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The iPad isn't a computer, it's a distribution channel

You don’t want your phone to be an open platform…” and with that brief statement, Apple justified the closed iPhone and then quickly followed it with the monitored and controlled app store. But Steve, the iPad isn’t a phone at all so why not open it up again? If people are concerned about the safety of their apps or need you to protect them from porn, you can do an “app store approved” program or something can’t you? And really, do we even need an app store to tell us which apps are good in an era of ubiquitous user feedback and preferential attachment?

The thing is, Jobs’ argument was always a bit disingenuous. Closed follows from his brain architecture, not from an argument on behalf of his customers or their network providers. Those are post facto justifications supporting an already-held point of view. And the reason the iPad is going to stay closed isn’t because it is good for users, it’s because it is good for Apple.

The bottom line is that the iPhone was a relatively open phone and we accepted it, but the iPad is a relatively closed computer, and that’s a bummer. Jobs probably believes that he is doing it for the users, finally giving them a post-crank-the-handle-to-start-it experience, but it doesn’t take a genius to see how it benefits Apple. Beliefs and self interest usually go hand in hand and here’s what I think is really happening…

Microsoft in the 1980s was the perfect business. The kind of business every MBA would like to invent. It had network effects to drive adoption, products with near-zero marginal cost, and a distribution channel that was controlled and constrained enough in the days of the floppy disks in boxes to enforce direct monetization. In short, it had leverage. The kind of leverage that delivers a very steep-sloped relationship between enterprise valuation and market penetration. Or, put the way an economist would put it, the kind of leverage that captures greater than economic rents. We paid more than we had to for Windows and Office during all those years, but at least we can take some comfort in the fact that a big part of it turned out to be an involuntary tithe for Bill’s charitable efforts.

The music industry worked the same way. The constrained distribution channel of the vinyl record gave artists and the music companies that distributed their work tremendous leverage, and get them paid for it. Even if a lot of that economic surplus ended up the noses of label executives…

The last decade has been tough on business models like these though. Open Source software is eroding pricing leverage. Digital has unconstrained content delivery and taken away the ability to monetize at the point of distribution. Businesses that had leverage are returning to more linear business models. Plus, companies like Google have figured how to move network effects into the cloud where they are ad supported instead of monetized directly, further eroding our expectation to pay for things. Proprietary software vendors, music industry labels, movie studios, newspapers, etc. all find themselves suffering from their lost control over distribution and the fact that when they lost it they lost their toll booths. Excess rent is hard to come by these days.

In this context the iPad isn’t a computing device at all. Jobs is using his knack for design and user experience to build, not a better computer, but a better distribution channel. One that is controlled, constrained, and can re-take distribution as the point of monetization. You aren’t buying a computer when you buy an iPad, you are buying a 16GB Walmart store shelf that fits on your lap – complete with all the supplier beat downs, slotting fees, and exclusive deals that go with it – and Apple got you to pay for the building.

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The iPad by itself would be just another physical product living in a nearly linear world. Doubling revenue would require Apple to double the number manufactured; and that would mean roughly doubling labor costs etc. It could be profitable, and there are advantages to building at scale, but not in the greater-than-linear leveraged manner that software or content can deliver. As Apple well knows, a business built on that model builds enterprise value linearly with unit sales. But… the iPad as a distribution channel for fungible goods reasserts the non-linear leverage that Microsoft enjoyed back in the day.

One interesting twist is how the iPad combines network effects and constrained distribution. The bright shiny object design of the iPad leads to network effects at the app store which in turn drives more consumers back to the device itself. Then to the degree that those two forces hold consumers in thrall of the device, Apple can use the device as the point of sale for content worth more than the device itself. The leverage is linked – the first leads to market presence, and then the market presence makes for stronger monetization opportunities in the device-hosted channel.

The other interesting thing is that so many of those “apps” are really just web pages without a URL. Or books packaged as an app. In short, this is content that is abandoning the web to become a monetizable app.

History is never completely new and we’ve seen things like this happen before. Prior to the 1980′s essentially all television was broadcast in the clear. An unconstrained distribution channel like broadcast TV could only be monetized through ad sales, but along came cable with its point-to-point wave guides and surprised consumers were suddenly faced with paying for access. HBO made the content “interesting” enough (i.e. soft porn in your living room), so lots of people did. Even more surprising, before long they were paying for the right to view ads too. In this analogy the Internet and commodity PC are broadcast TV, and the iPad and its app store are HBO over cable.

What happened next in cable is going to happen in computing too though if these device-specific distribution channels accumulate enough power. It wasn’t long before HBO and Cinemax were signing exclusive content deals with the studios to lock up content on one network or the other. That left consumers in the odd position of having to pick the network with the studio deal they liked, or pay for both so that they could see any first run movie they were likely to want to see. iPad, Nook, Kindle, … picture the day when you are sending your kid to school with one of each so that they can get access to all of their MacMillan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Prentice Hall text books.

Who knows, if Apple’s app store gets enough lock-in we may even see exclusive distribution deals on apps. Imagine Pandora strong armed into being only available on iPad/iPhone. That would be a new twist.

Ok, this is beginning to sound like a polemic and that’s not really what I set out to do. Let me reel in and focus a bit. The Mac was a commodity platform. Anyone could write applications for it and distribute them in any way they saw fit, from physical packaging in a store to digital distribution online. Or you could just write something yourself and use it. The iPhone seemed a lot like a computer but “for the safety of the network” introduced a constrained software and content distribution channel that imposed checks, and perhaps more importantly, contingencies on a developer’s right to distribution (i.e. they can be taken back).

The commodity PC had a good run but now we are finding ourselves in love with task-specific or content-oriented devices like the Kindle and iPad. And while they are attractive for their intended tasks, they come with a cost. They offer us a trade of task-specific design in exchange for important constraints on use and distribution of content. The iPad is essentially a “computer” at the technical level, but one that is intentionally constrained to be a delivery channel for content and applications from or via one company, Apple. You “own” the iPad, but ownership in this case means about as much as owning a television that can only be hooked up to the cable television network that sold it to you would mean. It’s a fetishist’s Minitel with brushed aluminum and a touch screen.

So where does Google and Android fit in to all of this? Well, it’s hard to say. Android may yet win because it has an open platform and seeks leverage only in the old fashion way, the network effect connected to a profitable ad-delivering set of services. If that happens I’ll probably write another polemic, slightly tweaked.

At low levels of market penetration maybe none of this matters. After all, we can still buy a laptop and stick Ubuntu on it. But before you decide it doesn’t matter at all, ask yourself why there is no Tor client for the iPhone or iPad. Then ask yourself, even if there were one, how hard would it be for a pissed off government to use the many forms of leverage available to them to force Apple to remove it from any device deployed within their borders, or perhaps even within the borders of another country that annoys them.

Even that may be no big deal right now, there are still so many more open-platform personal computers out there. But that is changing and the “content creating” laptop may go the way of the desktop PC, reduced to serving niche developers and content creators, while mobile and task-specific devices (with all of their constraints and beholden to a few large companies with contingent power over anything deployed to them) become the primary way people interact online.

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  • bowerbird

    everything looks like a cash-register to a capitalist businessman.

    -bowerbird

  • Mike Jones

    I believe that as long as people demand more performance than can be delivered, an integrated and closed platform is the best way to deliver. As soon as the market becomes over served, people will start demanding flexibility and customization, and then the platform (or a competitors) will open up just like a PC. It might take 5 years, but it will eventually happen unless performance demands stay ahead of what can be delivered.

  • Brent Ashley

    While thinking along similar lines, I boiled it down to the conclusion that we are just seeing two perspectives of the same phenomenon of device convergence.
    http://www.ashleyit.com/blogs/brentashley/2010/04/12/the-two-trajectories-of-device-convergence/

  • Moe

    Great post Jim! I’m anxious to see how Google plays their hand.

  • Martin

    Good post.

    Rather than task/content specific I would say “ecosystem specific”.
    When I buy an iPad it comes with the Apple ecosystem.
    When I buy an Android it comes with the Google ecosystem.
    When I buy a Kindle it comes with the Amazon ecosystem.

    All these ecosystems have qualities. Open/Closed/Type of content/Type of tasks/etc.
    Perhaps these qualities are not yet as evident to the consumer but my bet is that they will be more and more.The ecosystem is going to be the thing users will buy in to and not the device primarily.

    Not walled gardens but more like arenas.

  • Andrew Fielden

    Somewhere recently I saw that the average user only visits 3 or 4 websites each time they go onto the Net. These include such places as Facebook and Youtube etc.. plus potentially their favourite news site.

    The idea that we are all desperate to be open and free is not the case. Some of us are but most of us couldn’t care less as long as we get a decent fix of what we need. If we can get that from a stylish and fashionable device that I don’t even have to know how to change the batteries on then so much the better.

    Increasingly the channel is king. Have you noticed how XBoxes are getting cheaper, not because there are better consoles out there but because they can make far more money out of gamer points. Same applies to iPad (although the high current price makes it a desirable fashion object) with the content providers desperate to get a channel that they can control and charge for this is perfect.

    Who knows, the masses may revolt and say we want it in an open environment but I am not convinced that they care enough.

  • Tim Gillespie

    The article is less bias than most I’ll give you that. However, the open/closed argument is mostly from a developer’s standpoint.

    From a consumers standpoint it’s more like picking a frigerator, as long as the device works and the warranty is honored, they don’t care where its serviced from.

    To the point of distribution.. You might want to research that more.. As per apples website they do support ad-hoc distribution (outside apples app store).. Why don’t more people know about it or use it? Because consumers don’t care or prefer the centralized application store I’m guessing.

    http://developer.apple.com/programs/iphone/distribute.html

  • chuck

    Sorry, but contrary to your screed, the thing is a superior appliance to a phone or a pc for email, using the web, and displaying content.

    Most of the content people want can readily be obtained with apps that run on it, pay or free, from places other than the Apple App store.

    For other purposes a phone or a computer is better. The Apple brand ones are not too shabby, and Macs offer the Windows experience, just a Microsoft purchase away.

    Beyond the typical excesses of mobile carriers, I don’t feel locked in or walled off at all.

  • Jim Stogdill

    @chuck Hmmm.. didn’t mean it as a “screed”, but then an Apple employee called me a hater last month when i declined to pre-order an iPad. Maybe you’ve caught me sublimating my rage. :)

    Really though, I agree with you. The thing IS superior and that’s exactly why my argument has a chance of working. Apple is leveraging superior design into control over distribution. I don’t expect you to feel locked in any more than a kid would who was told to spend her entire summer in a Disney park.

    @Tim Thanks for pointing out the ad hoc distribution. However, it is limited to 100 deployments. In markets defined in the millions that is not a viable alternative to Apple’s own distribution channels.

    @Martin I like your description better than mine. I was struggling to find the right label for the concept I had in my head. thx

  • Joe Webster

    Stogdill raises a lot of issues and the comments revolve around the device and the relative comfort of “most” users. His more vital point is that the conversion of devices creates central control of content. Not just games and movies but news, education, eventually belief systems. A wise politician once said we can differ about our opinions but we cannot pick the facts. In today’s media world, it is in fact the “facts” that are (deliberately?) being ignored or manipulated. Going from Web to controlled access seems to me to be a continuation of that trend and that’s hostile to what we would hold inherently valuable for democracy and our other treasured freedoms.

  • Koen van Hees

    Nice read.

    As far as the consumer environment goes however: I don’t buy it, not entirely, not by a long shot. Sure, Apple is trying to control the environment and experience, but the iPad feels a lot more open and empowering than most stuff that’s out there.
    For the audience of this website, almost everything is in easy reach, given time, pizza and if all else fails, a screwdriver. For the average user, the iPad is very much open.

    Note that I’m not talking about joe sixpack (whoever he is). Average here just means: “someone not inclined to look INSIDE the magic box”. Like your average car driver. Now don’t tell me your president is stupid because he doesn’t fix his limo. Afacagpgc (As far as car analogies go, pretty good comparison)

    Now, we’re not sure what Google will do, hopefully nothing evil ;-)
    But we already know the Amazon/Kindle model. Whether or not it is good (or evil), I leave up to you. It is however pretty closed and up until now, it was Amazon dictating the rules.
    Interesting fact though is that iPad offers easy routes to Amazon and the Kindle reader – and I can upload (not easily, mind, but I can!) every book I own and read it in one of the many readers out there.
    We’re not in Kansas anymore (good, I guess), but imo we’re not even close to Disneyworld (luckily).

  • Carsten Hucho

    You dont want an iPad? You are getting old!
    The old tecchies recite their mantra of ‘if you can’t open it, you don’t own it’. They lament that the i-Pad has no keyboard, no CD-drive, no printer connection – they miss the bundle of wires that make a computer a computer. “The original Apple ][+ came with schematics for the circuit boards, and birthed a generation of hardware and software hackers who upended the world for the better”, writes Cory Doctorow on boingboing.net “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)”.
    Well, sure. We are getting old and we say what we hated to hear our parents say when they got old: “those were the good old days”.

    You remember when you were able to repair your car by yourself – everything? When your telephone went silent – with a bit confidence and a drop of oil you could get it ring again. And the radio, yep, a flip against the coil, a resolute puff over the tunable capacitor, some dust-clouds – done!
    Todays devices are different without being bad or evil.
    The access moved to a meta-level. Go look at the way you do programming. In the (good, of course!) old days we hacked assembler-code, then moved to C (and still did some assembler-tweak), then C++. We started using Meta-languages like Delphi, created code by drag and drop, embedded libraries of code we did not even look at. We don’t code the graphics-interface of our software anymore.
    This transcending to the meta-level is happening everywhere. And it is good.
    The i-Pad is a Meta-type of an access-device. The i-Pad is no computer and the i-Pad is no phone.
    (I posted that also on my blog: http://faktoide.blogspot.com

  • Jim Stogdill

    @Carsten You’re killing me. I have a birthday coming up and don’t need to be reminded of it. And the thing is, I agree with you, but honestly your comments belong on this post: http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/04/we-are-ipad-resistance-is-not.html instead of here. You’re argument is pretty much completely orthogonal to what I am saying.

    Here’s the thing. I like the iPad. I don’t have one but I have an iPhone and like it a lot. I use macs and like them a lot. I like the iPad and wouldn’t mind owning one. But this post wasn’t about the iPad per se. It was an attempted deconstruction of Apple’s apparent conscious shift in business strategy and the impact it could have.

    How did you like having basically one option for an OS / productivity suite during the last twenty years? How many cable companies serve your community? My point is that if Apple is successful at what they are attempting – using superior design to create lockin through app store network effects and then using their new found lock on distribution channels to extract high non-linear rent – the next twenty years might feel very similar. There is no guarantee they will follow the script and get microsofted again. This time they might be microsoft.

  • rd

    As soon as you can make the same argument toward XBox, Wii and PS3 then people will be on your side.

    iPad is trying to be an appliance that a technophobe can use without any training.

    You are trying to use your past experience to predict the future that is like looking at light coming 150 million lighter year away and trying predict your personality.

    Is Flash is open and ubiquitous
    Is Windows is open and ubiquitous.
    Then Linux should have 90% of the market.

    So Apple is trying to limit your programming language skill then go pray at the google alter.

  • Jim Stogdill

    @rd said “then people will be on your side.”

    Which “side” is that exactly? I don’t think you read my argument before you fired your broadside. I never said that open ensures success. In fact I say in the case of these devices it is an open question and has little to do with open vs. closed. What I DO argue is that if closed wins it will re-capture distribution as a point of monetization and may create other side consequences as well.

  • Dru Richman

    Consider where the iPhone and iPad exist in the scheme of things. When you buy a television set, you do not expect to open it up and modify anything inside. That’s left to the repair shop if something breaks. Yes, there are setup menus with a small set of configuration options, such as choosing a screen layout for standard or widescreen content, or adjusting picture quality to suit your tastes. Beyond that, it just works.

    Of course the very same thing is true about your toaster oven or even your cordless telephone. You buy them to accomplish something, not spend your days and nights fiddling with interfaces to exactly configure each and every potential option. Where there are setup choices at all, they are strictly limited to form and function. Why should it be otherwise?

    That’s what Apple has figured out and it’s something other tech companies simply don’t understand when it comes to computers, whether large or small. Some may feel Apple is exerting too much control over the user experience, but most of their customers wouldn’t have it otherwise.

  • Jacob

    I agree with Dru, in this case the iPad can be thought of more as a home appliance then a computer. I think it is completely wrong to call it a PC. Like Jim said on a technical level yes it has a CPU, memory and all the other components which make up a computer-like device but the similarities end there. The device is a super-refined task oriented device that lives in a closed (closed does not mean limited btw) ecosystem.

    As a PC gamer this trend is all too obvious, the majority of the revenues that game publishers make come from console titles not PC games. As a result more and more titles are being developed exclusively for consoles or the PC versions are just inferior versions of their console counterparts (the dreaded ports). It’s unfortunate to see that happening as a lifelong fan of PC gaming, it is upsetting to see the demise of my hobby and I am not alone in that sentiment.

    Perhaps the flak that Apple have been getting from many individuals on the internet are just an expression of such such a sentiment towards computing? In other words, are the people who have fiddled, tweaked and worked on (not with) computers for a very long time just annoyed that the general public are having more of an influence on computing trends than they are? Is there a general fear that computing is going down a different alley than we’ve been used to for the last 20 years or so?

    Of course I don’t mean to suggest that this is the sole reason that people are complaining. But it seems that the iPad has created a lot of heated, emotional and passionate debate. I mean think of any other device that has really caused so much controversy lately, besides the iPhone, I can’t really think of any. Hell ASUS, Dell, Sony and many other manufactures release products all the time without so much as a pip from the online community. But as soon as a complete game-changer (whether successful or not) comes out, people go for their pitchforks. The debate becomes more about the ideals behind a design choice and not so much about the product itself. It’s not really about whether the iPad has a USB plug or not, it’s about identifying certain ideologies that the manufacturer has employed and the fear that such behavior will be encouraged by mass adoption. Because ultimately, the average Joe doesn’t really have an opinion on the openness of software or the democracy of the digital world, they just want to check their emails.

  • anthony

    Jim, why don’t you go out and start up your own company that designs, manufacturers and sells world-class wireless telephone hardware? I’m sure you can come up with a bulletproof proposal that any VC would love to fund with billions of dollars.

    Until then —

  • danielgrooth

    Overpriced iPod Touch. It’s a complete disappointment in everything except speed. It doesn’t even support Flash or have a camera.

    The only interesting part is the data plan being offered through AT&T. I sincerely hope 30 bucks a month for unlimited data but without a contract is the way of the future for everyone and every device from here on out.
    http://www.articlesbase.com/health-articles/cho-yung-tea-review-amp-free-trial-2124982.html

  • James Wallis Martin

    When it comes to the tablet wars, here is how I plan as a consumer to spend my money:

    I will be an iPad for my autistic daughter, it is the perfect toy for her and it will be a great educational and communication tool for her.

    I will buy a Kindle for my wife, she likes to read where there is sunlight. That eliminates the iPad, plus the additional price and iTunes country-centric restrictions is also another reason not to get her an iPad. No such country restrictions with Amazon or sales tax.

    I will buy a WePad from a small German company called Neofonie so I can get actual work done and not have to wait for the next generation of iPad to come out with a camera, USB ports, and mini-SD memory expansion ports and runs Flash and HTML5 natively with a better and proper widescreen resolution as well.

  • Miranda Pothiawala

    I’ve been a developer for 30 years, the last 25 of them Microsoft-based. I love my job, I love my iPhone and I want an iPad as soon as they come out in the UK.

    I disagree the Jim’s statement that “many of those apps are really just web pages with a URL”. How many web pages can count the number of steps you take in a day, read a barcode for you, tell you where you are on a map and identify a song that’s playing on the radio?

    One of the most fascinating things about the iPhone apps is the sheer inventiveness of the people developing them. We are way beyond web pages here. iPhone users neither know nor care that this is a closed platform; they’re just revelling in the diversity of the applications and flexibility that this gadget gives them. The fact that everything can be acquired via the iTunes Store makes it easier for them; they don’t care that Apple is making a mint from all this.

    As a developer I want to build the best software I can. I want it to look fantastic, be superbly easy to use and to do what the users want it to do. When I try to develop on an open source platform I am not using the best tools available to me and consequently my solution is not the best it could be. Apple have given developers a wonderful gadget for us to develop for and let our creativity run riot. Where’s the harm in that?

    We must remember that computers are there for a purpose, and that different computers are good at different things, and that as developers we need to focus on providing great software for people to use, not bitching about the tools we’ve been given (sorry, sold) to do that.

  • Robert

    Who said you can’t print from the iPad?
    “http://www.engadget.com/2010/04/15/ipad-printing-solved/”

  • Ed Preston

    I would have thought this was a forum troll but it is posted on a news site. I call in to question your motivations for writing the article.

  • koen van Hees

    @Preston: huh? It’s a valid argument, taken a bit too far, maybe, but hey, opinions.
    What motivations do you suspect?
    And since when is oreilly a news channel?
    in short: wtf???

  • koen van Hees

    @Preston: huh? It’s a valid argument, taken a bit too far, maybe, but hey, opinions.
    What motivations do you suspect?
    And since when is oreilly a news channel?
    in short: wtf???

  • Al Feldzamen

    In the late 18th, the 19th, and early 20th centuries, as industrialization spread across America, “company towns” began to be formed, small communities centered around a factory — towns in which a corporation owned the real estate, built the housing for the workers, and generally ran the local governments. Included among the amenities there were generally “company stores” to provide the workers with foodstuffs, clothing, fabrics, hardware goods, and the like. In time, these stores came to be considered symbols of oppression.

    Wikipedia, for example, notes this often was “an arrangement in which employees are paid in commodities or some currency substitute (referred to as scrip), rather than with standard money. This limits employees’ ability to choose how to spend their earnings—generally to the benefit of the employer. As an example, scrip might be usable only for the purchase of goods at a “company store” where prices are set artificially high.

    “While this system had long existed in many parts of the world, it became widespread in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as industrialization left many poor, unskilled workers without other means to support themselves and their families. The practice has been widely criticized as exploitative and similar in effect to slavery, and has been outlawed in many parts of the world.”

    Paying the workers in scrip and forcing them thereby to buy at the company store was the heart of the system. This was the time of the foundation of many of the great American fortunes — the times we associate with the names of Robber Barons and industrial and financial magnates such as Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Astor, Harriman, and the like.

    Something similar has been approached, but until recently been never realized in the new world of data handling.

    Imagine, for example, the furor that would arise today were Microsoft to engineer a new Windows operating system that would prevent totally using any word processor other than its own WORD application. In point of fact, critics have asserted that earlier versions of Windows, while not preventing using outside software, did indeed offer certain specific operating advantages to Microsoft’s own spreadsheet, display, and word handling programs. And only this year did the European Union force Microsoft to present other internet browsers than its own EXPLORER on an equal footing in the latest version of WIndows.

    But Apple, always fiercely defended by its ultra-loyal devoted partisans, has seemingly managed to create its own “company store,” successfully selling one data handling device to which it totally controls normal access, the iPhone, and now presumably, the iPad to come.

    I write as one who bought the original Macintosh, upgraded through the years, using the computers to manage two medical offices, even wrote two (functional but not totally successful, alas) commercially available programs for it (a physician’s California office billing relational data base program—this being surprisingly complex — and also a teleprompter simulator that simultaneously, while presenting scrolling words under speed control to a laptop user, also showed synchronized slides and videos to the audience), and has generally appreciated Apple’s offerings through the years. But I nonetheless look with growing disappointment at the company’s restrictions on outside resources, and its censorship or suppression of software it finds objectionable — sometimes disgracefully on purely competitive business grounds.

    Certainly, Apple has the right to sell what it wishes in its own stores, internet-based or in reality. But preventing others from selling software to its products? That’s precisely the 21st century update of the “company store.” And forbidding outside developers to speak out about their relations with Apple — is this not Big Brother in action?

    When commentators have been critical on this point, Apple devotees have responded: “It’s a company, and they can do what they want.” And also, “There are contracts for the developers, and they signed them willingly.”

    Those writers are displaying a woeful misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of the law. There is a reason, for example, why in the splendid film and later television series, THE PAPER CHASE, about a beginning law student, the sternly curmudgeon professor, portrayed by the magnificent John Houseman, thundered: “I teach you to think like a lawyer!” and had, as his subject, the most important first-year law course, Contracts. Because, as every law student rapidly learns, just because both sides have signed a piece of paper with words written on it, a valid contract is not thereby created. There are many, many reasons such paper agreement can be considered invalid—and chief among them being a finding by a judge that its provisions are against “public policy.”

    So as a former attorney, I think there is a reasonable probability that many if not most, of the provisions of Apple’s absurdly restrictive “contract” with developers for its iPhone (and presumably iPad) system would be voided with a court challenge, since they are clearly against certain public policies. Attempting to forbid, by a specific provision, an outside developer from speaking out about relations with Apple, and about the contractual provisions themselves, is certainly a BIG BROTHER, perhaps Fascistic, tactic! Should this muzzling not be against public policy?

    Monopoly avoidance is another such public policy, and indeed, one that has led to various forms of legislation in many countries. Microsoft certainly did not have an absolute operating system monopoly in Europe, since the Macintosh OS and various open source operating systems are in widespread use there. Nonetheless the EU concluded there was a sufficient monopoly interest that Windows could no longer be permitted to favor Microsoft’s Explorer.

    So how then, can Apple’s more restrictive closure of its systems for the iPhone and iPad be defended? My guess here to that this “company store” policy can also be voided, because Apple does have a quasi-monopoly, established by its restrictive operating systems, over the hardware universe it has pioneered.

    Another legally valid reason for considering a contract invalid i that it is not the result of legitimate “bargaining” between the signatories, in that one side has a significant advantage. This is called a “contract of adhesion,” and can thereby be voided. Can any Apple functionary or fan maintain that an iPod, iPhone, iPad developer can bargain, on an equal footing, with Apple?

  • Ray Rimmer

    Dear Mr. Stogdill, I enjoyed reading this article. I agree with many of your points re ‘locked in to large companies and the leverage they use’ etc. I work in a school and recently fought for us to use Moodle, an open source Virtual Learning Environment. Unfortunately, the local council use a large corporate ICT company who have an apparent complete disregard for any of the values you illuminate in your article and now we will use a closed source and very much inferior product.

    I also run a small IT solutions company here in Bristol, UK and would like to publish your article on there from the oreilly site. Would it be possible to get your permission to do this please? The site is reltek.co.uk and I’d pop it in the features with a link back to the original. I hope to hear back from you soon, Ray Rimmer.

  • Leo Robert Klein

    I think ultimately an open system will beat the pants off of this device. People like choice and when they figure out that some other competing device answers their needs a bit more, they’ll go with that.

    As it stands, the iPad is a very poor investment — and you’re hearing this not from PC types but by long-time Macintosh users.

  • Nic Wolff

    Jobs’ determination to make Apple a media company wreaks havoc on not just the iPad/iPhone but the whole product line besides the laptops and towers. What’s Apple’s plan for the living room? I can put an Apple TV under my plasma and stream paid content from iTunes, but the storage maxes out at 160 GB so if I want to own a library of content I guess I have to add a Mac Mini, but that has no HDMI so it can’t take CableCards and can’t really be a DVR. The only 1 TB option is the Time Capsule but it won’t stream.

    Apple could sell a stellar home-media/DVR/backup/game appliance for say $500, but Jobs doesn’t want to put storage and HDMI in the same box and let you own your content. And one cost of this is that the iPad can’t play its natural role, not just controlling that device but extending it into your lap and your social network and out the door. Can you imagine anyone asking “but what’s the iPad *for*?” in that world?

    So the closed nature of the iPad is just the *intrinsic* bad effect of the channel strategy. Apple has a monopoly on elegant, easy-to-use hardware and software, and they won that fairly, without leveraging a prior monopoly or a network-effect trap — but that’s (almost?) worse than Microsoft’s linked monopolies, since it’s invisible to the law. And until open-source catches up, if we want to use Apple’s products (and I do!) we’re at their mercy, and even a product that is, honestly, “magical” can be a disappointment.

  • ex French AppleFan

    Once upon a time, Apple was giving capabilities for anyone to develop its own applications using HyperCard.

    No respect for these users, even thoses who bought the second version, no future for HyperCard.

    Same history with Mac Write II and other softwares.

    Same with format incompatibility for itunes Libraries from version to version.

    Same for OSX System upgrades that can’t apply on old iBook with no valuable technical reason.

    First play… then pay. Let me tell you based on my long experience : there is no reason to be confident on Apple.

  • laird popkin

    The iPad’s closed software model is not new – Apple’s closed software model is not at all new – it is the model used for all console games, for much the same reason. Unlike general purpose computers, people expect software on consoles to just work, which means that it needs to be developed and run in a controlled environment, with consistent quality control. Platforms that provided good, consistent user experience succeed. In consumer electronics, platforms that provide erratic user experience fail. This is why Xbox games outsell PC games – they are easier to develop and sell and run. And this is why the iPhone works so much better than the WinCE and Palm phones.

    Yes, compared to a PC/Mac, the iPad is very closed. But compared to a Wii/Xbox/PS3/DS, the iPad is wide open. Everything is relative.

  • Surfchops

    I think you’ve zeroed right in on what the iPad is all about: turning the www into ppv (pay per view). The iPad, if you look beyond all the silly hype and think seriously about it, is anti-internet and anti everything that might dilute or threaten Apple’s ability to make money off its userbase.

    I’d like to think that such a reversal of the great open, free and creative thing we call “the internet” will fail, but I think many people are short sighted and will allow themselves to be herded like cattle into the iPad corral. They don’t see that the restrictions that come from proprietary environments like Apple’s iPad are there to serve Apple’s commercial interests and exploit them.

    I think the iPad is Apple’s attack on the internet. The iPad’s success will make our cultural world smaller and shallower and much, much more expensive, but it can’t succeed unless people support it. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy…

  • mella

    yeah, ipad is a distribution channel more, it is a good games paly platform, great ebook reader, and a great portable video watching device(source: ifunia.com/ipad-column/apple-ipad-seen-as-next-great-portable-video-game-device), but not a computer.
    It’s more for fun, but not for computer using.

  • Will

    This is some great analysis. There are many annoying things about the control that Apple exerts. But I’ve come to realize that it is best to go with the flow – if people are willing to pay for apps on an iphone and not content on the web then maybe it makes sense to create an iphone app.

    Also an app can be useful versus a webpage with a url as you mention. Using hotmail in safari on the iPhone is not as efficient as using the mail app so there are some advantages to using an app.

  • Wiley

    All I know is that it’s a lightweight, fast device with a beautiful screen that I can vnc or ssh onto my computer from, read any number of book format, open or closed, stream any kind of video to (AirVideo) and play a metric crap-ton of fast, non-crashy games on. It’s also the best mobile web browsing experience ever.

    Open or closed in this situation is kind of an abstract construct that comes from people who would rather not be told what they can or can’t do than to have anything actually work correctly. An imaginary computer that can do anything is somehow better than one that does certain proscribed things very well.

    And I still use my computer. In fact, getting games, browsing, movie watching and mail off my computer and onto a dedicated device seems to be making me a lot more productive when I need to actually create stuff on the computer I got expressly for that purpose.

  • Isabel Fernández Peñuelas

    Great article. I Like this: “… a fetishist’s Minitel with brushed aluminum and a touch screen….”

  • Ross cooper

    To all those who whine about Apple’s ‘closed systems’, how about you do tech support for my mom for 6 months, then try telling me you’re glad she has a Windows PC instead of an iPad! ;-)

  • Jim Stogdill

    @Ross You make a most compelling argument. ;)

  • John C.

    Ok, I get it. Apple is trying to control the content and along the way is controlling the distribution medium. (Remember, when Steve came back they renamed the company Apple, Inc. from Apple Computer. He’s no idiot.)

    However, we still live in a free market economy, their success or failure depends solely upon their execution. If they do it well they will reap the rewards. If not, they will fall by the wayside and flounder in the ditch alongside the recording, movie, telecommunications and broadcasting industries. (No, they’re not dead yet, but as you point out, their lack of aggression in adopting the digital marketplace has left them behind the curve.) Think too that Apple has effectively sidestepped the advertising industry and will eventually try to drive out the intermediate content managers and produce the content themselves. (They’ll most likely be stopped legally though before realizing this kind of monopoly.)

    Consumer response to a closed system will be to either reward (buy) or punish (not buy) depending on the value (perceived or real) of the system. It appears that the real fear in your concerned statement is that the controller of the system may have some nefarious motive or in some way do harm. (I will point out that anyone living in and benefiting from a free market economy should tread very lightly when thinking that profit is “evil”.) This is a real concern albeit a bit rhetorical, at least to the extremes you allude to, because market forces must by nature maintain an equilibrium (because every system has the potentiality of equilibrium and the dissonant forces at work within result, on the whole, in equilibrium). That balance is realized in actuality by the consumer and his/her perception of value. A consumer can be fooled, for a sucker is born everyday, but the whole of society, on balance, will not be.

    Apple will have it’s proverbial 15 minutes of fame as leader of this “revolution” into the digital age, but someone will come along eventually and be the vanguard for the next revolution (of which we can not at this point conceive.) While the players will be different the cycle will repeat itself “ad infinitum”.

    BTW: All systems are closed, whether a computing platform or universe. One’s concern for the “closeness” of those boundaries, and therefore one’s level of stress at feeling bounded, is individually subjective and not uniformly applied (you may be very stressed that the iPad system is closed and not give gravity a second thought).

    In the end the debate about whether the iPad system is closed is one for academia. Anyone who wants to participate whether as a developer or user is free to do so. And there in is the rub; we are free to not participate as well.

  • lucy Charles

    agree with Tim Gillespie, “From a consumers standpoint it’s more like picking a frigerator, as long as the device works and the warranty is honored, they don’t care where its serviced from”
    The iPad trims the fat from a PC. For someone who only does email and browsing and flipping through some photos a PC is *complete* overkill. A PC is not efficient. They don’t match up with the most common use patterns for consumers.
    There are vast numbers of computer users who can’t arrange windows or tell you the path to where they keep their files. Maybe they should have bothered to learn but the bottom line is they haven’t. The iPad removes a layer of complexity.
    That said, I watched a senior citizen wrestle with the iPad touch interface over the weekend. Everything has its learning curve, and every user is unique.
    Actually, yeah, iPad is not a computer, it’s itself, just iPad.
    I love my iPad very much now, so Im sucked in it, and some of my collections: http://www.ifunia.com/ipad-column/index.html
    http://www.ipadhelpguide.net/
    make the cool device more fun.

  • Shock Me

    Cable TV also offered quality signals to those people who could not receive broadcast signals from all their local towers. The shows could be delivered free of most FCC restrictions. We didn’t pay for commercials, they weren’t taken out of the affiliates signals or broadcasts from sources like superstation WGN.

    Cable TV provided value for a fair price but at the cost of a thousand local monopolies spread across the country piping content from the broadcast networks.

    Now the iPad isn’t just like cable TV, it could replace it by providing what people want to see when they want to see it instead of airing everything in competition with everything else. I think that is a very good thing. Everyone gets paid and everyone gets what they want.

  • Carlos Tevez

    I think the Ipad is lightly over rated considering it’s just like a giant itouch but it does have it’s uses. I am certainly interested in purchasing soon as…when i win the lottery of course!
    http://choyungteas.net

  • http://chicagoaccountingfirm.com faiz

    the ipad is a great device. it can become a complete replacement for a laptop if we can have more memory and other stuff which is on laptop. it is a very convenient device when compared to the laptop and i think that the electronics industry should soon find a way to make very small and high performing hard disks, memory devices to put in the ipad.

  • EricE

    @John C “Apple will have it’s proverbial 15 minutes of fame as leader of this “revolution” into the digital age, but someone will come along eventually and be the vanguard for the next revolution (of which we can not at this point conceive.) While the players will be different the cycle will repeat itself “ad infinitum”.”

    I don’t see it. Apple was first to the PC race, and through a series of mis-steps, internal politics, hubris and eventually clueless leadership totally pissed away their early lead with the Apple II (the first affordable and *assembled* personal computer) and the Macintosh (first affordable and *shipping* GUI). Jobs was booted from the company he co-founded (due to some immaturity on his part – probably the best thing that could have happened to him) and managed to rebuild himself and through a happy accident deliver the exact technology the company he originally co-founded (NeXT Step) when they needed it.

    Having watched the failures of the Mac (especially cloning) Jobs is applying the lessons learned through the iPod to the mobile market. A market, that up to now, has been “dominated” by lackluster products from companies that treated the mobile workspace as an extension of their existing products. This is the main reason Windows tablets absolutely suck and are probably why if you look up “Lipstick on a pig” you find a picture of a Windows Tablet PC staring back at you :p

    To put a finer point on the thesis of the original article – your partially right – the iPad is a distribution channel. It’s a distribution channel for a quality user experience. Claiming it’s a distribution channel simply for content is almost as inane as claiming Apple is only successful because they are good at marketing.

    To also re-iterate a point by a previous commenter, the only people upset about the “walled garden” are techies and programmers. A very, very small subset of the total population of humans and potential users of iOS devices. Boo freaking hoo. Get over yourselves. I, for one, am ecstatic that at least one company acknowledges that most programmers don’t have the first clue on how to design useable software and is setting minimum standards for such. They may not always get it right, and people may not always agree with those standards, but by golly it’s leaps and bounds better than the chaotic “free for all” in “open” platforms.

    And the real irony is, Apple is offering you a choice! There is no Apple “death squad” showing up at your door, confiscating your other devices and forcing you to buy an iOS device. Before the iOS I would argue there wasn’t a really choice in computing philosophies. You had “open” from the OpenSource camp which is great for hacking about but the out of the box user experience leaves much to be desired (and heaven help you if you ask an “obvious” question online – you get all kinds of helpful labels like “newb” and sarcastic taunting about RTFM – yippie!) or proprietary general purpose computing systems like Windows that appear open simply because of their sheer size. Heck, even Mac OSX is way more than the average user wants or requires.

    No, with the iOS there is a new computing model – a new choice. As some have correctly identified, it’s the Appliance model. It’s the “I don’t care how it works, just do X, Y and Z for me with minimal fuss”.

    This is what Apple excels at delivering (as their stock price proves). The fact that they have a darn good chance of succeeding and showing that the “open” Emperor has no clothes is what techies like Jim Stogdill are really afraid of, because in their heart of hearts they know that OS’s like Android have a set of quirks that only a patient geek could love.

    If anything, Apple with iOS has finally delivered on their original tagline with the Macintosh – the computer for the rest of us. Not for *all* of us – I still will use my Mac Pro for heavy lifting like Aperture. But with the advent of the iPad compatible HyperDrive ( http://www.hypershop.com/HyperDrive-iPad-Hard-Drive-Casing-Only-p/iphd-000.htm ) the last reason to take my MacBook Pro on travel with me has evaporated. I can dump pictures from my compact flash cards to a hard drive, and still preview them or even email/edit them on a large screen. I expect this kind of third party integration to only accelerate – heck, the iPad is just six months old! This is the appeal of the “it’s just a big iPod Touch” – well duh! The iPod Touch is an awesome device, it just has a small screen – the iPad addresses that rather nicely, while fully leveraging the extra screen space. The Mail app with the iPad isn’t just the Mail app from the iPhone/iPod touch, but instead it specifically takes advantage of the extra screen space – same with all the other Apple apps (including, finally, the remote app – yea!)

  • http://www.francepcsupport.com Lenard Fawson

    As we are now in 2011, I can only see Remote PC Suppport moving from strength to strength. Cloud computing is “promoting” an online orientated lifestyle and I personally think that harnessing the power of the internet to repair Computer’s will grow too.