Brent Simmons, Joe Hewitt and Miguel de Icaza all write that they look forward to developing on the iPad. I found their essays surprising, especially Joe's -- given his decision to stop developing for the iPhone because of the review process that Apple imposes on developers. I totally supported him in that, and since his decision (though not because of it) I have switched from the iPhone to Google's Android platform, as a user.
I don't develop for any of the new platforms because they don't run my software, though Google could. Apple would never approve anything remotely like the OPML Editor, and that makes it very unlikely that I'd develop for them, but also for some really important reasons, makes it equally unlikely that I'd use it. I found Joe's piece thought provoking (it provoked this piece). I hope he gives mine similar consideration.
First, after reading Joe's piece, I understood why developers find the iPad interesting. It's because while they liked creating apps for the iPhone, the tiny screen made some very difficult design choices necessary. While they could see the potential of the multi-touch interface and a fresh start (they don't have to live with a UI design that's 40 years old), the iPhone screen is so small, that they couldn't nearly deliver on the promise. All the while they're thinking "If only Apple would make one of these things that isn't so small." And that of course is exactly what the iPad is. I'm sure they can understand that we, as users, weren't having the same thoughts. Until I read Joe's piece I had not heard this idea in any of the flood of discourse on the iPad, pro or con. Since I don't develop for the platform I never had the thought myself.
So, if Brent, Joe and Miguel like it, it stands to reason that they will create software that users will like. So the success of the iPad is assured, in ways perhaps that the Asus isn't. Or perhaps even Android, because it doesn't have multi-touch enabled, just guessing that might have something to do with a patent. Which is a shame, because while Joe has the option to put some or most of the functionality that Apple won't allow on a Facebook-owned server, the user doesn't have any say in this choice. So the user's data will live where Facebook, or some other funded company, wants it to live.
While Joe et al have been thinking about great new user interface, I was too when I was their age, now I'm thinking about something else, that I believe is even more important -- keeping big tech companies from controlling what has become our primary means of expression and communication, computer networks.
When I was young, some of us envisioned the world we live in today, only we tended to think only of the upside of networked thinking, never the dangers. I guess that's human nature and the nature of youth. Won't it be great if everyone can access everyone else's ideas anywhere, we thought -- on any kind of device, all inter-connected and fast. Some believed, me included, that computers without networking interfaces were totally uninteresting. Everything I created was designed to communicate. I ached because early Macintoshes had such awful networking APIs. Eventually all that got sorted out when we got HTTP -- it was so simple, the big companies couldn't control what we did with it.
But ever since that watershed moment the big tech companies have been trying to get the genie back in the bottle. It's the nature of bigness and corporateness to do that. Facebook didn't exist when I started my work, but now they're here and they're huge, and they view the world the way a big company does.
The problem is this -- if Facebook goes away -- and it could, so does everything everyone created with it. Facebook investors and developers like Joe (who I respect enormously) probably aren't worrying about this, because necessarily everything they do is tied up in the success of Facebook. Now if Joe can show me, in his architecture based on the iPad, where all my work is mirrored in a service I pay for, like Amazon S3, in a simple format I and others can write software against, then I can relax and look forward to the future he, Brent and Miguel want to create. But if my work is tied up in their success, then the price is too high. I'll take the lower fidelity but open playing field of the netbook, and keep my own data on my own hard drives, and back it up as I see fit. And continue to exercise my First Amendment rights.
I know that "most users" aren't thinking like this, it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of confidence. But I don't trust these companies, and I especially don't trust Apple or Google with my writing work. I can see a day when what I write has to be approved by someone who works for Steve Jobs before it can be read publicly. That's a day when freedom is completely crushed.
All three of these men know that freedom is important. So what's the answer. You're all willing to give up some of your freedom to play in Apple's new ballpark. How much of our freedom should we be willing to give up, and is this the only way to get it? Is it possible to create an iPad-like platform that has none of the drawbacks of Apple's offerings? If not, why not?
Update: A must-read piece by Alex Payne. "If I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I'd never be a programmer today." Well put, even if it's not a sure thing. (I didn't have any kind of computer growing up and I'm a programmer.)