Thursday, April 8, 2010

The 'politics' of the iPad: Daniel Sinker takes some of the critics in Huffington Post column

I try to avoid reacting to posts that appear on other sites, but occasionally someone produces a column just too good to not reference.

This post by Daniel Sinker, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Columbia College in Chicago, appeared on Huffington Post and is the perfect answer to some of the early posts written about Apple's iPad.

First, go and read the whole post.

Done? Good. Now these were of the things I liked in Sinker's HP column:

All three critiques center around one central premise: that the device is only for consuming content. That it's not possible to create on an iPad. It's an odd critique, one that is so easily countered that it seems to say more about the people making it than the device itself. It's a critique that speaks volumes about the types of creation that people hold dear, and the types that they discount . . . I should point out at the onset that I'm writing this on an iPad right now . . .
The TNM iPad Page
4-1: First reviews
4-1: First Look: NYT app
4-1: BBC app?
4-2: GQ, Popular Science
4-2: Le Monde
4-3: Unboxing photos
4-3: Review: NYT app
4-5: Epicurious
4-5: Zinio/VIVmag
4-6: ACU app
4-7: TSA
4-7: Sales

There seem to be those that criticize the iPad because it is not a super computer capable of doing the things we expect from Apple's Mac Pro. They criticize the specs, totally ignoring the fact that all Apple did with the iPad was expand the line of products started with the iPhone.

Then, of course, there are those that say the iPad is just a giant iPod touch. They are right, but only if you buy into the idea that reading magazines on a three inch screen is exactly the same experience as reading magazines on a ten inch screen. Yes, size matters.

But Sinker's comment here really is in reference to those who see the iPad as some sort of philosophic statement about the future of media. To them, the iPad says that the future of media is a one-way street where media companies produce and readers read, the two never interacting. My reaction to that is far less sophisticated or well-reasoned than Sinkers: guys, chill out.

Sinker goes on to say that the iPad does facilitate creation by pointing to the hundreds of apps that have been released that do indeed involve content creation -- from Korg's iElectibe beat sequencer to Twitter apps. (Apple also released iPad versions of its productivity apps Pages, Numbers and Keynote.)

"Creation is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, and perhaps none of these measure up. But to say that it's simply not possible ignores the already-countless creative applications in the app store, from Wordpress to photo editors to musical instruments," Sinker writes.

Another point:
These devices are appliances now, they're utilitarian. Creating a device that's difficult to use (see: the entire history of Microsoft operating systems) is a death sentence for a tech manufacturer today. Complexity is no longer rewarded, it is mocked (witness Apple's successful "I'm a PC" ad campaign).
Yes! Just like print, Apple's tablet takes the iPhone ease of use and brings it to a larger, more powerful device -- and isn't that precisely what media has been waiting for? Publishers love print because they completely control the product, lock it down (to use the critics term) so that only editors and advertisers can contribute, and then present it in an easily consumed format. Print products make it hard to interact and contribute, but not impossible: readers can write to their editors, suggest stories, call in leads. The iPad may seem locked down to some, but it is far more open to users than print is (and why does everyone forget the browser?).

But its ease of use is exactly what consumers love about the iPad. When HP introduces its Slate tablet it will no doubt brag that any software application that runs on Windows can be used on the Slate. Wonderful, and how many media companies are today creating software programs to run on personal computers? The media world did not embrace the PC as a media device until the browser made it easy to disseminate content. HP's Slate, if it is only a netbook without a screen, will not move things forward without also providing a way for users to access new content.

As I've said elsewhere, the fight over the iPad is becoming politicized as people take up positions.  Others have taken positions but are already realizing their mistake.

Yes, I'm very excited by the prospects for tablets, because I believe the media world needs a device that gives us the experience of print, and the features and benefits only electronic media can provide. Right now Apple owns the field to themselves, but when someone enters the field TNM will be here to talk about it.