Friday, April 02, 2010

IPad Mania

The IPads are about to arrive and the press is frantic. Presonally I hope that it fails or is nothing more than a marginal product. I have nothing against the concept but there are two things about the execution that makes me root against it:

First, it is an attempt by Apple to take over computing. Apple has already said what standards they will and will not support. Their various stores have been successful but they have also given Apple enormous power. Jobs can now tell the recording companies what they will charge. Amazon can's do that. They tried to set the price for ebooks at $9.99 but had to back off. Expect to see the ebook price rise to match print editions even though you have much deeper rights with a printed book. You can keep a printed book until it falls apart, you can lend it out, or you can sell it. Try doing any of that with an ebook on a Kindle (or an IPad).

Apple rules its app store with an iron fist. It has no set standards. Developers often have their apps rejected without comment. Even when a reason is given, it is often too cryptic to be useful. Even if an app is accepted, it might be rejected without notice in the future. If you bought an app more than a month ago and Apple rejects it, they will remove it from your phone or pad. They will not notify you that this was done and they will not refund your payment. It just vanishes.

Then there is Flash, Silverlight, Javascript, and other similar technologies. Apple does not allow any of them. The reasons they give are excuses. The real reason is that they want to control content. They do not want you using Flash to watch videos for free when they can sell it to you.

And this brings me to my second reason for wanting the IPad to fail - Apple is trying to monetarize the web. By funneling everything through their stores, they can put micro charges on things that have been free. Newspapers and magazines are overjoyed by this prospect. Most newspapers in the country are going broke. They cannot compete with on-line news sources. They hope that they can sell you content through the IPad that is currently free. Others are also lining up for this gravy train. Marvel Comics announced a new IPad application. 500 titles are currently available. You can read the first three pages of any of them for free and pay $2.00 for the full comic. That may sound like a great deal but there are thousands of comics available through the digital service and the subscription rate is so low that a half dozen comics a month through the IPad is more expensive. I lost count of the number of digital comics I've read in the last three months but it is well over 100. Just catching up on the She-Hulk would have cost more on an IPad than a year's subscription.

If the IPad is a major success then we can expect to see the Internet drained of content and moved over to Apple on a pay-per-view basis. I have my doubts that this will be the salvation of the content producers but once it becomes established it will be like ITunes - you may not like it but it represents too big a market to ignore.

Consider the IPhone apps developers. There are currently something like 150,000 apps available. It costs money to produce all of these apps but only a few make any real money. The real winner here is Apple. As the middleman, they profit regardless of what apps sell.

A few years ago people worried about Microsoft taking over the Internet and locking down content. Now Apple is trying to do the same thing but no one seems to care because of how polished their product.

None of this is new. Apple tried to lock people into the original Mac. For the first year it was produced you violated your warranty if you plugged a non-Apple printer or disk drive into a Mac and the only way to write a program for it was to buy a $10,000 LISA computer. Steve Jobs never got over his desire to control everything. I prefer not to be a co-enabler.

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