DIYPad: The iPad: A maker’s roundup

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design
DIYPad: The iPad: A maker’s roundup


Oh, my — we’re certainly in the midst of a scrum, aren’t we? A shark’s frenzy of pundits who received the new gadget are trumpeted its virtues across the Web. Xeni’s review called the iPad a touch of genius. Levy declared the device giant leap for personal computers. Letterman licked it, and Woz is buying two.

DIYPad_badge.jpgStephen Fry says don’t knock it until you try it. Mossberg weighed in with a sober but positive review, while Pogue, acknowledging the seemingly burgeoning ranks of frantic Apple haters, wrote two reviews, one for “techies,” and one for everyone else. There were negative voices as well, mutters about removable batteries and USB ports, and how the iPad was just a big Touch or a crippled netbook.

Then Cory Doctorow launched a broadside:

Most of the really exciting stuff hasn’t come from big corporations with enormous budgets, it’s come from experimentalist amateurs. These people were able to make stuff and put it in the public’s eye and even sell it without having to submit to the whims of a single company that had declared itself gatekeeper for your phone and other personal technology.

He not only attacked the iPad as a closed device, but also the very idea of Apple’s content ecosystem — the so-called walled garden approach that makes life easier for millions upon millions of users who don’t have time to tinker with settings, who want their electronics to simply work the first time. But at what price? What are we giving up for this ease-of-use?

Doctorow hails the Maker Manifesto: “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it” to suggest that making the device closed, for both hardware and software, made it unworthy of any true creative person.

As an adult, I want to be able to choose whose stuff I buy and whom I trust to evaluate that stuff. I don’t want my universe of apps constrained to the stuff that the Cupertino Politburo decides to allow for its platform. And as a copyright holder and creator, I don’t want a single, Wal-Mart-like channel that controls access to my audience and dictates what is and is not acceptable material for me to create.

Doctorow concludes his post with this decree:

If you want to live in the creative universe where anyone with a cool idea can make it and give it to you to run on your hardware, the iPad isn’t for you.

If you want to live in the fair world where you get to keep (or give away) the stuff you buy, the iPad isn’t for you.

If you want to write code for a platform where the only thing that determines whether you’re going to succeed with it is whether your audience loves it, the iPad isn’t for you.

While a compelling argument, gaping holes were exposed by commenters, as well in two devastating ripostes. BoingBoing reader mr_josh unleashed this zinger:

You don’t think that I should buy an iPad? I don’t think that _you_ should buy a car that was made after about 1975. I can strip a small block Chevy engine down to it’s bare pieces in the middle of nowhere with only the small complement of tools that I carry in the car and have it back together and on the road without so much as asking for a second pair of hands. I also compile my own Linux kernels and make my food from scratch and build my own furniture.

I also want an iPad. And if it’s awesome, I’ll tell everyone about it that I feel might benefit from knowing. I will because I buy things that are genuinely _useful_ to me.

Two technobloggers joined the fray to contradict Cory’s argument. In an article topped with a picture of the bombastic title villain of The Big Lebowski, Joel Johnson also drew a comparison to things in our lives we simply expect to work, need to work consistently:

Computers becoming appliances. Is this so bad? Computers that do amazing, new things that also happen to be extremely reliable? Is it worth pushing all of that innovation and engineering excellence aside because it’s more comfortable to hold onto an idealized vision of a future that never came to pass? The market gave open source 15 years to do a proper consumer desktop operating system.

There is absolutely nothing about the iPad that portends the end of innovation, tinkering, programming, design. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be 150,000 applications on the App Store right this second. So what if you can’t make iPad programs on an iPad. I don’t complain I can’t make new dishwashers with my dishwasher.

The old guard has The Fear. They see the iPad and the excitement it has engendered and realize that they’ve made themselves inessential–or at least invisible. They’ve realized that it’s possible to make a computer that doesn’t break, doesn’t stop working, doesn’t need constant tinkering. Unlike a car, it’s possible to design a computer that is bulletproof. It just turns out that one of the ways to make that work is to lock it down. That sucks, but it certainly appears to be a better solution than design by committee gave us for the last couple of decades.

But the most devastating rebuttal came from John Gruber, who also brought up the car and appliance metaphors mentioned by mr_josh and Joel. Doctorow had waxed nostalgic about typing BASIC programs in to his Apple ][+ as a kid, and bemoaning how the kids of today would be robbed of this experience by a latter-day Apple that evidently lacks that Woz-like hacker spirit. Gruber’s post, titled The Kids Are All Right, tells of getting an email from a teenage programmer named Sam Kaplan, who was selling an app in the App Store.

He’s 13 years old and he has created and is selling an iPad app in the same store where companies like EA, Google, and even Apple itself distribute iPad apps. His app is ready to go on the first day the product is available. Not a fake app. Not a junior app. A real honest-to-god iPad app. Imagine a 13-year-old in 1978 who could produce and sell his own Atari 2600 cartridges.

Somehow I don’t think young Mr. Kaplan sees the iPad as hurting his sense of wonder or entrepreneurism.

So, makers…

What does that mean for us? Forget the stereotypes, Apple fanboys versus the people who brought us a decade of flashing 12:00s on our VCRs. The iPad will be hacked and jailbroken within weeks, if not days, allowing for all sorts of possibilities. There will be iPads running Linux and playing Vorbis files. Competitors will scramble to replicate the iPad’s success while incorporating features Apple has ignored.

What do you think? Which argument do you find the most compelling? Should we have to jailbreak our iPods and root our Nexus Ones to do what we want with them? What would a DIYPad look like? Will you be buying one? Does that make you a traitor to the “maker movement,” or are the issues and circumstances grayer than that? We’ve love to hear your thoughts.

16 thoughts on “DIYPad: The iPad: A maker’s roundup

  1. metis says:

    and i buy tools based on what they do that other tools i have don’t do and that i need.

    the ipad does nothing my laptop or G1 can’t do except hang on the wall as a picture frame or home control terminal, or act as an ebook reader, and there are cheaper, more potent, and easier to configure options for those options.

    if it pretty? yes. is it innovative? no, it’s a supersized ipod touch. is it really “easy?” no. everyone i know of who uses it, including mac fanbois, rants about how annoying itunes is.

    yes, it’ll probably be jail broken in a few weeks, but it still won’t have a removable battery if i need to power it off and i don’t like the idea of most users being fed pap because it’s easy. it makes them docile and ignorant to the world around them. mcdonalds is easy and it’s not a panacea for american food. there however, anyone can easily dip their fries in honey or put them on their cheeseburger there. not so in macland.

  2. John Baichtal says:

    I find it bizarre that people are starting to describe Apple’s UI expertise as a negative, that making a product that is a joy to use, instead of a headache, makes consumers “docile and ignorant.” People have important stuff in their lives. Should I ignore my kids because I’m trying to get Linux to work on my laptop? Doctorow slams the idea of the technologically-ignorant user, the “consumer” who isn’t a self-employed techie like him, with basically unlimited time and resources to get that POS Lenovo to finally work. Hacking isn’t for everyone, and desiring a hassle-free computing experience doesn’t make you a lemming.

    1. metis says:

      john, no not every thing needs to be a heavily hackable widget, but a supersized ipod touch that doesn’t do any particular thing better than other extant options is marketing hype, not a revolution. imagine buying a car that from the factory could only make left hand turns. sure, folks who are serious mechanics will get it to turn both directions, but why not give that option to users from the start?

      personally i’ve never found the apple UI intuitive. i started off on an apple ii, moved to dos pc, and have worked on every (shudder) permutation of windows but bob, beos, sun, about every other mac os and a few flavors of linux, and the only ui that doesn’t just make sense to me has consistently been mac.

      again, i don’t know anyone who likes itunes. they like their ipod, but about as much as folks like their zune or andriod used as a mp3 player. the frustration, mostly from non-geeks is that they can’t do what they want with it. they don’t “own” the song they bought.

      a good ui is intuitive, easy to use and stable. mac does make a pretty ui, that a lot of folks like, but it’s intentionally crippled compared to an open structure, which windows comparatively is.

      if you don’t know that you can do something else, you’re trained to think that you can’t do other things, which stifles creativity. sure you’ll learn a lot of new routes home with out right turns, but that limiting, not exploring.

      take the mac “look” it’s gotten a bit sleeker, but post the lollypop macs it’s all the same. great branding, but it’s not innovating.

  3. Brian Panulla says:

    I preordered one specifically so I could hack on software for it. I did the same with a Nokia Maemo tablet, but the adoption never happend – not enough eyes and hands to make an impact, and they discontinued the 4G wireless edition before it could catch on.

    Sure, the iPad’s not perfect… the ecosystem still has a long way to go to mature, and a built in miniUSB or SD card slot would have really opened things up.

    I’m not sure how having the focused attention of big media also somehow precludes others from innovating. Write your own apps for it and open source them – live with your ideals and play instead of limiting yourself.

    1. says:

      Write my own apps … and if Apple approves of them, then others can download and use them.

      This isn’t some theoretical concern, huge classes (Voip, for example) of apps have been declared forbidden. You don’t see how that could threaten innovation?

      That’s not an ecosystem. It’s a garden.

    2. metis says:

      see that’s the problem. sure you can write your own apps, but $casualuser112357 doesn’t have the skills to jailbreak their ipad so they’re never going to get to see your app that’s not approved.

      the alpha and even beta geeks will over run the protections put in place, but most users aren’t going to do that, they’re going to stay in the terrarium. it’s training folks to “be different/trendy like me” not to actually innovate, or be individuals.

  4. says:

    Of *course* it’s hard to imagine a 13 year old with no business experience selling 2600 games. That’s because it’s a CLOSED SYSTEM subject to all the pitfalls and problems that Doctorow was on about.

    Doctorow was saying that OPEN systems are the way to go.

    So here’s a better comparison : “Can you imagine a 13 year old creating and publishing a game for the PC?!?”
    Answer : Of course you can! 13 year olds making and publishing software for the PC has become so very commonplace that it’s only worth mentioning if you’re the kid’s mother!

  5. matt joyce says:

    This was my simple response.

    I think the difference the iPad introduces fundamentally isn’t that it’s more appliance like. Most of us can deal with proprietary chips, and tools, and appliances. That’s all well and good. Many of us use proprietary programmers, close source chips, and heavily protected diagnostic gear daily. The issue at hand here, is that the iPad is going beyond being an appliance. It’s being a filter. It’s being opt in censorship.

    Imagine if choosing an arduino meant that every component you ever used had to be bought from Atmel? And then imagine if every device you built had to be signed off and approved by Atmel before it could be mass produced in china / taiwan. Imagine if the criteria for that approval was subject to political, religious, or otherwise controversial agendas.

    The freedom to create is important. Sometimes it’s more important than the benefits associated with giving up that freedom. For everyone that ratio is different, but in the US we’ve founded ourselves on the principles that embrace more the hardships of freedom, than the benefits associated with giving those freedoms up. I won’t buy an iPad. I won’t develop for the iPad. And, it’s not that I hate the device ( though it does have its fair share of technical and design failures… more than its fair share in fact ). I just don’t want to be a part of this system that Apple is trying to deploy. It’s not American, and it’s not something I approve of ethically.

    So, I’ll be on the side that says “no”. And maker’s best say no, by making something that makes others say “yes” to their ideas.

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My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal

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