The case against the iPad

Timothy B. Lee is good friend of ours. He is a member of the Center for Information Technology at Princeton University and he blogs at Bottom-Up.

Apple released a new product, called the iPad, yesterday. For those of you who don’t spend your days glued to Twitter, you can view all the details at Apple’s website. I’m not impressed. I’m a lifelong Mac fanboy, so I’m not averse to buying Apple stuff. But I have two problems with the device: first, I don’t understand who this product is marketed to. And second, I’m disappointed that Apple has decided to adopt the iPhone’s locked-down platform strategy.

It’s not clear who has an urgent need for this device. Apple’s existing product lines — Macs, iPods, and iPhones — are all focused on common activities that virtually everyone does. Most people listen to music and make phone calls. Most people need a full-scale computer. In contrast, it’s not clear what the core purpose of an iPad is. It’s too limited to fully replace a laptop — who wants to type long emails on a virtual keyboard? It’s too big and heavy to replace an iPod or an iPhone. And it’s just not clear that someone who already has a MacBook and an iPod will shell out another $500-800 for a third device.

I think the primary intended use of the iPad is as an eBook reader. But here too, the iPad falls short. Dedicated eBook raeders like the Kindle use e-ink which has two key characteristics: phenomenally long battery life and superior readability in bright light. E-Books are a nice “extra” feature for a tablet computer to have, but if that’s the primary thing people want to do, they should buy a Kindle.

My second problem with the iPad is more fundamental: The iPad appears to be Steve Jobs’s attempt to roll back the multi-decade trend toward more open computing platforms. Jobs’s vision of the future is one that revolves around a series of proprietary “stores” — for music, movies, books, and so forth — controlled by Apple. And rather than running the applications of our choice, he wants to limit users to running Apple-approved software from the Apple “app store.”

I’ve written before about the problems created by the iPhone’s top-down “app store.” The store is an unnecessary bottleneck in the app development process that limits the functionality of iPhone applications and discourages developers from adopting the platform. Apple has apparently chosen to extend this policy — as opposed to the more open Mac OS X policy — to the iPad.

With the iPhone, you could at least make the argument that its restrictive application approval rules guaranteed the reliability of the iPhone in the face of tight technical constraints. The decision not to allow third-party apps to multitask, for example, ensures that a misbehaving app won’t drain your iPhone’s battery while it runs in the background. And the approval process makes it less likely that a application crash could interfere with the core telephone functionality.

But these considerations don’t seem to apply to the iPad. Apple is attempting to pioneer a new product category, which suggests that reliability is relatively less important and experimentation more so. If a misbehaving application drains your iPad battery faster than you expected, so what? If you’re reading an e-book on your living room couch, you probably have a charger nearby. And it’s not like you’re going to become stranded if your iPad runs out of batteries the way you might without your phone. On the other hand, if the iPad is to succeed, someone is going to have to come up with a “killer app” for it. There’s a real risk that potential developers will be dissuaded by Apple’s capricious and irritating approval process.

The iPad also has a proprietary dock connector, a headphone jack, and no other ports. The net effect of this is, again, to give Apple complete control over the platform’s evolution, because the only way for third-party devices to connect to the iPad is through the proprietary dock connector. Again, this made a certain amount of sense on the iPhone, where space, weight, and ergonomics are at a premium. But it’s totally unacceptable for a device that aims to largely replace my laptop. Hell, even most video game consoles have USB ports.

The iPad book store looks like it has similar flaws. From all indications, the books you “buy” on an iPad will be every bit as limited as the books you “buy” on the Kindle; if you later decide to switch to another device, there’s no easy (or legal) way to take your books with you. I think this is an issue that a lot of Kindle owners haven’t thought through carefully, and that it will trigger a backlash once a significant number of them decide they’d like to try another device.

This is of a piece with the rest of Apple’s media strategy. Apple seems determined to replicate the 20th century business model of paying for copies of content in an age where those copies have a marginal cost of zero. Analysts often point to the strategy as a success, but I think this is a misreading of the last decade. The parts of the iTunes store that have had the most success — music and apps — are tied to devices that are strong products in their own right. Recall that the iPod was introduced 18 months before the iTunes Store, and that the iPhone had no app store for its first year. In contrast, the Apple TV, which is basically limited to only playing content purchased from the iTunes Store, has been a conspicuous failure. People don’t buy iPods and iPhones in order to use the iTunes store. They buy from the iTunes store because it’s an easy way to get stuff onto their iPods and iPhones.

Apple is fighting against powerful and fundamental economic forces. In the short term, Apple’s technological and industrial design prowess can help to prop up dying business models. But before too long, the force of economic gravity will push the price of content down to its marginal cost of zero. And when it does, the walls of Apple’s garden will feel a lot more confining. If “tablets” are the future, which is far from clear, I’d rather wait for a device that gives me full freedom to run the applications and display the content of my choice.

87 Comments for “The case against the iPad”

  1. posted by Anne Frizell on

    “push the price of content down to its marginal cost of zero”

    You don’t produce content for a living do you? Believe me, the marginal cost of the content I produce is not zero, and cannot be zero whilst the bank still requires me to pay my mortgage and the supermarket requires me to pay for food.

  2. posted by Lisa S. on

    This review is more rant than review. The reviewer sounds more like a spoiled child who is annoyed that life isn’t free and designed to suit his whims.

    If you object to Apple’s desire to make a profit – don’t buy it. If you can’t find a need for it – don’t buy it. If you don’t like it – don’t buy it.

    There is an immature generational idea that content costs nothing. Writers, artists, composers etc. work and should be paid for content. Pay for the product of someone’s work is one of those “powerful and fundamental” economic processes the author seems to have forgotten.

    The device is not nearly as evil as he would have you believe. Check for yourself.

  3. posted by Samantha on

    It seems as though the iPad’s usefulness applies more to the baby boomer generation, who may not already own all of Apple’s other products. The larger screen allows for large print, and the availability of various periodicals creates the potential of de-cluttering. However, using the iPad may not be as daunting as using a laptop or iPhone since the options are limited. Even the fact that the applications are only from Apple makes it more streamlined for users who may not already have every tech device.

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  5. posted by Danny on

    Where does he say it is a review? It is an editorial about Apple and their restrictive habits spilling over into a device that is supposed to be a laptop replacement. A little openness makes a lot of sense in that environment.

    Also, the idea that content costs zero dollars is relative to the cost of producing CDs, and paper for books. He’s not saying it costs nothing to make the music or to write the words in a book, but that the distribution cost pretty much zero. The costs to write music and books is same in both scenarios. The cost of the physical items, such as CDs and paper, is pretty much zero in the digital era. Just copy, paste, repeat.

  6. posted by Moe on

    You seem to believe that the Apple is the one who is enforcing DRM down our throats. It was the music studios who wanted the DRM. When all hell broke loose, DRM was thrown away and Apple was the first who implemented it. Same for videos and movies. It is the big companies who want to protect the piracy and sharing of media. Also, when we discuss books, Apple would love to provide a device that has access to millions of ebooks for free. But the problem is that publishers are not willing to get rid of the DRM. In Apple’s case, it probably had to do with a bargaining legal agreement which implements Apple’s DRM in order to be able to provide ebooks for their device.

  7. Profile photo of PJ Doland

    posted by PJ Doland on

    @Anne- The term “marginal cost” has a very specific meaning in economics, which you might want to review before getting bent out of shape.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marginal_cost

    Basically, each additional copy of a information-based good, after the first one, has a production cost of close to zero.

  8. posted by Sam on

    I thought I read that the eBook format the iPad is adopting is the open ePub format? If that is the case it probably won’t be a problem to import books from other sources.

  9. posted by dave on

    “I think the primary intended use of the iPad is as an eBook reader.”

    This line alone shows how clueless the author is. Please, when the iPad is a run-a-way success, re-run this article for laughs.

  10. posted by Noah on

    Maybe I missed the part where Mr. Jobs said the iPad was a laptop replacement. I was under the impression that the iPad is supposed to fit *between* laptop & smart phone, not replace both, as the author wants to believe. This is a new type of *consumer* device – its not intended to be a device you write your next novel or musical masterpiece on.

    The question I see is what now do we make of the MacBook Air?

  11. posted by Karen on

    I think this rant is premature. The marketing strategy has not been revealed yet. The event yesterday was to introduce the iPad to DEVELOPERS, not the audience of potential buyers. It was not meant to show people how this could be their only home computing device and do everything the average person needs to do on a home computer for a lot less money– and a better user experience.

    Yesterday was about releasing the SDK so anyone who wanted to could start developing applications for the iPad. I think that’s pretty awesome. And once the advertisements come out and there is more information about how the product could be useful to me, I’ll start thinking about whether or not I will by one and use it as my primary computer.

  12. posted by waterWolf on

    Nice article. It got me thinking…

    1. Typing on a touchscreen, a task that most people believes to be quite tedious even if it’s not that bad, can be replaced by entering text by zooming with something like dasher.

    2. The only real “flaw” of the product (and a rather insignificant one for consumers) is that the software isn’t open for tinkering.

    3. There are lots of similar ARM-based products coming soon. Just sit back and relax, there will be a lot of great alternatives. Probably faster and cheaper, but less slick.

    4. OLPC was the first to present the concept (the XO-3) but Apple was the first to produce a product.

    Nice marketing, both normal and viral, but i’ll stay with Linux, thank you. I was born free, why give it up now? ;)

  13. posted by andrew on

    @moe – apple using the epub format for their books, today pre-ipad there is one consistent drm format for epub books. its a standard set by adobe, known as ADEPT or adobe digital editions.

    a epub book you buy from sony works on a b&n nook, a epub book you buy from borders works on a sony reader.

    b&n is using a newer slightly different format for their books, which is being added to the older devices through a firmware update. once that firmware update is in place every device will be able to read b&n epub files.

    apple has gone off and created their own form of drm that works with nothing else.

    everyone in the ebook market with the exception of amazon and apple have decided on a interoperable standard.

  14. posted by Larry Sawyer on

    Along the lines of what @Samantha was getting at, Kyle Meyer has a post on his site about potential audience(s) for the iPad, and why it’s a good thing: http://astheria.com/design/why.....everything

    Basically, it’s not necessarily meant for people who already have a MacBook and an iPhone, but instead for people who have less computer experience and knowledge, who mostly do email, light internetting, ebook reading, etc. It makes for a good counterpoint to this article.

  15. posted by Tiara on

    @Larry Sawyer – Thanks for posting that counterpoint post. I was in agreement with most of Timothy Lee’s points about the iPad, but after reading Kyle Meyer’s take, I realize that I’m a computer geek and, thus, not the iPad’s target audience. It’s nice to see both sides of the argument.

  16. posted by Paul Blakeman on

    Completely agree with ‘Lisa S’.

    All these people whinging because Apple want you to play by their rules! Tough s**t!

    You don’t have to develop apps for the iPad, you don’t have to buy one. You are a human being, you have a brain, use it and make an alternative choice! Go and buy one of those other super cool, fast, well thought out tablet’s that are available…oh I see now.

  17. posted by Adam Jones on

    The iPad is the Uncluttering device of the decade. Gadgets no longer needed: radio, portable DVD player, portable game player, e-book reader, digital picture frame. Paper clutter like books, magazines, comics, and newspapers might as well be obsolete to iPad owners. The future of apps and peripherals might see the iPad replace Wacom tablets, digital thermometers, home automation equipment, and message centers. Gadgets this good also last like the old G4 Powerbooks the iPad will likely replace. It uses very little energy and almost all of its materials are recyclable. And hey, at the very, very least, it’s an iPod Touch for people with big hands and poor eyesight.

  18. posted by Dave on

    This article made a blatant mistake which could have been fixed with two minutes of research.

    The Apple TV does a LOT more than just playing content purchased from iTunes. In fact, buying from their store is one of its least important features, especially to anyone who is truly dedicated to uncluttering and organization.

    I’ve been using an AppleTV for years and it has completely changed how I organize my media. And by media, I mean *EVERYTHING*. All of my music, photos, audio books, and DVDs are stored on the Apple TV for playback on my entertainment system. Even better, the system is completely controlled with an iPhone (and soon an iPad) using Apple’s free Remote software.

    If I want to play a song, a movie, or show off some photos, it just takes a few clicks of the iphone and it’s playing. I haven’t touched a CD, DVD, or printed photo in years. Nearly all of my physical media has been ripped, scanned, or digitized for the AppleTV, and then safely stored away as back up, completely out of sight.

    Even my dvd player has started collecting dust, and soon I may chuck it completely. Piles of discs which can be easily lost or scratched are completely a thing of the past, and even better — all of the ripped media is easily backed up on a spare hard drive.

    Yes the AppleTV is fully capable of buying and renting content from iTunes, but don’t be so cynical about that option. Once you realize how handy it is at organizing YOUR media, you’ll see that iTunes access is mostly just a bonus feature. And besides, not having to hit Blockbuster is another big perk.

    So before you knock the Apple TV again as a “failure”, maybe you should try one, or at the very least research it a little to fully understand what a versatile tool it can be for uncluttering your life. After all, this is an uncluttering blog, isn’t it?

  19. posted by Loren on

    I think Jobs was aiming for the ‘netbook’ market, where people want small computers that really are only good for surfing the web and doing some word processing. However, making the word processing harder by not adding a real keyboard? Seems off to me.
    When I saw the release of this product I immediately thought ‘Cool it’s like a small tablet PC that I can take notes on in class and use to surf the web at the coffee shop!’ It doesn’t, I think this product MAJORLY needs a stylus so it can act as a notebook/e-reader/tablet.
    Then I will buy it.

  20. Profile photo of PJ Doland

    posted by PJ Doland on

    @Dave – If you were using a Mac mini with your home theater instead of an Apple TV, you would be able to do everything you are already doing and a lot more (Hulu, Netflix streaming, Amazon Unbox, Pandora, etc.).

  21. posted by Mike on

    @Dave – I was going to say it, but PJ Doland beat me to it. There are cheaper ways than Apple TV to do the same things plus a superset of those things. Especially with apps like XBMC out there for PC-based devices.

    That said, I completely agree with you about the way hard media is on its way out. The only hard media I buy these days is blu-ray, and that’s only because right now there isn’t enough availability of 1080p content via stream or digital download. That problem will go away in time. Like you, I ripped all my DVDs and threw them in a box in the back of the closet… my TV has USB ports and a media player app that plays the movies right off an attached hard drive.

    @ Lisa S. – Easy there, tiger. I’m as Macheaded as anyone you’ll meet, and even I have to admit the iPad seems like a kinda-this-kinda-that-not-quite-anything device that doesn’t really have its domain defined quite yet. I think the reviewer did a fair job of assessing its shortcomings — based on what we know NOW.

    I suspect that the iPad was meant to be that one convergence carryalong device that simply Accesses Any Media — and it might turn out to do a good job of that, once they work out the inevitable logjams.

  22. posted by kre8iv1 on

    WOW! So much energy loaded into this post! Bravo for starting such an interesting back-and-forth debate!

    I read all posts up to this point, and I see both sides. As this new technology evolves, we shall see how things work out.

    I happen to LOVE my iPhone and MacBook. I was a PC user for over 20+ years. After my iPhone and MacBook purchases (over 7 months apart from each other), I have been wondering why I stayed with a PC for so long.

    With the creation/introduction of this new iPad, I am avidly watching what it will do now, and what it can do in the future.

    Being a “green” piece of technology makes me super happy – we can at least recycle pieces of it, then even the entire unit when fully unusable.

    I feel the book authors/distributors along with the music industry have legitimate concerns regarding illegal use of their products. Would the NFL, NASCAR, MLB, or any other professional organization give free tickets away to their games? I don’t think so. So, why should artists allow their work to be used for free?

    I have NO PROBLEM with purchasing books/music legally – as long as the cost is kept down. What I WOULD like to see would be a “master account” where you could purchase these items and transfer them to whatever device you need to use at the time. To be able to transfer them UNLIMITED amounts of times – on only ONE (or TWO) DEVICE(s) at a time – is what needs to become available to us as consumers.

    I mean, really, if I need to reference a page frequently from a computer manual I am using, I will make a photocopy. When I am done using it, I shred it. I don’t give it away – that is why these measures need to be taken in the first place.

    I cannot tell you how many times I have been chatting with someone and they either ask or offer to give paid content away for free – I blatantly refuse them, either way.

    I HATE that people steal music. Musicians are NOT the one getting rich off of their music, the recording companies are.

    The authors are not the ones getting rich off their books, the publishing companies are.

    So, do NOT crucify the electronic companies for being forced to comply with these big businesses’ rules for distribution of their products.

    This makes me think of Star Trek – the tricorders – any crew member who needed the information had it. No problem.

    I think we are well on our way with that, but the CONSUMERS have to stop trying to rip off stuff they should be paying for.

    I will be watching this issue very closely.

    Until then, I applaud Apple for working so diligently to bring a favorable solution to all of us. Thanks! =)

  23. posted by JustMeJosh on

    On a somewhat-related note, I find this trend of people beginning their reviews of sacred cow companies and products with a line like “I’m a lifelong Mac fanboy….” as a means to convince readers to take them seriously to be one of the most annoying forms of clutter.

  24. posted by tim on

    multi-decade trend toward more open computing platforms

    Ignoring the e-book rant – this point clearly shows the authors bias. This is simply not true. Quite the opposite is happening and has been for a long time.

  25. posted by bigyaz on

    Lisa S. et al:

    “If you don’t like it you don’t have to buy it” has to be the most childish argument going.

  26. posted by Andrew on

    I bought a very expensive macbook pro last year, and yet 90% of the time I’m using it, Im relaxing on the couching surfing a handful of sites, maybe listening to some music, barely touching the keyboard, unless it is to post a comment like this. The macbook is heavy, it gets hot, and only last a few hours on battery, this Ipad will fill this niche perfectly.

    I hope it supports multiple users at some point!!

  27. posted by Ryan on

    Since my netbook’s battery failed, it is no longer a portable solution for me. This combined with the limited hard drive space makes the new iPad an attractive alternative.

    That being said, my understanding is that the iPad does not offer multitasking. Like my iPhone, it is only capable of running a single app at a time. If this is true, it will unfortunately be a deal breaker for me.

    I’d love the ability to use the same apps on my iPhone and an iPad, but without multitasking, it seems that the existing netbooks still have the advantage. I’m a student. I don’t need anything extreme, just a portable device that can have a browser and word processor open side by side so that I can participate in my online classes. If it’s so revolutionary, the iPad should be able to deliver.

  28. posted by DJ Frank on

    @ PJ Doland

    Ha. I would venture to say that Anne already knows what “marginal cost” is. She simply gathers, as did I, that the author agrees with the way things are supposedly headed; content itself isn’t worth anything.

    It’s ironic, though, because the author is producing content himself. Sure, he has a different business model and we read the blog for free vs. buying an MP3 on iTunes, but what if everyone used firefox and installed adblock? Should he be forced to “rethink” his business model? How might the the “force of economic gravity” effect him?

  29. posted by Brandon on

    Wow Apple, you have created a giant iPod touch! It has no more capabilities and no less. Well, maybe less. Everybody, save your money. The iPad does look like a really sleek and cool device, but really what is the purpose? Until hackers figure out how to make this thing cool, I will never buy one. I wouldn’t have even bought my iPhone until it could be used the way I want to use it, and have a choice of carrier (T-mobile) Thanks Geohot for the unlock/jailbreak for Apple’s 3.1.2 fix.

  30. posted by Timothy B. Lee on

    @Anne Frizell et al: in fact, I’ve earned a living as a freelance writer in the past and may do so again. Giving away content and paying for it with ads has been a viable business model for decades. I don’t know why it freaks so many people out when it happens on the web.

    @Lisa S., how much do you pay for access to Unclutterer?

    @DJ Frank, I never said content “isn’t worth anything.” Price and value are different concepts. And what exactly is “ironic” about practicing what I preach?

  31. posted by Amy Crook on

    To let you know who as the urgent need, that’d be me — I meet with (current & potential) clients in restaurants and coffee shops to talk to them about their websites. I could take an iPad for far less weight than my smaller Macbook, and then surf their site and talk to them, zoom in, test links, and go over everything — all with a bright, clear screen we can both easily see and use. Since I already use a physical notepad & paper to take notes at these meetings, this is an ideal solution for me, for a lot cheaper than a Macbook Air.

    Also, since it runs iPhone apps, and Citrix has a free iPhone client, this means that an iPad can access Windows apps via terminal services, so it’s got great potential for corporations.

  32. posted by pdxrlk on

    “Basically, each additional copy of a information-based good, after the first one, has a production cost of close to zero.”

    Yes, but you must recoup your fixed costs, and you cannot charge the full fixed costs to the first purchaser.

    Your ideology is interesting but irrelevant to those of us in uncluttering our lives. I have no interest in furthering your pet economic agenda, but rather in reducing my clutter.

    Apple has clearly provided tremendous value to its customers, and that value is reflected in their share price. If they stopped delivering value, their revenue and share price will plummet. They do so by innovating, innovating, innovating, not by illegal business practices or lobbying. I salute them.

    p.s. I also run Ubuntu and Windows; each has their place and value. Economic ideology is an absurd dimension to add to the mix.

  33. Profile photo of

    posted by MsDasha on

    I really dislike this post. It has a negative tone, is derisive, and does not touch on uncluttering as far as I can tell. Like other commenters said, it is basically a rant. If it sucks so much, then why are you writing about it at all? There are tons of crappy products out there, and other than the unitasker Wednesday column, I have no interest in reading about them.

    The number of good posts here has dropped significantly, and it seems like the unclutterer has nothing new to contribute. It seems like half the posts are just links to other site or articles. And then I see this? In what way is this supposed to help me, or anyone else, improve our lives?

    Step it up Erin! I bought and read your book, and I know you can do better. Don’t let this blog go down the internet toilet.

  34. posted by Fred E. on

    Timothy:

    It’s being marketed as an entertainment device and in that context it makes a lot more sense than you are willing to acknowledge. It’s not designed to meet your needs and it’s not marketed to you and that’s why you don’t understand it. It will be perfect for millions of people and they will love it just like they love the iPhone and the iTouch. I’l stick with an MacBook Pro as well.

  35. posted by DJ Frank on

    @ Timothy B. Lee

    “I never said content “isn’t worth anything.” Price and value are different concepts.”
    Well we can get technical on the wording, but at the end of the day, it seems that YOU think content itself isn’t worth paying for. Everything should be “open” and anything that’s not is the old school business model. That’s just what I gathered based on your writing, and that’s what I think ruffled Anne’s feathers. Mr. PJ was trying to argue that she simply didn’t know what marginal cost was and being the intelligent guy he is, copied and pasted her a wikipedia link.

    “And what exactly is “ironic” about practicing what I preach?”

    Actually, I think you’d be practicing what you preach when you attempt to make a living creating original content and not caring what happens to the content afterward; having no say in the price, distribution, etc., and relying on a business model that won’t keep your lights on. What happens when you don’t want to clutter your site with annoying ads (no offense intended), or in the case you’re a musician, leave your family to take your show on the road and hopefully sell truckloads of overpriced merchandise to make ends meet?

  36. posted by Jaky Astik on

    they tried creating an eBook reader primarily, but also added webbrowser and movies and all including ability to work. We’re over expecting from them. They primarily wanted to compete Kindle and all. I guess from that angle, they are all good and going. and there is a big scope for development. We’ll thank Apple for this thing in the future, I am sure about that :)

  37. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    @MsDasha — Had you read the first sentence of text, you would know I didn’t write it. I decided to run Tim’s post because I found it incredibly intersting. His entire post is focused on the premise that the device is CLUTTER to anyone who already owns a smart phone and laptop. He’s giving an analysis on why the latest and most hyped gadget (the iPad or whatever is next to come along) may not actually meet your technical needs and should be evaluated before making a costly, yet tempting purchase. Reread his post if you missed this important central thesis.

  38. posted by DJ Frank on

    Hi, Erin! Good point, but those content producers make the decision to enter into an agreement with those publishers, record companies, studios, etc.

  39. posted by Bruce on

    Mr. Lee, many of us also have strong ideas about new technology such as the iPad. But the only absolute truth right now is that none of us will know for a year or two what kind of impact the iPad will actually have in the world. Presenting your opinions (not facts) about the iPad and Apple with such anger, sarcasm, and righteous indignation just a day after Apple’s announcement seems a little over the top to me, like you’re setting up some kind of straw man to knock down before you actually have any evidence one way or another.

    As a member of the Princeton University Center for Information Technology, for crying out loud, aren’t you the least bit curious to know how this little device will get along once it’s released into the wild two months from now? To make such absolute pronouncements about a product that not one of us can even test drive yet seems a little silly and more than a bit arrogant. It’s just a thing, a product. Let the marketplace sort it out, OK?

    My own opinion? I think that over the next few years the iPad will evolve into a significant game changer for many individuals and organizations, especially medicine, education, and media such as magazines and newspapers. I can think of at least a dozen ways that it will facilitate my own personal enjoyment and professional productivity. I suspect that it will make a positive impact in the lives of at least a few of my friends and clients as well. I definitely agree with the person above who said it will serve as a great uncluttering device.

    But who can know yet?

    I think Apple is in the business of providing the best set of computing choices to the widest possible number of users, and with the iPad those options just increased, maybe exponentially. Those of us who are power users, consultants, writers, researchers, teachers, and other kinds of geeks have to be careful not to assume that the majority of computer users are like us. We are very often just a highly verbal (and vocal) minority. We endlessly complain about features (present or absent) that make absolutely no difference to the people who want to actually use a dependable device that simply does all the things they want it to do.

  40. posted by joss on

    Yeesh. I really liked this post, I guess because it’s the only piece I’ve read about the iPad that wasn’t covered in drool and it was interesting to hear a different perspective. I didn’t get the impression that the author thinks the intended use of the iPad is as an eBook reader, just that the author thinks that would be one use for it but that it wouldn’t make a good one. I too can’t really see what this device is for. It clearly can’t replace a phone or a laptop (I don’t want the keyboard and the screen on the same plane; it doesn’t seem like it would be a flattering angle for skype calls unless you prop it up somehow?) or an eBook reader (insufficient battery, no eye-friendly ink) or an mp3 player and it’s not clear what other need it’s trying to fill. So, yeah, pretty but I don’t yet see the point.

  41. posted by joss on

    From the NYT: “Mr. Jobs posited that the iPad was the best device for certain kinds of computing, like browsing the Web, reading e-books and playing video.” No to the first one (like the iPhone, it doesn’t work with Flash), no to the second for reasons already explained, and as to the last …. so it’s a portable DVD player that I have to either hold or set on the table and lean over?

  42. Profile photo of

    posted by Claycat on

    I think the iPad may have a niche among people who just like to browse and read. If you aren’t involved in blogging or internet business, it may be perfect for you.

    I have an iMac, and I love it. I have an iPod, but haven’t used it much yet. I would love to have an iPhone, but I can’t afford the service.

    I have to say, I have long been an Apple fan. I have never owned any other computer. I watched part of Steve Jobs’ presentation of iPad. I was tickled at his excitement.

    I can agree with Mr. Lee that iPad sure seems to have certain limitations. However, for older folks like me, who aren’t as involved in the internet as I am, it might be the perfect solution.

  43. posted by Liza Lee Miller on

    What does this have to do with being uncluttered? I’m really puzzled about why I should care what you think of the iPad the day after it’s been released. If you don’t want one, fine but if you are going to put it on THIS site, I think you should be telling me why it’s clutter not why it’s not as good as a Kindle. This was bizarre.

  44. posted by Steve on

    What the iPad is and does is not clear. There are certain features that we are aware of, but the true use of the device will play out over a number of years.

    Certainly, the device will evolve over time.

    The product fits neatly into the same niche as a NetBook, and I can imagine that some people will want to use it is a second screen/device.

    At the end of the day I agree with Liza. What does this article have to do with clutter? Hmmm …

  45. posted by joss on

    Well, if it doesn’t serve a purpose (i.e. is redundant with things you already own) doesn’t that make it clutter? On another note, it doesn’t have a webcam so no skype calls anyway.

  46. posted by Juliet van Ree on

    Maybe it’s not very usefull if compared to other products, but it’s hyped and has a nice “designer” touch to it, so it will sell.

  47. posted by John on

    “Basically, each additional copy of a information-based good, after the first one, has a production cost of close to zero.”

    But you are not just paying for the marginal cost of the product. You are paying for a license to consume the product and in many cases that means in the format that it was provided.

    Besides all of that, I really see no reason for this article to be on Unclutterer. It’s completely up to the blogger to decide what they want to post about, but I come here to gain information about ways to reduce clutter in my life. How does this post do that at all? And particularly related to a product that can ultimately aid many people in reducing clutter? I have 10 other feeds in my news reader related specifically to the electronics industry where I have already read dozens of articles weighing the pros and cons of the new iPad.

    I have plenty of ways to use my time other than unrelated, cluttered articles such as this.

  48. posted by Bruce on

    I’m with Lisa, Paul, Liza, and Steve. I think this posting is definitely bizarre for Unclutterer. The word clutter does not appear once in Mr. Lee’s essay, and I am puzzled as to Erin’s comment that he deals with the topic at all. What his so-called analysis consists of is to first tell us how unimpressed he is about the iPad, a one day-old product he has not yet seen or used. Then he launches into a lengthy attack on what he views as the evils of Apple’s restrictive App Store, the company’s oppressive approach to content management, and its dying and soon doomed-to-fail 20th Century marketing model and media strategy. (Steve Jobs, are you listening?) His opinions would be right at home in various Mac forums that have pretty lively iPad discussions going on right now but not here.

  49. posted by Julia1060 on

    Pretty heated dialogue for a device that’s not yet released. Apple once again raises the energy in the market and among consumers. A good thing in sluggish times.

    My two cents – The device is niched between the smart phone and the laptop. I own both an iPod and a MacBook and they have significantly changed how I manage information and communication. Yet, I can see uses for an iPad that my other devices may not as efficiently fill. The price point is certainly more than reasonable and Apple’s considered ergonomic issues like displaying the device (dock) and potential extended non-touch use (keyboard dock). Finally, with Apple’s developer release yesterday, it’s likely the marketplace will decide what’s possible for the iPad. I for one look forward to the dialogue.

    And yes, it’s a handsome device. That’s no small feat or a reason to cast aspersions. Beauty is a motivating force in human affairs. Beauty is uncluttered. Apple recognizes that. More power to them.

  50. posted by Steve on

    Interesting article – I wonder how many people would be so supportive of this device if it was a Microsoft product?! Seriously, be honest with yourselves and ask that question… For me the iPad is a unitasker type product, I mean why buy a dedicated cupcake maker when you have an oven already, as most of us do. I take the point that it’s maybe being targeted at people who struggle with computers generally but even so, no USB ports, limited functionality and if you type all the time on the surface, what the heck is that going to do for your posture from a medical p.o.v.? Regarding being locked in to technology, look how that has worked for Microsoft – how is Apple doing things differently? Sorry, whilst it may look nice, for me this device just lacks the innovative nature of an Apple product.

  51. posted by Tismey on

    If you care, or even know, what ‘Flash’, ‘multitasking’ or ‘open’ (in the sense of computing) are, then this device isn’t aimed at you. Like the iPhone before it, it’s Apple’s attempt to make computing frictionless and accessible.

    Like it or not, ‘open’ simply isn’t for the mainstream, non-technical user and I’m yet to be convinced that ‘open’ and ‘user-friendly’ are compatible attributes. The more users can fiddle with what’s under the hood, the more they can break. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and less cluttered, but open softwrae by and large makes it more complicated because it requires more understanding and involvement from the user. And if this is what you enjoy, then good for you – you go customise the hell out of the Ubuntu install!

    But if you’re someone who just wants to check their emails, surf the web, listen to a bit of music without worrying about viruses and malware and crashes and so on, then Open isn’t the way forward. Something like iPad is.

    Before the iPhone, only nerds used the internet on their phone. Now everyone does. Same thing.

  52. posted by Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com on

    I agree with all of your points but my inner geek is screaming out for one of these. Maybe I will wait a few months after release to buy one so they fix most of the bugs. There will be loads!

  53. posted by Mardi on

    What a narrow POV. My husband is vision impaired and reads by putting things up to his nose and “sniffing”. He is really keen to get one of these – he currently has a laptop he reads news articles, web pages, email etc on and to do so is hard work and gives him a sore neck. The iPad will be perfect for him. Niche market maybe but it demonstrates that you can’t take the narrow view on the usefulness of this product.

  54. posted by Stewart on

    @ timothy.B

    your comments’ I don’t understand who this product is marketed to’ and ‘It’s not clear who has an urgent need for this device’ remind me of what was said when the iPod was launched a few years back…

  55. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Bruce — Have you read the story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway? The story is about a couple considering an abortion, but doesn’t once say the word “abortion” in the story. Just because it doesn’t say the word doesn’t change the focus of the story or its central theme. Sometimes you don’t have to hit your readers over the head and say, “I believe this device is clutter for me” when it is so obviously the thesis of the text.

  56. Profile photo of

    posted by georgetownsandi on

    I am disappointed in this post as well. It was not well thought out as to what might be clutter or what might not, and the obvious bias without all the facts (e.g., this announcement was for developers, not consumers) is not what I’m used to seeing on this blog. My understanding is that the iPad will have 10 hours of battery life…I don’t know about you but that is more time than I will spend in one sitting or flight. It also allows for color, which the other e-readers do not. Seth Godin also has licensed a new app just for iPad…can’t be all bad if thought leaders like him are “in it.”

    Thanks to the reader for sharing the alternate viewpoint as well.

    This blog may be free, but the Unclutter Your Life book is not…and it’s a good book that has value. I wonder what it would look like on the iPad?

  57. posted by Brad Shaw on

    I have spent 3 months scanning everything to go paperless at home. This new product will allow me to pull at any of my saved documents without moving a portable around. A pad that will help unclutter the paper around the house is astounding!

    This kind of announcement should be on this site.

  58. posted by Hello iPad « Meg on

    […] The iPad looks pretty cool. But, I’m having a hard time wondering WHY anyone would NEED one since its a cross between and iPhone and a computer…..doesn’t everyone already have those things?  I half expect Unclutterer to write about it saying that it will just add clutter to all the things you have.  Haha, I just checked their website -and they have already written about it! Check it out here. […]

  59. posted by gypsy packer on

    Meyer hit the nail on the head. The iPad will be a blessing to the elderly, who may well receive it as a present from their children. It has a magazine-sized screen, zoom, will run Skype and keep them in touch with the kids and grandkids, and the wi-fi modem will cost little more than the Jitterbug and get them a thousand times as much service. Hulu and a Netflix account will replace the cable bill. If Apple doesn’t market this as a user-friendly, light, remote-free computer substitute to the technophobic elderly, they’re nuts. And the grandkids will adore teaching them how to use it.

  60. posted by whyioughtta on

    Couldn’t read thru all the comments, so sorry if this is repetitive, but I never got the sense that iPad is supposed to replace a laptop. Rather, it seems from Jobs’ sales pitch on the apple site that it’s more of a replacement for netbooks.

    The iPad is targetted at people like me who need a “home use” computer that I can use as my music central, that I can surf on while my husband watches t.v., and that I can read the occasional book on while travelling, etc.

    That’s how I intend to use it. Those are all things that would be irritating to try on a device as small as an iPhone or iTouch, and a laptop would be overkill. I don’t need a spade, and I don’t need a backhoe–I need a shovel. Yes, it’s possible that apple is “shovelling” it to me to, but to me the third category they’ve defined actually makes sense.

  61. posted by Steven on

    I think that the posting has some valid points, especially when you allow that any individual will have opinions and preferences.

    As an iPhone/Mac and sometimes “other” phone developer, I think it’s unfair to compare handheld devices, especially those that use cellular networks, to general purpose computers.

    * For a long email a real keyboard is best. Work emails are long, non-work tend to be short. The iPad can work for that just fine.
    * The platform is “locked-down” by Apple because the cellular carriers demand it. Android, Symbian OS, J2ME, and any other phone OS is “sandboxed” wrt the core phone OS. Apple with it’s favourable developer model has been more successful since the iPhone launch in having apps developed and deployed than all other phone manufacturers together ever.
    * The dock is proprietary, but thrid parties can develop for it. Every iPod/iPhone/iPad comes with a USB connector for the interface and developing protocols across that is easy. Likewise for dedicated devices using the interface (I’ve just completed one). The interface is no better, no worse than any other including USB, IEEE 1394, RS232, etc. Standards bodies or major industry players define interface standards and the market decides. I’d say the interface is fit for purpose.
    * If you need other interfaces, the built-in WiFi networking is really all that you need. It’s not like the iPad is meant to do movie editing and you need to hang a huge HD off it!?!

    However, after defending Apple, it’s really a question of what people think of the device. For what I do, I’d rather have a MacBook Air if I had to choose. But I don’t tend to do a lot of browsing, gaming, email, etc. from my couch at home. If I did, I’d love the iPad.

    I’ll probably get one this year, but mostly for development purposes.

    Last word: It’s easy to criticize products on announcement day and from spec sheets, and it’s usually wrong. Go get one, try it for a month, and then write an article!

  62. posted by Megan on

    Wow! What a discussion! I’m an admitted gadget gal, so I’m probably not necessarily the intended audience. I have an iPhone, a full size laptop, and a netbook (used primarily for travel), among other things. I also would like to get an ereader to unclutter and make travel a little easier. Don’t like reading novels on the netbook.

    However, for some reason carrying an ereader and a netbook for travel feels like overkill in a way that carrying a netbook and a paperback does not. (I also want the ereader for home use too-less clutter!)

    On the other hand, Flash capabilities aside, maybe I am the intended audience. I’m interested in the iPad as a possible combo netbook/ereader. I like the Kindle app for iPhone, but the screen is simply too small for me for sustained reading. I have been asking myself, “self, if I were to get an iPad, would I really need an iPhone?” Could I cut that down to a regular phone and possibly save some money only using 3g on the iPad when I travel? Don’t know yet, and that’s a highly personal preference, I think. We’ll see where things are when my netbook and iPhone get a little longer in the tooth.

    As with so many things in life, where you sit depends on where you stand, and I think this is front and center true for the iPad. I don’t see this changing the world for a lot of folks, but it could meet some niche needs really nicely.

    And who knows where this will really go–an awful lot of folks thought the iPhone would go nowhere.

  63. posted by Mletta on

    I enjoyed this honest and insightful commentary on the iPad.

    Very few in the media (who are still too much in the spell of Jobs and whatever he is hyping) really address the flaws that are inherent in some of the Apple products (for all their merits), and especially the limits of the iPad, which are many (It’s NOT a consumer-centric product).

    Jobs has done a pretty good job in the past of pushing product into the market, aided by gullible types who must have the latest “toys.”

    But people of all ages are getting a lot smarter (and less open to hype) about all electronics. They don’t just buy into whatever Jobs tells them they should want.

    One of the most telling things about the iPad? The lack of enthusiasm in the Apple stores. These folks are not leaping up and down in enthusiasm. Because they too see the limitations.

    Personally, I’m against any company trying to limit access as Apple has done. (Gee, funny how folks got crazy with Microsoft over the years for the same thing but not so much with Apple.)

    That alone turns me off to Apple.

    I’ll pay, for stuff I want, as I want it and stuff that does not penalize content providers.

  64. posted by Andy Kuziemko on

    I’m having trouble understand where the author is coming from on a few of the points he made in this post.

    1) “There’s a real risk that potential developers will be dissuaded by Apple’s capricious and irritating approval process.”

    There have been a few well-publicized cases of developers swearing off the iPhone after a frustrating experience with Apple’s approval process, but they are a tiny minority. There is a ‘real risk’ here, but the 100k+ iPhone apps and the billions of downloads make that risk really, really tiny. Why would Apple executives be afraid of continuing a policy that’s been wildly successful? This just seems silly.

    2) “But before too long, the force of economic gravity will push the price of content down to its marginal cost of zero. And when it does, the walls of Apple’s garden will feel a lot more confining.”

    Most of the songs people have on their iPods are not from iTunes. They’re either from their own ripped CDs, downloaded/stolen from the internet or ‘borrowed’ from friends. iTunes has provided an easy way to buy songs to people who either feel bad stealing, don’t know how to steal, find peer-to-peer sharing a hassle, etc. So there are walls on Apple’s garden, but they’re really low: songs from outside come in to play all the time. You can easily play any MP3 on your iPod. So what’s confining about this again?

    Lastly, I’ll say just one more thing about this post being on this blog. If the Unclutterer is about ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’, then posts like this one should probably be somewhere else.

  65. posted by Alison on

    Wow, somebody touched a nerve!

    I think the article has a perfectly good place on here, if only because Apple tends to create things that people want powerfully. I’m curious about whether the iPad will find a market – some of the points that people are making about it being a good computer for the elderly are ringing alarm bells somewhat.

    My main doubt about the ipad is its size and its strength. It’s big. It doesn’t actually look like something I could throw in a bag without scratching it, or give to my teenager without the worry of them cracking the screen within a week. It could do with a nice wee hinged lid. :0) If I were on a long commute, I’d probably use my laptop along with a phone and a book or newspaper. So, I don’t know. It feels quite niche.

  66. posted by Dan on

    I would like to say that I am torn by this device. I see it as a great step in tablet computing, but at least for myself I see no practical purpose. A main use of the tablet would be work related stuff. Taking meeting notes is theoretically easy. Take it on the plane for a business or leisure trip. It light and small, perfect for flights. Other than that the device seems to be more of a luxury item, a convience more than a necessity.

    As far as the software. It appears Apple tried to blend the two together as much as they could. I agree that im not a fan of the iphone OS on the iPad, but it may have been the choice given the processor they made for it.

    Steve Jobs, from what I can tell, is the kind of person that would sacrafice the quality of an OS for a new product. Since they used their own Apple A4 chip, it is very power efficient, but not very powerful. Even the slowest chip that any mac computer uses is a 1.86 GHz (MacBook Air), but thats dual core. I know next to nothing about the A4, but I’m willing to bet its a single core processor. The engineers at Apple would have had to seriously strip down Snow Leopard to be able to run smoothly on the iPad, unless Apple went with an intel chip set. They however, seem quite happy with themseleves for the chip that they designed for the iPad.

    I will most likely not be buying it, unless i come into a large sum of money. Between my mac, pc, and iphone, im as connected as i need to be for now.

  67. posted by Modano on

    “I think the primary intended use of the iPad is as an eBook reader.”
    I completely disagree. This is a general use device, not an e-reader with other features. The main purpose of this device is to run apps. One of those is an e-reader app. What would you say the main purpose of a laptop is? And if you did pin that down to one task, what have you accomplished?
    So many factual errors in this article. “Apple seems determined to replicate the 20th century business model of paying for copies of content in an age where those copies have a marginal cost of zero.” And what are they charging you to put apps you already on on your new iPad? The answer is $0. And music you’ve already bought? And movies? Also nothing. The AppleTV will play any ripped MP3s or DVDs perfectly fine too. The books they’re selling are ePub, the same format used by almost every other reader that exists. How do you know that you won’t be able to move them? You don’t, you’re guessing and you don’t say that. Apple policy is actually in complete contradiction to your entire assertion. Can you give an example of what you mean?
    “There’s a real risk that potential developers will be dissuaded by Apple’s capricious and irritating approval process.” That has dissuaded about a dozen developers so far. The risk seems real only in your imagination.
    Finally, all this pundit rage about the locked-down app store should go disappear. Nobody cares. The iPhone has proven that.

  68. posted by waterWolf on

    @Dan
    My guess is that the A4 is based on an ARM architecture, a bit like the processor inside the iPhone.

  69. posted by joss on

    “Apple’s considered ergonomic issues like displaying the device (dock) and potential extended non-touch use (keyboard dock).” So, after buying accessories, it’s a laptop that I carry in 3 separate pieces? “‘It’s not clear who has an urgent need for this device’ remind me of what was said when the iPod was launched a few years back…” But it was clear what the iPod was replacing: having to carry a portable CD player (bulky, prone to skipping), 4 AA batteries, and as many CDs as you could bring with you. I just can’t figure out what this is for. It’s not a portable DVD player. It’s not an eReader. It’s not a phone, a GPS, or a laptop. It’s not two or more of those things combined in a way that’s not worse than the separate devices I already have. It’s not something else that I don’t already have (I would love it if it streamlined my cookbooks by holding all the recipes I used, made grocery lists for me from menus, and somehow kept an inventory of what I had in my pantry, automatically adding things as I ran low.) “Yet, I can see uses for an iPad that my other devices may not as efficiently fill.” I’m waiting for someone to say what they are (or for it to become apparent in 2 months when they’re available).

  70. posted by Morgan on

    I’m agreed with the people saying this is basically an ebook reader. Pretty sure the “killer app” is the bookstore. Just like the iTunes store made the iPod what it is today. They’re mostly going after the ebook market, but adding some bonuses (i.e. web browsing, email, iphone/ipod apps, iWork etc). I see the appeal but as someone who has a laptop, I think I would just get an iPod or iPhone instead. Smaller and less obnoxious.

  71. posted by Steph on

    Hello… graphics???

    My hubby uses graphics in his work. This tablet is a godsend for him…
    Put simply: You can draw on it! With your fingers, not an awkward cursor or similar.
    This is huge. Time to open up your horizon!

  72. posted by Josh on

    Apple’s opt for closed platform does suck.. And I’m not gonna pay $9.99 for Pages, $9.99 for Numbers etc when I can use OO.o..

    But there’s no point argue about it.. It might be hot like iPhone, or flop like Macbook Air..

  73. posted by The Countess of Nassau County on

    Seth your next book should focus on the MAC user and how Apple has created a rabid customer base that will resort to curse words and insults at the slightest bit of criticism of their product. It’s amazing, in all my years I have never come across a group of customers so loyal, but also so defensive. It’s like technological fanaticism. And God bless each and every one of them.

    With MAC there is always the concern for PC users of how MAC will fit into their world. iPod shattered that like no previous MAC product had, but frankly I didn’t come away feeling this product is as seamless and that will cost them customers.

    Following up a groundbreaking product like the iPod is so daunting because the iPod is so universally appealing. I don’t think anyone out there really thinks this iPad will do what the iPod did, but like all things Apple there will be those that will laud it simply because it’s Apple. But there will also be people who see a promise to make their lives easier, let’s hope it lives up to that promise.

  74. posted by Bruce on

    Here’s an essay that I think puts the iPad into the proper perspective. Enjoy!

    http://speirs.org/blog/2010/1/29/future-shock.html

  75. posted by Jason on

    I totally agree with the author.

  76. posted by Danny Peck on

    You’ve put all of my thoughts on the iPad in to words. Thank you for speaking up.

  77. posted by Link post is linking « The Tiny Ouroboros on

    […] The case against the iPad via Unclutterer […]

  78. posted by The Case for the iPad - Fresh Blocks on

    […] The case against the iPad | Unclutterer […]

  79. posted by Wellington Grey on

    Meh. While I agree with all of your criticism, there is a huge audience who just doesn’t care. I know a lot of older people for whom their iPhone is their primary computer — if only it had a bigger screen! Well, that’s what Jobs just gave them.

  80. posted by Steve Hall on

    @Anne Frizell: You need to educate yourself on what Marginal Cost means. It has nothing to do with initial development costs.

  81. posted by Dave Williams on

    I’ve finally found the computer for my 85 year-old Mother in Law who is scared of computers. She can’t crash it, she can flip through the photos we send her and learn to surf the web without having to be a great typist. And when she’s not using it, It’s a digital photo frame of her kids. Perfect.

  82. posted by joss on

    Maybe what will make or break this media-consumption device is the cooperation (or lack of it) of all the media-producing industries (magazines, newspapers, books, movie studios). They seem positively averse to change. If this does for all those things what the iPod did for consuming music (can’t remember the last time I bought a CD), then I will kiss the ground under Apple’s feet. But if eBooks are $16 and Warner Brothers doesn’t want me to see a movie until after it’s been out for a few months -all in the hopes that I’ll buy a hard copy which I absolutely do NOT want- then that won’t work. Hopefully Steve Jobs drags them into the future by the britches if necessary.

  83. posted by Cheap Freeman on

    iPad for UNITASKER! :) Just saw this guy mentioning the iPad’s deficiency in the multitasking department. Will be interesting to see how that affects user experience.
    http://escex.com/2010/01/27/apple-ipad/

    Re: Timothy B’s “…And it’s just not clear that someone who already has a MacBook and an iPod will shell out another $500-800 for a third device…”

    I would think people who own a MacBook and an iPod are among the MOST LIKELY to shell out hundreds more for whatever Apple releases next. Especially because the iPad doesn’t require an AT&T contract like the iPhone did.

    And I loved this…Gizmodo writer calling the iPad the “world’s most advanced digital photo frame”
    http://twitter.com/mattbuchanan/status/8301812033

    Jeez…all this ridiculous speculation helping to drive the news/content industry…is only rivaled by the NFL Draft. :|

  84. posted by iglad on

    there’s more actual sense in the comments than in the actual article i won’t repeat what a lot of people have already said.

  85. posted by Artsiom on

    >>Most people need a full-scale computer

    Why??????

  86. posted by iPad, OER, and Custom Course Web Applications / iApps « Moving at the Speed of Creativity on

    […] too. I think Apple's view of DRM is key to this question, however. Timothy Lee's post yesterday, "The case against the iPad," is a good read on this topic since he takes issue with Apple's vision of sharing in our web 2.0 […]

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