The iPad and Skeptical Computing

I’m going to make an argument that you should buy an Apple iPad despite widespread rumors of hardware problems and despite widespread criticisms of its design as funky and flawed.

And by “you” I mean yooz guyz who are skeptics.

In order to get there, to the point of this argument, I’m going to have to define skeptical computing, and to do that, skeptical anything, and to do that, what being a skeptic is. That sounds like a long journey but I promise to be concise.

What is a skeptic? A skeptic is a person (or other sentient, symbolically thinking being) with the ability to make rational arguments. The skeptic applies these rational arguments generally, and makes most or all important decisions on the basis of these arguments, where possible. When the skeptic fails to apply the rational argument and develops a belief that is not rationally tested, or that is rationally rejected, the skeptic compartmentalizes that belief as needed, and does not mind when laughed at by other skeptics for such belief.

In other words, a skeptic is a (typically) human (as in flawed) rational thinker with imperfect information living in a world very different from the one economics modelers often assume.

What is skeptical computing? This is a bit more complicated because computing itself is a vague concept as I’m using it here. I mean using computers as a person and the choices you make, but if you are a highly placed IT person that may be quite different than if you are mainly writing letters and keeping track of your schedule. So one dimension of complexity is scale. In addition, you may have more or fewer choices as to what hardware, operating system, and application software you can use. So one dimension is that of available options. Finally, there are probably stylistic choices and personal proclivities that have to do with experience or something specific to you.

For instance, I find that the very pretty, soft, stylized rendering of fonts and other visuals on the current Mac System X to be hard to read, so for me using a Mac no matter how wonderful it might otherwise be is difficult and slightly painful. I therefore feel quite excused for not using one. People who have only used Windows for many years may not like another OS that is far superior simply because of what they are used to (i.e, being crapped on by their computer). There is an irrationality to that, but the irrationality exists as the larger societal level, not necessarily at the personal level.

It might be easier to define skeptical (i.e., rational) computing by defining what it is not. I know a lot of irrational Windows users and a lot of irrational Mac users. People who will tell you that Macs never do anything wrong, or that their Windows machine has never crashed. Those would be the non-skeptical, insane people.

And then there is Linux. Linux is actually the operating system of Skeptics who have a) choice b) some interest in the technical aspects of computer use and c) a tiny bit of experience or training. Linux actually works for more people than that, but making that argument is hard. I’d rather say to people “Linux is not for everybody” and then chuckle quietly when I think what that really means.

My point being, very simply this: Rational people use Mac’s and Linux, depending on various factors. Many rational people are, sadly, forced to use Microsoft systems and software. Woe is them.

So, what is the rational choice regarding buying an iPad?

Well, the most rational choice for most people is probably to not buy one at all until a few months has gone by, because that is what one should always do with totally new hardware if you can. Second or third generation configurations usually become default and basic in a few months, difficulties are worked out, prices drop, and so on.

But aside from that, there seems to be two categories of argument emerging to never buy one, or to at least be very negative about the Apple iPad, or, in some cases, to even bash them with baseball bats and put them in blenders instead of using them. And these arguments are wrong, from a skeptical, rational point of view.

The first is in what appears to be a rather quirky design. The new iPad can only be connected to the outside world in a limited number of ways, and the usual methods of connecting are in some cases lacking. This seems strange, even uncanny. But remember how uncanny the first Macs that had no floppy drives were? That seemed so odd, so counter intuitive, so bizarre, they might as well have been talking dogs or something. But now, nobody has a floppy drive, and we are all so much happier. True, we have thumb drives out the wazoo, and can still never find the files we want, but at least there are no more piles and drawer-fulls of floppy disks laying around everywhere! Yay!

My point being: You might think some of the design aspects of the new iPad are strange, but you might just be behind the curve. Apple has repeatedly introduced totally new ideas that freaked everyone out and that have become universally accepted. They may have only 10 percent of the market, but 100 percent of home computer users use Apple-like desktops and don’t use floppies.

The second strike against the iPad is the number and diversity of negative reports about hardware and to some extent software.

This is where the skeptical part really comes into play. This is where the autism vaccine deniers are separated from the rational people, but in computer-think. Here is the truth: For the average established computer system, the percentage of actual hardware failures, flaws, or quirks that get blogged about … I’m talking about individual instances here, where Joe Schmo has a broken machine and writes a blog or live journal entry about it or comments on an existing blog … is tiny. A small fraction of the instances in which someone’s USB port breaks make it into the blogosphere as news, or are turned into YouTube videos.

In contrast, for brand new, aggressively marketed and hyped hardware and software from a major company like Apple, the percentage of possible (not even actual) hardware glitches that get onto the Internet and discussed rather loudly is … NOT tiny. It might be closer to ten percent. Maybe more.

So you have to take the news with the proverbial grain of salt.

I don’t like Apple’s proprietary approach, and I distrust specialized hardware. But I DO own a kindle and I love it. I’d probably like an iPad very much.

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75 thoughts on “The iPad and Skeptical Computing

  1. I tend to think Apple products are slick, but overpriced and even more vendor-locked-in than Microsoft products. Since I don’t really need one right now, I’m not buying a Kindle, or an iPad, or anything similar, until there is a cheap, more open alternative, that will run Linux.

  2. I don’t see the use case, other than watching porn without worrying that bodily fluids will splash unto the keyboard.

    It’s a “super-kindle”. But if I want a kindle, that’s what I want — a screen to read material. If I want a smartphone, I’ll get a smartphone. If I want a netbook — I’ll get a netbook.

    The Ipad tries to be all of those simultaneously. I prefer specialized hardware for specialized purposes. I don’t see Ipad as specialized — I see it as overly general, yet locked in to how Steve likes to use his netbook.

    Well, I’m not Steve.

  3. A skeptic needs to not only use logic, but to be well-informed. The best arguments against the ipad are the control Apple exerts over not only the device, but the content you may have thereon. Allowing Apple to be the single point through which content flows to your audience is demonstrably bad for content producers and for the audience as well. Content producers are dumb enough to think that they can make up for this by charging more for their content (even more than for print), but I don’t see this lasting.

    The arguments about design and everything are interesting, but not as important as the above, which has been voiced in some flavor by almost all of the old school web guys: Cory Doctorow, Doc Searls, and Mark Pilgrim, to name a few.

  4. One of my colleagues bought an iPad Monday, and after trying it out myself, I know that I will be purchasing one, too. An example of a feature that impressed me: my colleague located the free Project Gutenberg app and began downloading books, books, books! I was bowled over by the ease of downloading the volumes, the clarity of the page views, and the ease of navigating within the books. For reasons of space (English professor in small office) I have begun weeding out my collection. Now I will be able to instantly consult, in a eminently readable form, many public domain books that I no longer can keep on my shelves.

  5. you left out a third reason: many of us who are supporters of open systems find apple’s Big Brother-ish approach to controlling what you can and cannot do with the device extremely troubling.

  6. for a slightly different perspective, I rather like apple being fairly sure about what *other* people are doing on my computer. (or rather, *not* doing.)

    I paid extra for that. working on software is my job, I have much more interesting hobbies. 😉

  7. Gadgets are a vice. I’ve heard plenty of complaints from iPhone users about the uselessness of the iPad, when the OS is similar with the same content restrictions.

    I bought a Nokia n770 when it came out and proceeded to SSH into it to install a VPN client and vnc. I bought a Chumby and didn’t hack it because it did what i wanted it to do. I bought a cartridge for a game boy advance so i could play NES games on the go. I did the same thing to a SEGA Dreamcast and installed XBMC on an XBox with a mod chip so i could play videos from a PC on a projector and load games off of the hard drive so they would load faster. I didn’t do the same thing to the xbox 360 because i could stream videos out of the box. I did jailbreak an iPod touch, but i can’t remember why.

    Will i jailbreak the iPad? Maybe. It depends on whether it does what i want it to do. Limits aren’t horrible, especially for a company who needs to support devices. It’s cheaper to be more narrow in allowing flexibility. People will hack the iPad and know they are on their own as far as support goes. I think a comparison can be made between video games consoles and what apple is trying to do with the iPad pod phone model. Nintendo had an issue with developers making poor quality games for their system and instituted a seal of quality which was critized for being too controlling, but may have been important in developing trust in a system which would provide a reliable experience. I haven’t downloaded many of the thousands of apps, so I can’t speak with any authority whether there are a lot of crap apps out there, but I think if everything were open, you’d have people getting hacked because they downloaded the smiley face text app.

    I’m already looking forqwarwd to the next gadget, a five inch tablet called a zenpad from a company called enso which runs Android.

  8. I find that the very pretty, soft, stylized rendering of fonts and other visuals on the current Mac System X to be hard to read…

    Have you tried tweaking the “smoothing” options at the bottom of the Appearances panel in the System Preferences utility?

  9. Pierce, I’ve only bothered to play around with the settings on a laptop with the first version of the OS. I was not happy with the results. But I’ve not tried tweaking more recent versions.

  10. @JL “Would you take one and use it if it were given to you?”

    No. It does less (much less) than my netbook, and it doesn’t read as easy, or have the battery power, of my eBook reader. I don’t see any need for it.

  11. JL: Good question, and exactly correct.

    I wouldn’t buy one now because it is better to wait at least a few weeks for those initial fixes in software and recall of exploding hardware.

    Beyond that, I would buy one if they were cheap enough and I had extra money, neither of which is true.

    Beyond that, I’d definitely use one if I was given one, given what I know about it now. I would love to experiment with this idea of what niche it fills, and I would use it along side of or instead of my Kindle, depending on compatibility. It might push my iTouch out of the picture because I don’t really exploit the portability of the iTouch.

    Well, that’s not true. I use the iTouch as an iPod for podcasts and music. But that’s not really using an iTouch. (and by iTouch I mean iPod Touch, of course.)

    I think most people would use it.

  12. @7: You know, I’ve been using Apple’s products since January 1985, and I really don’t see evidence of “Apple’s Big Brother-ish approach”. I have hacked pretty well every Mac I ever had. I can drop down into a BSD terminal right now if I want, and customise pretty well everything. I have added non-approved RAM, hard disks, keyboards, screens. I have hacked my iPhone a little, although I’m getting beyond that now. And the stuff works, takes less time and energy to support, and is cheaper than comparable equipment under other OSen. What’s the beef?

    I will get an iPad when I can afford one for the same reasons @6’s English professor will.

  13. About Windows, you say: “(i.e, being crapped on by their computer)” and that is rational? That statement is a red herring. I’ve used macs, windows and Linux extensively and I can say this: an OS is good depending on what you want it for.

    Windows users, for example, enjoy the ability to plug in virtually any gadget to their computers and have it working. Macs, not so much… Linux…well is not for everybody, let alone every gadget. If you want to give presentations… well, most Linux distros STILL have trouble outputing to a projector. Woe to the Mac user that loses the “dongle” and beware of different resolutions on the projector side. Graphic animators using Maya, gamers, etc. use Windows.

    Even on the interface aspects of the OS there is no clear winner. It is a matter of taste. For example, a mac fanboy and HCI expert Bruce Tognazzini (, has many good post on the interface flaws of Mac products (and recommendations).

    Lastly, any power user who is pushing these systems will make them crash. After all, it is not too hard. I’ve been pissed of with Macs, Windows and my beloved Linux.

    My take on this is that most OS decisions come down to irrational ones, like what looks pretty or cool. We, then have a better predisposition to love and justify the flaws of the system we like. (We linux users are great at this) If decisions are rational they mostly have to do with applications.

  14. Francisco: What are you smoking? Over the last three years, I have given many many presentations and attended many more. The pattern is this: I hook my computer (running Linux) up to the projector and I give my presentation. Some of my readers have been to some of these presentations. They can testify!

    Meanwhile, people who show up with Windows computers often have problems. Very often. I ran a seminar two/three times a year over the last few years. Five or six speakers per. Setting: A MRU dedicated to Windows to the extent that the IT people have the log tattooed on their asses, with state of the art presentation gear in the rooms. Results: Fifty percent of the people who showed up with Windows laptops had to wing their talk without their precious powerpoint, or if it was on a stick, they used my Linux computer. That’s fairly typical.

    The way you put it “many distros still can’t…” tells me that you are being very careful how you approach this. The majority of Linux distros are not desktop distros. I’m sure the distro that runs my kindle would have a hard time with a projector. So what? People who use desktop distros such as Ubuntu have no problem.

    I’m sure YOUR distro, the one you run on your laptop, runs with a projector very nicely!

    Also, Linux runs on and handles more hardware than Windows. Plug in a device to a Windows computer, and you are taking your chances. Plug it into a Linux computer, you will probably have no problems, most of the time.

    Regarding taste for the UI: You are correct. However, it is also true that Linux has a greater diversity of UI’s, and that Windows keeps changing their UI for marketing reasons only, and that for many people who try it, the Mac UI is pretty good.

    Regarding power users crashing their system: Nope. If you have a normal Linux install, you can power use it all you want and that does not crash it. For christsakes, you can boot up Linux, remove the hard drive you booted from, put in a new one, install a system on it, update the system, sync your current system to the new one, and not restart, while running all sorts of software at the same time, including buring a DVD, scanning stuff, and talking to your Great Aunt Tillie on Skype. Oh, and while you’re at it you can swap out some other hardware too. Not that you would do that, but you could.


    But yes, it is true that increasingly, the OS is less important and the apps are more important.

  15. Greg: After so much near hysterical and doctrinaire denunciation of the iPad this is a breath of fresh air. But please don’t tell me you have only based your OS X font display on 10.0 or 10.1. Versions since at least 10.3 are almost light years removed from the early version. Worth a look, maybe even a try.

  16. David, I’m not sure of version numbers, but the last Mac I used seriously and intensively was Tiger on a desktop with a huge screen on a souped up box editing video, and my most recent use the current version using a spreadsheet and doing minor number crunching on a laptop within the last year. I just didn’t mess with the settings on either computer.

  17. Being a tightwad with no use for an iGizmo, I’ll leave it alone. If I wanted something similar I’d get the cheapest not-awful-quality tablet computer and put Linux and tools onto it. Or maybe I’ll make do with something like the Eeeeeeeeeeeee!PC. My gizmo loving friends have learned not to flash their latest Apple products at me. The last time that happened I showed off my pencil and notebook and showed him all the great things I could do with it – and concluded with “and it actually takes brains and some skill to do these things!” I’m such a luddite even though I tend to work with the latest technology – go figure.

  18. @Francisco: The last time my Linux machine hung while doing nothing extraordinary was back in 2002. Since then it’s only hung while I’ve been working on (buggy) device drivers. I have to run Winduhs under VirtualBox to keep some (extremely annoying) clients happy and I think it’s great because I can reboot it so much quicker when it hangs (which is more frequent than people imagine). Being a “power user” (however the hell one may define that) has absolutely nothing to do with the stability of an operating system, nor should it (unless it’s an exceptionally bad system).

  19. It is quite interesting and in a way disheartening to see how a discussion that is supposed to promote skeptical and rational thinking degrades into full of anecdotal statements, red herrings and typical flame wars that are so annoyingly fills many other blogs.
    I donâ??t know why people are so obsessed with their operating systems! Both Mac and Windows are made by companies with monopolistic intentions, and they try to control their market in various ways. Since Windows is running on 90% or more of the desktop systems, and most liberal minded people think it is their duty to badmouth the centers of power, it is quite popular to trash it, in most cases without any real reason. A “rational” evaluation however would find that Mac’s intentions on control is much more than that of Microsoft, starting from the closed hardware model to the latest closely controlled content delivery systems.
    Truth is that, the new versions of Mac, Linux and Windows are highly advanced, very powerful, quite useful and immensely complex pieces of software. Like any software, they all have their flaws. Unlike what is said in the article (â??rational people use Mac and Linuxâ?) rational people use the tool and operating system that suites them the most. It is incredibly condescending to suggest that most of the computer users of the world are either irrational or are powerless to make a choice. There is nothing irrational about using Windows, especially if your intentions of using the computer are to get work done than making political statements.
    So, remember. OS is not a political statement; it is just a piece of software. If it works for you, then use it, if it doesnâ??t, find something that works. For me, all my Windows machines work nicely and I donâ??t need to get additional satisfaction by trashing Mac or Linux. So, stop throwing feces at each other. It is very irrational.

  20. “My point being, very simply this: Rational people use Mac’s and Linux, depending on various factors.”

    While I would agree with you. (being a mac user, with the interest, but not the time to get to know linux)

    Would your opinion still hold true if someone a hardcore PC gamer? It seems rational to me that if one’s objective was to play video games on their computer that Windows would be their best bet.

  21. regarding the type appearance on mac vs. windows. for a (slight) bit of back story, there is a qualitative difference between the two platforms because of deliberate decisions on the parts of the respective platform designers.

    windows moves fonts around so they will render sharper, macs do more anti-aliasing to ensure that the type is exactly where the designer (or algorithm) put it. as some have noted, the anti-aliasing quality has improved since 10.3 (tiger,) but it is still different. this is fundamental to how the two different systems are built to render type, and each is a compromise in solving the same problem. I work on both, and went to art school. as such I find the softer mac rendering easier to deal with. windows fonts always look out of place. I believe linux distros tends towards the windows method.

    the curse of not quite enough typography classes I fear…

    fwiw, you can in fact boot a mac into open source darwin os and use x windows as a front end instead of the aqua/quartz window manager. trickier than it used to be, but still possible. but, as you might rightly point out, ‘why bother?’

    I think I’m coming to consider OS choices as sort of being similar to gardening. I think the choice really comes down to whether you want to spend your weekends down in the dirt, or whether you hire a gardener to come while you’re at work. I’m not sure what the windows analog would be in this case… suggestions? (though with today’s distros, the ‘down in the dirt’ concept is possibly not as accurate as it was in the slackware days.) and with win7, things are much improved there.

  22. Getting that pad is pointless if you actually are rational.

    First of all is not the best tablet out there, it cannot handle multitasking either. I prefer the android devices instead or even a lightweight laptop for sure.
    Point is that I don’t see anything that ipad can do that one of the other tablets can’t do actually better.

  23. Regarding open platforms, closed platforms are Bad, but nothing with network access and a browser with javascript is a completely closed platform.

    That said, as a Student-Human an iPad is a much lower priority than food on my purchases list.

  24. iPad’s are cute and all, but fail for me on a few fronts:
    1. Freedom. It’s Apple, they don’t believe in it, sorry. Stay in the sandbox. Sure, nice sandbox. Lots of things to do. But still the sandbox.
    2. Price. Nuff said
    3. I bought and rooted my B&N Nook this Sunday, a direct statement of my feelings towards the iPad. It’s not pure Linux, but Android ain’t bad. I’ve already started playing with my init.rc, which really sounds like something impolite to mention in public.
    4. Glossy screen. Not for reading. Which is the only function I lack a device for. Someday, there will be a multi-function device to replace my laptop as my go-to carry equipment. But this ain’t it.

  25. Certainly the obvious problems such as price:use ratio, and platform freedom are deciders, but the one thing that troubles me for the iPad is multitasking.

    I have only used the iphone and itouch (wife & daughter have them), but there are certainly times where you want or need to interrupt one thing to do another, and you must exit and switch. It is more forgivable on the iphone, but on an iPad, I think it would probably get in the way.

  26. I always hear about proprietary issues with Apple content, and can’t say I have ever run into them so I have trouble figuring out what people are talking about.

    Yes, iTunes doesn’t have everything you might want, but that is why I buy old CDs and just load ’em up. (I have a big collection that pre-dates most DRM issues anyway, and is largely out of print). And I haven’t yet run into an application I needed that was unavailable on the Mac. I don’t play games much tho. If I wanted to play SIMs I might have a different opinion.

    Now, I don’t do anything particularly advanced with my Mac, content-wise. I’ve never been yet to a web site that didn’t work because I was using one, or anything like that. I have yet to encounter content that didn’t work because of it. But again, I am not doing anything that complicated. Powerpoint seems to work. (The formatting is a bit off from Windows machines, but that’s a different problem).

    I like them because I found the user interface better and the system design simpler and a bit more elegant. Back in the days up to OS 9 I found it easier to fix stuff as the sheer number of files in the system folder was a lot smaller and diagnosing a problem was less of a chore.

    Nowadays I haven’t the time for that. But I still find Apple’s system design simple enough that I can deal with most problems minus a tech support call.

    Windows not so much, I still get the impression that Windows was designed by and for engineers or people with IT support handy (which to be fair describes most corporate environments).

    I haven’t tried Linux.

    Anyhow, I wonder if a lot of it is just how much time you are willing to spend getting into the guts of the machine. As a ten I loved the idea of spending hours writing code (in the 1980s). Now I have other stuff to do and need to have a machine that works, to write on and such. I don’t even do much advanced graphic design anymore, though I found Photoshop 5 –yes, version 5! — and Illustrator perfectly adequate until 2003/2004 or so when I went to OS X.

    I’ve found windows machines are ok — but they do have a tendency to crash out more often and do weird stuff. The GUI on them is still leaning towards the more techie side of things, IMO.

    I do have a few pet peeves. Until I got the MacBook I thought the power cord design was terrible. The magnetic one is a great step up (you can’t damage it). The weight is a bit higher than I would like. The proprietary video output is a little odd, though the adapter I bought for $20 solved the problem.

    I wonder how much of this debate rather misses the point that 99% of users aren’t hacking into the machine. Apple’s design has always been, to my mind, superior from an aesthetic and ease-of-use standpoint. (Transferring all my stuff to the new mac didn’t take long, for example). YMMV, but that seems to me to be sort of fundamental to buying decisions.

  27. I just realized I got a bit OT on the iPads in particular, but all that said, I wouldn’t buy one immediately as I haven’t the need. And I think paper books are a superior technology to the kindle. 🙂

    (No batteries. They can get wet and still work, within limits. No issues with system software. Resistant to temperature extremes. No DRM! I can give a book away, or borrow it).

    Again, I am not a power user by any stretch, tho, nor an early adopter, as I got a blackberry just a few months ago. I had my previous phone for four years.

  28. the commodore64 is more computer than anyone needs. it has 32k of program space. (who needs more than 32k anyway?) it only takes seconds to boot. it has internet connectivity at 1200 baud. plus the graphics rock! better than that monochrome crap the pc has.

  29. Sorry, Comment number 34 was held in moderation.

    For 20 years…

    On Kindle/other readers I like real books, but the ability to carry several hundred books with me is nice, and the content is (primitively) searchable. Proprietary considerations mean that I cant just pop books onto my computer and use them as real resoruces, and that is annoying.

  30. The iPad has a user replaceable battery which can be replaced in one of several ways:

    1. The user will replace the battery by selling it to another person through eBay when the next model comes out.

    2. The user will say, “Hulk Smash!” before destroying the screen to get at the battery, then replace it.

    3. The user will replace the battery (with device) at the local Apple Store ($99).

    4. The user will purchase a new iPad, thus replacing the battery of the old one, remembering fondly the good old days of looking like a smug a-hole at the bar on trivia night.

    Actually, no, just like the Macbooks, iPods, and iPhone, the iPad does not have a user replaceable battery.

    On a side note, the iPad does ship with a tiny AC adaptor, to spit 5 volts at 2 amps(!) to the iPad’s thirsty lithium polymer batteries.

  31. I dunno, I’ve used Macs and Windows OS’s for my career (art and entertainment industry) and I always find the Windows OS to be most comfortable for me. That’s just a personal preference, sure, but I think calling me out for being some sort of lame-brained idiot just because I feel like my laptop performs better than my company’s slick Mac is kind of a generalization. I frankly don’t give a damn WHAT people use to get stuff done as long as everything is functioning well. The only real genuine problems I’ve had between OS’s is when I’m trying to transfer certain file types off Mac onto Windows. For some reason, there’s file types that look identical to normal MOVs but in fact can only play on macs. Or when I try to plug in an external hard-drive that’s touched a Windows machine before, Mac machines refuse to write to them. It’s very frustrating and a problem I’ve never encountered going in the opposite direction (taking Windows files and moving them to a Mac, or a Mac-touched hard-drive moved to a Window’s machine).

    Of course I don’t exactly have the money to spend on tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment just so I can compare machines long term like yourself. If I did, I’d probably just invest in an Alienware machine or something.

  32. My subjective experience with Linux is that only in the last few years has it become really usable. But it’s amazingly robust now, in the sense that where I used to throw my hands up at a problem, now it seems like the next upgrade or the one after fixes it. I will say, though, that it’s still the case that everytime I upgrade anything on my netbook, i have to recompile and reinstall my WiFi. So far, 100% of the time. But I do it with a script, so it’s NBD.

  33. Bjorn:

    All macbooks proper have user-replacable batteries, and always have 🙂

    I think you meant Macbook Airs.

  34. So… not if but when the battery dies we can get a replacement iPad for $99? Is this a new iPad or a refurb? And what about our data? Does $99 include the data transfer or is that extra? What does Apple do with our old iPads? Surely Apple does the right thing and drops the e-waste (or is it iWaste) in a third world country or something right?

  35. @Marion

    The Macbook Pro I’m typing on has no user replaceable battery.

    From what I can tell, it’s a swap. You shouldn’t need a data transfer if you sync the device with a computer. The sync creates a backup, so when you plug in the new one, you just replace the default data with the backed up data.
    As for waste, maybe a nice photo of the Foxconn factory dump should be put on the box the iPad comes in.

  36. There is a quite interesting angle to the Apple proprietary stuff IMO.

    The way I (and I think Apple) sees it, they sell a complete device. This is in stark contrast to Microsoft and companies like Dell which essentially sell just parts of a device.

    Anyways, different business model. And under that model, most of Apple’s proprietary stuff and restrictions make a lot of sense and feel a lot less “big-brother” to me.

    I still prefer open source for real work (programing, data analysis, some embedded systems devel, etc). But I’m quite happy using my MacBook for what it does, and haven’t actually done too much to try and get it to do things it wasn’t really intended to do out-of-the-box.

    The iPad seems to have a potential niche as a device. It does certain things presumably very well. If you like what it does, great.

    Actually, now that I think about it… Apple products are more “not for everyone” than Linux. Apple’s stuff is (at least by theory and design) what they give you. They make devices targeted at a large segment, and aren’t concerned with accommodating other people. I’m not saying that what Apple gives you can’t be very good and very useful.

  37. I use them all, for both work and, well, after-work work, and play. My desktop of choice happens to be Leopard on my MBP, but aomost al the time I can switch to a Windows Space under Parallels, so they are both there. I have an iPhone, which has the only actually useable browser in a phone, and use it twice a day at the start of my commute to plan the day’s route via the WSDOT traffic flow maps page. I also carry an Aspire One netbook with me for watching time-shifted TV shows while waiting for or riding on the ferry, and for some XP projects. I now have it dual booting into Ubuntu also. Everything works.

    A couple of days ago a buddy brought in his iPad. I got to hold it. Call him the candy-man – I bought my own last night. It is still at 45% charge as I write this. It has theses things going for it:

    1: better video and Bluetooth headset handling and presentation. My netbook will probably only get opened a couple of times a week from now.

    2: longer battery so another reason for time shifting on the iPad instead of the netbook.

    3: Home Entertainment system: I have a Mac Mini hooked up to my HDTV with an EyeTV tuner interface, also with Firewire to the cable box (1080p 5.1 recording of any unencrypted show, plus Apple-scriptable channel changing etc). BUT I cannot read the screen from my viewing distance when it is showing computer stuff rather than showing video. I have an older MBP I point at it using screen sharing, but it is heavy, only 1 1/2 hr battery life, and gets really hot. But the iPad is light, runs cool, lasts a long time, and iTap VNC client does the screen sharing in a beautiful way.

    4: VNC again, but this time beside me and my musical instruments so I do not have to get up to adjust the DAW controls running on the main computer.

    5: reading and browsing. Books – except for the e-Ink sunshine readability of the Kindle, far superior on the iPad. And I avoid sitting in direct sunshine whenever possible so e-Ink and glossy are not an issue.

    And I have had it for less than 24 hrs. I’m sure it will see more applications as time passes.

    As to Apple control. So what. I don’t need to run my own Apps although I could ( as developer, as long as I don’t need to sell them), also mostly these days I do web apps in JavaScript and Safari handles that fine, mostly what Apple control are Apps quality, NOT content as many assert here. For anything else I have all the other systems. I do not need a camera on it, I have four others around me for Skype or whatever as it is. I have the iPhone so I do not need 3G – and there are now file sharing methodologies so I can get files over 3G on the iPhone then transfer them to the iPad on the road, using my MBP to host an ad-hoc WiFi network.

    But the base of it is: if you really really are resisting the idea of the iPad, do NOT attempt to hold one. You may just find your prejudices melting away.

  38. Marion Delgado: You’re fixing the wiifi the hard way. Most likely the driver you need is part of the existing distibution but not automatically installed. Just get on a hard wired network and find it (by searching for the name of the device/brand name/something obvious) and install it.

    It is a very annoying problem and is entirely caused by political, not technical, decisions.

  39. I’ve done the gamut, everything Windows since the early days. Had dual-boot Linux distros on my windows machine, worked on both as a developer. When introduced to Mac…I was skeptical. But I’ve never gone back. My servers are all Linux, but Macbooks have replaced our old PC towers both at home and at work. A Mac mini is hooked up to wifi and a big TV for movies and the like (even worse, we have an iTouch, iPhone, Shuffle and now an iPad).

    As a developer I fiddle with computers all day every day. What sells me on Mac is that it just works. I haven’t had issues with the Apple “control” of their devices. They require no fiddling, and I have a Unix terminal when I need it (for developing).

    I like the idea of the iPad. Though I like the ePaper of the Kindle I would never have bought one. You don’t actually own the content you buy, and you can’t really share it. I have no idea how that might work with the iPad so we’ll see. What will sell me on my own iPad though…is handwriting reconition. The thing will have to replace my paper/pencil for note-taking. Otherwise, why bother? I have a laptop after all. The iPad is just a cute toy right now.

  40. Ipad and it’s emulators will take over the vast majority of computing within a few years. Not because they are better at anything technical but because they are just good enough to allow people’s inherent laziness to drive a major shift in how people use computers. Business people will discover that the ability to throw your i(or x)pad on a table and slide things across to the ipad of the person you’re meeting with trumps lesser power, slower typing, etc. Early adopters will mock mercilessly the people who are unable to do this kind of ad hoc sharing of information. You’ll see. That little bit more fluidity that sliding something off your pad onto your colleagues where he can immediately see it and work with it offers over going through email, drop boxes, etc. will totally drive a complete revolution in everyday computing.

  41. I have a) choice b) some interest in the technical aspects of computer use and c) a tiny bit of experience or training

    In fact I am a computer professional.

    My choice is the Mac.

    So your assertion that given a, b, and c, the choice should be Linux is not… backed by evidence.

    And by the way, my choice was made on very rational reasons.

  42. Let me give the two main reasons why I prefer the Mac over Linux (or over far worse popular alternatives):

    – As everybody around me (family and friends) are turning to me as their personal support person, I found I get far fewer calls when they have a Mac.

    – Last I checked, the Mac is the only system where it’s easy to type diacriticals on a QWERTY keyboard (I write over 90% of my texts in French, with plenty of é, à, û, ï, Å?, çâ?¦).

  43. And the third one too

    – As a computer professional, the Mac is the only universal computer, able to run everything else (taking virtualization into account).

  44. Jean, because until I asked you to, you didn’t.

    Obvious, for the reasons I gave in the post, Mac’s are not for me (rationally speaking). But it is worth noting that Macs have become pretty good, stable, etc. since they started to base their system on a linux-type kernel.

    A fact which many Mac users seem under-appreciative of.

  45. I am fully appreciative of all the Unixy goodness, ever since I was running Unix on a Vax back in the early eighties 🙂

    And by the way, unless my English is deficient, you can’t “refuse” something until after you’ve been asked for it.

  46. You raise an interesting point. As a very tiny illustration, the forthcoming Microsoft Office 2010 for Mac, judging from their posted screen shots, will still use a floppy disk as the “Save” icon, even though we stopped using floppies about ten years ago.

  47. Well, now we are touching on interesting territory. The floppy disk picture is to many of us an “icon” because it is iconic of storage of data. But for those who grew up or are growing up PF (post-floppy), it is a symbol, because it is a meaningless shape arbitrarily linked to a certain meaning.

    PLUS, that is not a picture of a floppy disk, but rather a 3.5 inch disk. They were not floppy, but rather, stiff.

    Which is why my friends in South Africa unabashedly and without apparent intent at humor call them “stiffies.”


    “Did your boss print out the report for you?”

    “No, he gave me a stiffie.”

  48. I post this latter, because i waited to see if this would be talked about in the comments, but it was not, at least not directly.

    Greg, i’ve read some articles from you that made me go “D’oh! Wyh haven’t i thought of this earlier?”, and hoped for this here, but i didn’t find it.

    My problem is this: i understand that the iPhone and iPad have a very good design and are very easy to use, but why do people that care about their rights/freedom on a computer accept them? It’s like those people that are perfectly happy to have someone sticking fingers up their asses every time they board a plane in the hope that would reduce the chance of being blown up by 0.0001% – just doesn’t make sense to me.

    I have friends who are long time Linux/FOSS users, and who, if Microsoft would try to do half of what Apple does in terms of restricting the users, would burn their computers in front of the US embassy in protest, but when they see the iPad, they go: “Oooh, shiny multitouch!” Why? I understand it’s very easy to use for someone who can’t be trusted to tie his shoes without assistance, but why would an IT professional want to give money for it? Is it just because of easier unpaid tech support for the families/friends?

    If we keep buying products that use this kind of restrictions, other companies will do the same – they already love the control they would have over the users. And to me it seems it’s like this: we can get some appliance that lets you have control, even if it doesn’t offer a perfect user experience, but hope for an improvement with the next update or the next gen device, or buy something with a pretty and user-friendly interface but with tons of restrictions, and the only thing to look forward in the future would be a worse but more expensive software once enough users are locked in.

    Maybe it’s just optimism vs. pessimism.

  49. Paladin: To me the information control is an open question. I don’t buy music from the Apple iStore (or whatever it is) but I use iTunes because I happen to have an iPod. But I do find the way Apple stores the data to be utterly annoying and almost unconscionably poorly desgigned (my data … my music off of CDs … is essentially randomized).

    But print books dont’ come in a form that can be easily put into an existing proprietary system, like one can put the contents of CD in iTunes and never buy an iTune.

    Will it be the case in the future that to read a diversity of ebooks, I’ll have to own a Kindle, a Barnes and Noble thingie, and an iPad, with a different set of publishers feeding exclusively to each one? If that happens, it is time to have a revolution, and Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos will have a lot to answer to for, essentially, ending civilization as we know it for doing the equivilant of burning the libraries.

  50. I agree with you, and my answer is simple: i don’t buy any ebook that has DRM (i actually try not to buy anything with DRM, whether it’s media or a device that is built around that, and not has added DRM as an afterthought). I buy some books in paper, i get some free ebooks to read on my Android phone (you’d be surprised at the number and quality of SF books that are published under creative commons – i guess Cory Doctorow managed to convince a lot of authors), or buy an ebook if it doesn’t have DRM. If it’s not available to me in one of this forms and i really want it, i pirate it. I know pirating is wrong, but still, what DRM can lead to is much worse.

    But still, that didn’t answer my question about Apple: why informed people with a healthy attitude about freedom manage to love the iPhones and iPads?

    To me, the biggest enemy of computing freedom right now is Apple business model. Used to be Microsoft, and i still don’t like them, but if what Apple is doing is getting adopted by everybody else – and it’s starting to – we won’t be in a society that i like to live in. And this happens while lots of people who should know better look up at Jobs and drool over the things that might ruin their children’s society and freedom of choice. How come? This is what i really don’t get.

  51. OK, I’m confused.

    Why is Apple’s business model going to be the end of civilization?

    Is it the DRM thing? That was backed by every computer manufacturer (or at least not opposed).

    Microsoft essentially has a near-monopoly on operating systems, though that is starting to crumble.

    it seems to me that in terms of content, the real issue is control thereof, and Apple/Microsoft are really secondary players in that regard. Net neutrality is an important issue there, but that doesn’t directly bear on wither of them — the telecom/cable companies are the ones who are a real problem in that sense.

    I’m trying to parse out the technical issues form the control issues here, and watching yo and Greg go back and forth is just confusing to us non-techies. (Greg complains about the mac file formats, if I understand him right, I haven’t had any particular problem with them, but again I am not a technical user at all).

    I’m just lost here. So far the whole thing with kindles and such seems like the introduction of cassette tapes and CDs. My biggest issue with content control is DRM, and the problem of destroying lending libraries thereby, but again, I feel like I am losing you (or rather you are losing me). The technical differences with iPads/kindles seem to me a bit secondary.

    And maybe it’s because I don’t use kindles or iPads, and have kept to paper books. (I find reading on screens tiring after many hours and even write longhand a chunk of the time).

    Again, content wise, I have yet to be in a situation where apple’s — or Microsoft’s — proprietary issues even registered. That is, everything works. All my office applications, all my files — but maybe if you two could give an example of a real-life situation I might run into where it would matter (and I mean real-life for people like myself who just use computers, and don’t care about the OS technical details, who just need it to work). In fact, I find switching between windows and mac for files (mostly word and such) surprisingly seamless.

  52. Ok, real-world example: You don’t find it horrible that Apple has the last word about what app you can run on your phone (that you paid for with your money)? They might say it’s because the app is not good enough, or too naughty, or (i love this one) it duplicates functionality.

    That’s like Microsoft saying you can’t install Open Office on your computer, but it’s ok, you have Microsoft Office.

    I like to be treated like a responsible adult, and to be able to decide what i install on MY device. It would be easy for Apple to pop up a window that says: “The app you’re about to install didn’t meet Apple’s high standards, so it might make your phone unstable, blow up the battery and run off with your girlfriend. Also it will void the warranty. Are you sure you want to proced?” “You bet!”

  53. I have not complained about mac file formats. I don’t know what mac file formats are. Nor am I talking about technical differences between kindle and iPad.

    What I am saying is actually incredibly simple, which is probably why you are missing it.

    My book storage method, the one I use now, is called iShelf. It uses verticle stops, horizontal surfaces, and gravity. Any book I obtain with very few exceptions fits on the shelves, and I can order them any way I want. Where I got the book from (the v endor … who produced the book (the publisher) or how I got it (given to me, I bought it, etc.) does not matter to who I store the book or how I read it.

    But, my kindle books … and I have a few … can ONLY be read on my Kindle, an ONLY stored on my Amazon account and/or Kindle. If I REPLACED my kindle wiht an iPod, would I be able to read those? (It turns out that the anwser is probably yes, but only if I purchace a particular app on the iPad, which I think is pretty cheap). Will iPad content work on the Android clone of the iPad? …. say I buy an iPad, love it, use it, build up a library, then Apple fails to keep up and Acme makes a linux based/android iPad clone what is 50 bucks and way better. Can I read my Apple books on that machine?

    Is it the case that the relationship between content producers (= writers. Not publisher or vendors, but writers) and the machine I use to read the content is pure indifference? Or is there a connection between vendor, format, machine, legality of acces, etc. etc.

    At the moment there is no guarantee that the books on my own electronic version of the shelf can ever be read by me if, say, my Kindle breaks and I don’t have the cash to replace it, or I desire to switch machines, etc.

  54. Paladin: I agree with this. You will not find me replacing my open source computer with an apple product of any kind. That does not mean I don’t want a Mac desktop computer sitting there next to my Linux workstation for when I need to do something it is really really good at.

  55. But still, that didn’t answer my question about Apple: why informed people with a healthy attitude about freedom manage to love the iPhones and iPads?

    Shiny baubles mate. People are rather like crows in that regard.

    Even the walking example of practicality in motion that is me is drawn to them. Alas, not enough to throw down hard earned coin of the realm. In my case, the particular bauble being the sex without orgasm iPod Touch that diddles the clit of possibilities held in potential and perhaps, just maybe, by chance the next revision, or the one after that. Then again I’m forced to realize this self serving consumerist is not the suitable tool with which to leverage maximal profitability in the erection of fully integrated ecosystems. I am not within the target demographic that places style and form over substance and function. A demographic that appreciates the insulation and isolation of walled gardens from the complexities of a world beyond and accepts the limits in trade. I am an outsider in search of a personal ideal more enamored with what an iPod Touch could be, than what it actually is. Speaking only for myself, the greater value is in the utility not the shine.

  56. The NYT article is interesting, but doesn’t answer a very basic question: There is almost nothing that I want to do, that I KNOW can be done, on the iPod Touch that I CAN do. The apps are not there. Yes, there are a lot of apps, and there are apps that do things I had not thought of, but my requirements have not been addressed. Some of that is because my requirements are basic, and very close to the rudimentary (and inadequate) areas that Apple choses to not allow development in.

  57. Re: NYT article.

    I’m not sure how impressed I am about the iPhone store encouraging reams of innovative apps so quickly. It was the first pocket-sized all-touchscreen computer that got a significant market share. It was practically guaranteed that it would produce a torrent of innovative small applications. The app store helped, but only because it makes it easy to do low-hassle impulse buys. Closed gardens often start off nice: IBM and AOL were both big successes once.

  58. It should be added that it is apparently very easy to develop an app for the iPhone, given the templates and other tools that are available.

    Which is a positive thing to say about the iPhone, but also somewhat deflates the significance of the huge number of apps.

  59. I’d take and use an iPad gladly if given one but I wouldn’t buy one for another generation or two. For me the iPad would be an appliance, not a computing platform. In that respect it works pretty well — The single most important application for me would be an ePub and PDF reader. I frequently use a lot of PDF-based manuals & books and they simply don’t look good on smaller, less detailed screens (like the Kindle or Nook). Basically, I’m waiting for a cheaper reader with a good screen and wifi.

  60. OK, that helps. Greg, your bit about the difference between kindles and iPads makes sense to me, but it seems that’s a problem that is endemic to ANY e-book format. That is, given the way that a technology company makes money, damned right I would want a proprietary format if I were the CEO.

    It’s why they often start out that way until one becomes a standard, usually for reasons utterly unrelated to actual technology (see: Betamax and VHS. I worked on TV production and there is a reason Beta was the preferred format for TV people. But VHS for all kinds of reasons unrelated to the superiority/inferiority of the tech became the one everyone had at home. 8-tracks had a similar issue – they actually reproduce sound better — but cassettes were more convenient).

    I’m not endorsing this. I’m just saying that oftentimes the problem you describe is basic to any new media technology. I suspect that sooner rather than later one eBook will pick up enough market share that the other format is crowded out.

    @Paladin: i don’t find it horrible that Apple can say what app goes on my iPone (if I owned one) for the same reason I don’t find it horrible that certain programs (usually games, but whatevs) don’t have mac compatibility. Maybe it’s ‘cuz I grew up with computers in the 80s when compatibility issues were actually more problematic — Apple had a bigger market share then and there were four or five companies making PCs and you could easily choose one that would be out of business later. (I had a Commodore. It’s a nice paperweight now). I can’t play SIMs on the mac. Oh well, I’ll live.

    So to me, when you say “I want to be treated like a responsible adult” it’s like, “So what?” Now, you are approaching maybe from the perspective of one who likes to play with the functionality of a machine. I don’t. And I suspect most people don’t, which explains why there has been a certain amount of innovation in the app store (as per NYT piece). Those apps just aren’t designed for techies. And for people like me, well, it’s almost a non-issue. I need something that works, first and foremost, and if I had an iPhone I’d sure as hell want a guarantee that whatever I was using wasn’t going to have some weird effect when I am trying to dial the local pizza guy or trying to make an important phone call, which is what stupid lugs like me use a phone for 🙂

    One thing that keeps me using the Mac is that it works. And sometimes, having something reliable for 99% of the situations you will ever run into is better than the latest and greatest tech.

    I think it’s often hard for people who understand OS technology well to imagine what it is like for the rest of us. I know cars pretty well, for instance, and I sometimes have to take a step back and understand that replacing brake shoes, changing spark plugs or anything like that for my brother in law is a complete mystery. He just needs his car to work, and hasn’t the time or inclination to understand the inner workings. So he’s okay with the fact that Ford or Toyota only allows parts built to certain specs — it’s basically invisible to him, as the restrictions on apps are to me.

  61. Greg, the Kindle Reader for iPhone and iPad is free.

    Going back a little bit, it is clear to me now that no computer platform does everything for everyone. I mentioned before I have pretty much one of everything on my desk, and I do use all of them for what they are good at. The iPad is good at being on the couch with me when I’m watching TV, for example. I have laptops I used for that but the iPad just beats them in how transparently it sits there.

    So I opine that anybody who requires a single system to do everything they want with ease, elegance, and under all circumstances, is a) cheap and b) never going to be satisfied. And that that has always been true. The closest entity to a universal computer today is the iMac, which will do everything except some games, and does it very elegantly. I choose the iMac for the example because, like the iPad, it occupies only the essential space – that of the screen – and all the works are hidden inside, unlike towers or conventional laptops.

    As to the 99% – my observations since the PC arrived is that the 80% solution is what actually gets pervasive and makes a few people insanely rich. And also Ted Sturgeon’s Law – 90% of everything is crap – applies strongly in this field. We just have to live with it.

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