Quote of the Week: Avoiding iPad Bloat

The debate following the announcement this past Wednesday, January 27, of the Apple iPad has been voluminous and pointed. Both sides — and there really are two sides, as in any religious war — have their arguments. On the one hand, the iPad is a lovely device with product benefits in areas that most portable-computer companies ignore, and that Apple certainly hasn’t fully delivered on in the past: battery life (10 hours, reportedly), nearly instant-on (along the lines of what we’ve come to expect from the iPod Touch and the iPhone), and weight (just 1.5 pounds; Apple’s Air, at three pounds, was heavier than numerous non-Apple machines, and came saddled with numerous hardware hedges, including a small hard drive and an un-replaceable battery).

On the other hand, Apple’s increasingly closed software environment casts a long and dark shadow into the future of personal computing. From our current vantage, that is a potential future in which developers need to submit their work to the equivalent of censors before being able to make it available to its public. And it’s a potential future in which among the decisions facing those very censors is (based, at least, on Apple’s track record thus far in its app store) whether a given developer is impinging on Apple’s turf.

One of the best posts I’ve read on this subject is over at Peter Kirn‘s createdigitalmusic.com; deeply incensed by Apple’s restrictive software philosophy, Kirn may have penned his strongest post yet as he dissected the device within hours of its introduction.

To be clear, Apple’s mobile OS is very developer-friendly, hence the nearly 150,000 apps currently in the Apple store. Which is why I was especially interested in what developers had to say about the iPad. What concerns me at the moment is something Chris Randall, an accomplished software developer (I am pretty much addicted to his company’s product Automaton), hinted at in one of his Twitter posts, at twitter.com/Chris_Randall, also on the day of the iPad unveiling:

DroneStation is going to be kicked up several notches, of course. Plenty of room now.

DroneStation is a simple drone-making app that Randall developed for Apple’s mobile OS. I use it regularly on my iPod Touch, and enjoy it. The “Plenty of room” he’s talking about is ambiguous — he may have meant screen space, but he may also have meant memory size. Either way, what we’re looking ahead to now is a situation in which some existing apps will be overhauled for the newly expanded touch canvas, and others will be developed from the ground up (or abandoned in favor of something entirely new). I’ve long been of the mind that at least two of the best music apps for the Apple mobile OS, the beat program JR Hexatone and the track-syncing Touch DJ, were designed with the inevitable tablet implementation in mind; both are too cramped on my iPod Touch to count as truly fully realized, or really as fully usable.

What will be interesting to see is in the near future is how Apple developers respond to the new dimensions of the iPad, and whether the tidiness of the iPhone/Touch dimensions will give way, in the relatively expansive iPad, to bloat.

More on the iPad at apple.com/ipad. More on Randall’s software development at analogindustries.com.

6 thoughts on “Quote of the Week: Avoiding iPad Bloat

  1. Hey Marc, nice. We’ve been trying to figure out what the iPad is for around here. It seems anyone who wants it likely already uses at least an iPhone and probably a Macbook/Macbook Pro as well. One wouldn’t replace the iPhone with the iPad since the iPad has no phone, and one wouldn’t replace the laptop with the iPad since you can’t actually make anything with the iPad and for reasons you mention above. I know some of the Ableton/Max guys are looking forward to using it as a controller for their software. But beyond that, I don’t know. This thing seems homeless to me.

  2. Thanks, Marc, I appreciate that.

    There are definitely more than two sides out there. I hope that as passions cool, we have some non-religious debates about this, as well. What’s curious to me is that this is unearthing the kinds of discussions that went on more widely in the 80s – all back again. In some ways, that’s exciting: it means we’re again evaluating what computers should be and how they should work.

    Some of the most common perspectives I’ve heard: * Opposition to the iPad because of technical limitations * A lack of interest in this form factor altogether (not to be discounted, as we really don’t know whether the market will embrace not only the iPad but the many similar tablets on the way) * Opposition to iPad because it’s restrictive of hardware and software in a way a theoretical MacPad would not have been, and because iTunes threatens to become a single channel for books * Opposition to iPad because it’s not an open-source solution (which isn’t quite the argument I was making, but some have) * Love of the iPad as a secondary machine * Love of the iPad as a primary machine * Some people suggesting the iPad is the future of computing, and that personal computing should die (an extreme reaction to some extreme reactions on the other side)

    Then again, there’s this question of what multi-touch devices will mean for music. That means we’ll have to see how iPad, Android tablets, Windows slates, Windows tablets, multi-touch equipped laptops, etc., etc. all compare.

    One thing that has become abundantly clear since I wrote that Wednesday: we’re not going to want for choice or opinions. And anyone who thinks the non-geek market is any less opinionated or fragmented about the stuff they buy – these masses who are supposedly going to all become iPad users (or not) – doesn’t talk to any of those people.


  3. Brian,

    I’m not sure what home it has yet. I think that to some extent it’s a reader — not just ebooks, but web. And to some extent its utility is yet to be defined, and will be defined by the software that is made for it.

    The low-end model should provide an eminently programmable touch interface — it’s a dollar cheaper than the 64-grid monome.

    My little write-up focuses on what I prioritize, which is why I’ve tended toward small laptops in the past. I’m sure as technology improves I may learn to need other things, but mostly I need to be able to write, listen, and read, and to manipulate some basic media, and to do so with something approximating multitasking.


  4. Hi, Peter.

    I do hope folk can all get through some of these releases with less rancor. Right now, it seems that rancor is part and parcel of the process, as natural a phase of the release cycle as lines on opening day. Enthusiasm is great, but in both those cases, the way consumerism replicates the emotions of political debate and of sports/entertainment consumption can make me a bit woozy.

    I’ve found myself in the spot of appreciating some things about the iPad (weight, design, price) and disapproving of others (digital rights, multitasking, port selection), and I find that in some conversations on the subject I end up on the opposite side from someone who feels strongly one way or the other.

    That personal computing should die is something I am personally anxious about. It’s clear that one natural path for computers is to end up as appliances, no more (or less) hackable than one’s stereo amplifier or Tivo. I’d like to think that our current period of open-source activity, and of broader hacker ingenuity, won’t prove to have been a transitional period.

    Yeah, there is no lack of opinion right now — I wonder if when the iPad comes out that milestone will increase opinions or winnow them.


  5. I think if personal computers were replaced with appliances, that would become an intensely political issue.

    But I don’t think that’s really what’s happening here. It’s tough, too, because people are so passionately committed to preventing that from happening, you get a sort of reverse-self-fulfilling prophecy. All of this screaming about what would happen if computers became entirely closed helps ensure that computers don’t become entirely closed.

    Of course, if that’s what you’re trying to avoid, being wrong is fantastic.

    I’ll put it this way: if computers were going to become appliances, they would have done it long, long ago. I think that particular battle is, despite appearances this week, over.

  6. I hope that’s the case. There are moments when I look at the iPad and, for all its “extensability,” I see it attached to the front of a fridge. I should take more comfort in Apple having backtracked on DRM issues for purchased prerecorded music.

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