The New Makers and the iPad Haters

I keep getting asked when I’m getting an iPad. I’m not. Part of the reason is covered in a lovely post by Cory Doctorow on Boingboing: “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)

“I believe — really believe — in the stirring words of the Maker Manifesto: if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Screws not glue. 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. If you wanted your kid to grow up to be a confident, entrepreneurial, and firmly in the camp that believes that you should forever be rearranging the world to make it better, you bought her an Apple ][+.”

As it happens, my parents bought me a video Genie (a TRS-80 clone) as my first computer, but that included schematics too. It wasn’t long before I was designing and building my own software and peripherals, and even making a bit of a living from some of them. Computing wasn’t a passive experience, it was an active, engaging, creative one. I don’t see my kids doing that as much today. Sure, they play with Scratch, but it really doesn’t feel like the same thing. It has something about it of the cut and paste mentality that has become so prevalent these days [boy I’m sounding like a grumpy old man – did I mention I’ve noticed I have more grey hair recently?].

To me the iPad is “Infantalizing hardware” as Cory puts it. In fact, around the same time I read “The Real iPad Review”, which gives a 3 year old’s view of the iPad (via the child’s dad – Adam Kmiec ). It says this:

“Is the iPad a killer device?  Is it a game changing device?  Will you love it?  The simple answer is YES…so long as you have the mindset of a 3 year old.  Harsh?  Yes.  But, it’s the truth.”

Yes, that is harsh. I mean no disrespect to the dear friends who have rushed out and bought one, but it is slightly distressing watching them going jab-jab-point-shiny-shiny. Adam also points out the hardware short comings that kill the iPad for me:

“No USB, no camera, no replaceable battery, no ability to create content and heck no cleaning cloth.  I could deal with all of these shortcomings and flaws if the price was something like $349.99 (in line with iPod Touch), but not at $499.99 (minimum).  At $349.99 it would be a nice affordable stretch and step up from an iPod and complimentary to a laptop.  But, at $499.99 I just don’t see how a current iPhone or MacBook user will find value in a device that does less than both of those devices.”

The lack of cleaning cloth is definitely a killer. What where Apple thinking?!? More seriously, the other features are a big issue… You see, my Windows Tablet PC has all of these features, and more, and it cost me a fraction of that price. Does it have the app store? No. Can I play angry birds with a multi-touch interface? No. Can I write my own apps on it (in a multitude of development environments)? Yes. Can I create my own rich content with it? Yes. Of course some have converted the iPad into a maker’s device, but there are other cheaper iPad alternatives out there. By the end of the summer there will be a veritable ocean of touch-screen web tablets.

I love Maker things. I love Dan’s Internet catapult. I love the devices people make with Arduino kits. I love the creative ideas of the kids at Teentech. I’m not a fan of things that make us passive consumers of information. I like creating things and planning things with peopleNot everyone agreed with Cory, of course, and I’m coming from a slightly different angle. I don’t think we all need to be coders and soldering-iron-wielding-pcb-making geeks, but I do hope we can be a generation that doesn’t just consume, but that engages and creates!

  4 comments for “The New Makers and the iPad Haters

  1. July 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Painting the iPad as a “consumers” machine is, I think only true if the only creativity you care about is coding.

    In the past month or two, the majority of my blog posts have been written on the iPad. I’ve written all my journal entries on it. I’ve created databases with Bento, and wireframes using Omnigraffle. And over the past few days, I’ve been using the incredible Photo fx Ultra to manipulate images in a way that I never could with Photoshop. I’ve done more creative “stuff” with the iPad than I had for a while.

    Yes, of course, I also read books on it (some of them – and this might shock Cory – actually DRM-free ePub and PDF documents that I *didn’t* buy from the Apple store). I watch video on it, too. But it’s a long way from Cory’s caricature.

    One thing that I find particularly ironic: Cory makes a living from writing books, the ultimate in passive “consumer” media. And yet, oddly, books somehow *aren’t* a problem.

    About the WePad: it seems that it doesn’t actually exist. Although they announced pricing in April, the WePad site now appears to have vanished from the face of the Internet.

    The thing is that ultimately it’s not an either/or scenario. You don’t have to give up a laptop simply because the iPad exists. If people buy them, it’s because they fit a need in their lives – for something simple, easy to use, that lets them do stuff they want to do. It’s just fun.

  2. Benjamin Ellis
    July 12, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Hi Ian – I agree on the point about coding not being the only creativity – hence my last sentence. However, on my windows tablet I can draw, write (in hand writing and have it recognised). I appreciate your valiant efforts with the iPad, but I just couldn’t do that without adding a keyboard to it.

    It has some great apps for sure, but things like the Eee Pad and Eee tablet fascinate me more – especially the idea of a high-resolution input sensor- things we can write on :)

  3. July 12, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    If I am going to spend $500 on a device, I would want something that offers more than a glorified etch-a-sketch in terms of functionality.

  4. July 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I can understand that – I spent a couple of years with a Tablet PC as my only computer (an Acer C110 – yes, I spent most of my time typing on that tiny keyboard…)

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