Watch CBSN Live

Fear Not Criticism of the iPad: Why Hating Dissent Is Just Plain Backwards

My BNET colleague Chris Dannen objected to "iPad naysayers" in a post. Calling such people "backwards," he also included me by link, if not by name. However, having read his view, I must say that I think he thoroughly misunderstands and mis-characterizes the criticism.
  • Complaint: Apple is a Stalinist, Evil Santa Claus -- His thought appears to be that many people dislike the control that Apple (AAPL) exerts over the iPod/iPhone platforms. But his summary? "In other words, it's bad for tinkerers." Uh, no. People are used to buying devices and then, because they own them, doing as they wish with them. Purchase a PC and you can install any compatible software you want without having to buy it through the PC vendor. Purchase an MP3 player that isn't an iPod, and you can buy music from most anywhere you want. In other words, it's not that it's bad for tinkerers. It's that it's bad for consumers and for businesses.
    Lots of companies have wasted millions producing devices for tinkerers, also known as "computer nerds." OQO, Samsung, Nokia ([NOK) and Asus have been making wonderfully hackable gizmos for years. They don't "catch on" because they do too much and they intimidate normal people.
    Ah, computer nerds. Perhaps Chris doesn't like people who use and enjoy technology. That is certainly his prerogative. However, to say reduce products from such vendors as Samsung, Nokia, and Asus as gizmos that don't catch on is to ignore the large number of these gizmos the companies actually manage to sell. You could claim that an Intel-based PC running Windows fits into the "hackable" category. But somehow a few people seem to have purchased them over the years. Handsets? Nokia and Samsung are the largest two handset vendors in the world. So much for products not catching on. Chris, it's about economics and markets and software availability, not about "tinkering." One reason some companies are incredibly successful is that their business model is open and actually invites other companies to participate without having to control every aspect.
  • Complaint: No Flash?! ZOMG! -- I would agree that, over time, HTML 5 might replace the need for Flash. However, given how broadly Flash is used on the Internet, that will take a few years, conservatively. Until then, what are those purchasing an iPad supposed to do? Wait? Refusal to support Flash means a refusal to let people have access to all of the web. When Apple claims that browsing the web as a strength of the device, it's worth noting. For some reason, Chris then segues into the App Store, which has nothing to do with Flash, but, hey, I'm easy. This gets back to my previous point that the word "closed" has everything to do with markets and nothing to do with physically altering devices. Sure, there may be a way around the App Store with web-hosted services. But what if you have written an application that really should run as a resident process on the iPhone and Apple has taken a dislike to it for whatever non-obvious reason? You and your potential customers are out of luck. The gatekeeper criticism is still thoroughly in place; pretending that it isn't an issue is wishful thinking. To point out how computing might typically be done in a few years does nothing for the consumers or software vendors of today. And to say, "We don't need the iPad to be completely free; real freedom is what the PC is for," is semantically empty rhetoric. Maybe Chris doesn't need the iPad to be free, but apparently many potential buyers, including some of our Mac enthusiast colleagues on ZDNet, would disagree.
  • Complaint: We Don't Need This -- On this point, I'd agree with Chris. Partly. As Chris wrote, "This is Apple's salesmanship again: they sell specific, but build general." In this case, that's not what happened. Apple built general and sold ... general. It wanted to sell the category and failed. Steve Jobs went on about creating a new category of device, and then failed to show what made the iPad such a category and what it delivered that people needed and couldn't get as well or better on some other bit of electronics. As I mentioned yesterday, I can see some interesting possibilities for the iPad and am even considering whether, in that light, I might buy one myself. All that goes to a general device potentially having multiple niches. But that's after swinging back and forth on the topic and suddenly getting an insight -- most assuredly not delivered by Apple -- of how it could be useful.
I will grant Chris that some on the net may have fallen into hysteria. Personally, I think the iPad and, presumably, other tablet devices have some enormous possibilities. It will take time, and it will take changes and acknowledgments of design choice flaws.

One can be critical of a device, company, strategy, or market without indulging in the "hatred" Chris mentioned in his piece, and the criticism can be useful in improving things. But only if the vendor, and others, listen to what people are actually saying and not dismissing it as something else.

By the way, Chris, you're always welcome to mention me by name. I'm a big boy and able to read criticism.

Image via stock.xchng user Splenetic, site standard license.