influence to some degree (phone, crappy keyboard), they’ve clearly been kicked to the curb as priorities.

How many times did Jobs, in his presentation yesterday, reference how quick and easy it was to purchase and consume content? You see a book you want, with one-click shopping you just tap it and it’s yours. In iTunes, you see a movie you want, you touch it and it starts playing. How many apps are for sale in the app store? How much money did consumers spend on apps in the last 18 months? How easy is it to build and sell apps for this device? How easy is it to buy a subscription to a magazine? A subscription to Major League Baseball’s site? There were plenty of times I started to wonder if the presentation was intended to sell the device to consumers or content-creators. Clearly, this device is designed for people who see those two groups of people as ENTIRELY distinct from each other.

So the real reason I won’t be buying one of these things anytime soon is because Apple seems to be taking it’s amazing history of innovative industrial design and revolutionary interactive interface technology, and turned it’s back on consumers as producers. From what I can tell they’re putting as much energy as possible into making a device that functions as nothing else other than an umbilical cord between the Web and your credit card. The only participation Apple wants out of you, from now on, is to input your credit card info into an iTunes account (probably using that shitty keyboard), sit back under that shade-tree, and read/watch/listen to what you can afford.

Financially, you’ll be able to afford plenty. Culturally, the price will be very, very high.


This article has 15 Comments

  1. Ever post one of those entries, and then look back to say, “Whoa, I really sound like a whiner!”? This is one of those posts, for me.

    After reading some of the messages on TechRhet about the iPad, I realize how solipsistic this little post is. I can clearly now see my position as one of those consumers that wanted something very specific from Apple, and didn’t get it. And I failed to remember that compared to some eBook readers and most netbooks and most other tablet PC’s, the iPad is a pretty great machine. Smart and respectful colleagues have reminded me that yes, Apple is still a very smart company, who does actually know something about its consumers. I appreciate the reminder.

    I do, genuinely, hope Apple customers enjoy their machines when they get ’em.

    Looking foward to reading more comments…

  2. I read this post after I watched the video. You articulate so well what I was feeling sick, sick about: the guys are telling us how easily we can buy all the cr** in their stores! There is literally nothing about creating and sharing content, networking–well they have email–not to say anything about educational uses. After I read your earlier entry about how this thing might include–which had made me expect something very, very different–I found what they did disgusting. We, in composition or education, talk about technology seriously–and the corruption of mos of it in the hands of greedy people like this is just saddening. Fast. Light. Expensive. Spyware cookie.

  3. Shyam, Thanks for the comment. Now that I’ve got this grumpiness out of my system. I’m gonna start working on thinking through some of the ways a machine like this, at least some of its functionality, can be put to good use in educational contexts (despite, my probable continued annoyance). Then to think about way we, as a scholars, especially digital scholars, might be able to participate in influencing better rhet/comp/education-sympathetic designs. Or at least find ways to be heard a little more. Hopefully, I’ll start reading more post about both sides: the frustrated; the determined (and probably the tickled, too).

  4. Very interesting post, Ryan, especially since I’m reading it just after discussing participatory culture with my Intro to Digital Literacy students.

    To play devil’s advocate for a moment, I wonder if you’re perhaps jumping the gun a titsch. I’m inclined to think that you’re not, but I can’t help but be contrarian for a moment.

    For example, along with the announcement, Apple’s already released the SDK. Currently, developing applications for the iPhone platform is not participatory in the ways that YouTube is participatory. But at the same time, I have hope that it will be to some extent. It’s amazing to me the kinds of people that are developing applications for both iPhone and Android platforms here at BSU–computer science students, yes, but also architecture, and TComm, and even *English* majors! And I think that there’s even more potential for grassroots programming ahead of us.

    I’m also excited to see exactly what gets developed by the professionals for this particular form factor. Most folks had little inkling of the variety and scope of iPhone apps that would be developed when the device hit the market, and I’m hopeful that very soon we’ll see the same kinds of innovation for the iPad–innovation that may lead to the creation of apps that position the device as both a production and consumption platform. The Brushes application, for example, has already been used for interesting creative pursuits on the iPhone. Methinks that the larger form factor will be particularly conducive to these kinds of creative pursuits.

    And what of gaming as participatory activity? The opportunity for multiplayer gaming interaction becomes even more trenchant on a device that seemingly affords 10 times the player experience that the iPad does over the iPhone (and games are a huge part of the iPhone’s success).

    I guess my initial reaction is “huh. I’d like to see how this develops.” It seems like writing an annual report on this thing is probably not feasible. But then again, I wrote 90% of my dissertation on an Asus EeePC. I guess I’m saying that what we’ll be able to do with it remains to be seen. Just because Steve and Co. has positioned us as consumers doesn’t mean we have to use the device that way.

    I use iTunes, for example, because it efficiently manages my media. But I haven’t purchased a damn thing through the iTunes store in 3 or 4 years. And ePub is an open format. I’m not required to use the iBooks store anymore than I am the iTunes store. But I think I’d much rather collect and read books on the iPad than any other device.

    Well, enough devil’s advocate. Great post. I’m going to wait and see what happens. I’m hopeful that what happens will be awesome in ways we haven’t imagined yet.

  5. Brian, you’re about as generous a contrarian as I’ve encountered. Thanks, thanks.

    I think you’re right. I’m jumping the gun. Yep. Maybe a little too publicly, too. Partly that’s how I see my blog. A way of getting into a conversation with what’s really on my mind and thinking it through with folks who are smarter than me or whose interests only intersect (as opposed to align) with my own. I’d like to see my own positions sort of destabilize and dissolve into the contributions we all make here in the comments section. An isolated position into a shared/negotiated position. Your being contrarian isn’t my primary goal (no polemic intentions), but I really appreciate it.

    For instance, you’re right on the money about the SDK. Another aspect of this process that I hadn’t considered much either. Part of me wants to get by a license and start tinkering with the SDK. Of course, I’ve got a dissertation to cultivate and I’m still working to get my PHP and CSS chops. So the SDK will have to wait. It’s just not my project. But your point is well-taken.

    The other comment of yours that I find particularly appropos is: “Just because Steve and Co. has positioned us as consumers doesn’t mean we have to use the device that way.” Again, right on the money. There’s a longer post here for me, so I’ll ruminate on it for a while.

    Again, awesome comments. All appreciated. (and you wrote your diss on an ASUS EEE? wow. now I’m even more impressed by you. seriously.)

  6. I find the idea that we can adapt to things “as they are” intriguing. Of course, Apple didn’t have people like us as their primary users, but I’m thinking if a bigger point is whether Apple is making things adaptable to different types of users, not so adaptable for many, or just designed basically for its own greedy interests. I think the last one is what pisses off, as it should, many people in general, not just teachers and students. I would consider myself a technology user who is excited by the idea of technology allowing me to participate/produce/share, so I’m interested in how well/easily a particular technology allows me to do so. Perhaps because of the level of my expertise, I don’t want to excuse the politics and greediness driving potentially great technologies like this, and I’d even add that by making many users like us only “adapt” (as far as I can tell from that promotion video today) instead of designing user-ready applications, or the kinds of features that Trauman speculated earlier . . . Apple deserves my disgust 😉

  7. You gotta turn the corner, man. Let it go. Let’s get productive. I’m afraid I’m trying to make a pencil do the job of a pen. Just simply not the same tool. Curious to see how other people will respond.

  8. I would love to have an iPad that facilitated my participation online. But that’s due to my interests. Each tool has its users, and not everyone is interested in everything. I could equip my garage with tools for fixing my car or for making furniture, but I don’t have the time. I consume others’ work in these areas. Similarly, I can imagine a mechanic or carpenter having no interest in participating or producing online, yet networking offline with others who have similar interests. I find it difficult to complain about having a tool that allows others to consume more effectively in areas different from their production interests.

  9. Hey, Charles. Thanks for the post. I think I understand where you’re coming from. And that really makes sense. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to fix my truck. How to tinker with the idle or change the plugs. You’re right, and I like your analogy in a lot of ways.

    The only thing I want to mention is that I’m writing, most often in this blog, from the perspective of a guy who’s invested in teaching people to participate in the digital systems of communications for whatever they see as their purposes. I’m a teacher. I think it’s important for people to maintain an awareness of the tools they’re using to writing. The only significant slippage I see in your analogy is that most people, but especially the readers of my blog, are dedicated to some degree to producing texts: term papers, syllabi, journal articles, books, blogs, twitter posts, Facebook content, etc. The tools we use to produce this content plays a major role in shaping the form, circulation, and reception of those ideas. As we move toward producing those texts with our everyday tools (i.e. cell phone, laptop, flipVideo, etc.) it’s important, I think, to consider what the everyday tools we adopt will afford us in the way we participate in our culture.

    There’s certainly something to be said for participating in culture as a producer of content. Plenty written on that. And you seem to already sense that consumption, too, is an active way (through choice) of participating. Seems like we agree here. The major impulse of the blog entry above is to try to convince people of the importance of maintaining the impulse to contribute as a producer AND consumer. The frustration I’ve noted above (on which several smart responders have challenged me on) emerges from a sense that the technology we buy frames us, to some extent. And I’d prefer not to be frames as merely a consumer. That gesture threatens my own self-identification as a content producer.

    Here’s where I think your car-repair/maintenance analogy begins to diverge from my argument. It’s not really about building or fixing my computer, that makes me leery of the iPad. It’s what that product allows me to produce with it. In this sense, I don’t see the intersection between your analogy and my argument. I don’t really see our vehicles as tools we use to produce texts. Yeah, the car we buy says something about us, sure. But it’s only been a relatively few people who’ve customized their care as an expressive object, and even then, the analogy only holds true to the extent that you might chose to put your iPad in a leather case or a hard, plastic case. These things aren’t really what’re at issue for me.

    But as far as getting you where you want to go in a beautiful, fast, affordable machine, the iPad does look like a great machine. I’m sure the people who buy it (I’ll likely come around eventually, as it adopts a camera, streaming-video capabilities, etc.) will thoroughly enjoy it. I hope you do. Thanks again for the comment.

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