Attention Geeks: The iPad Is Not a Threat

by Chris Seibold Apr 08, 2010

ipad with Things Fall Apart

The release of the iPad has had a predictable impact. You get the mad dash for cash at the App Store, users falling in love or being disappointed by the device, investors over analyzing the numbers, and so forth. One thing people didn't expect to come with the iPad was a dish of truly delectable irony.

Anyone who's been following public opinion toward the iPad can see that the geeks hate it and die-hard Apple fans hate the geeks for hating it. The same geeks who loved Apple when it was unpopular to do so, the same people Apple fans would point to as proof that their computing decision was the right one, are now reviled by the very folks who once loved their diatribes against Microsoft and Dell. 

Though this new twist in the geek-apple fan relationship is somewhat ironic, it's not a surprise. When someone agrees with you they are always your best friend, witty and intelligent. When they disagree, their IQ drops faster than if they had suddenly decided to live on a diet consisting solely of lead paint chips and mercury dip.

Let's take a closer look at the geeks' tenet that you don't really own an iPad because you can't do what you want with it. All the apps come from the App Store, Apple won't allow Flash, you can't program on the thing etc. Those are interesting arguments, if you can't use something as you wish do you really own it?

In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the protagonist (Okonkwo) has a slave. The slave is treated pretty well, almost like a member of the family. When this book is discussed one of the questions that inevitably arises is whether or not Ikemefuma (the slave) is really a slave since he is treated like a member of the family. This argument usually ends when one reader points out that later in the book the family takes Ikemefuma out and kill him. It doesn't matter how well you're treated, when someone can kill you on a whim, you're a salve.

The iPad is in the same boat, it doesn't matter how locked down the device is, you are free to sell it. If you can sell it, you own it. Sure, you can only get apps from Apple, and there are a lot things the iPad could do but won't, but none of that means it isn't yours. You can sell your iPad, so you own it. Would it be better with an accessible filesystem, Flash and system-wide multitasking? Maybe, but slate computers that do it all have been around forever and weren't flying off the shelves. Put the negatives in the right spot and they can add up to something positive. 

The geeks lose that round. But what of their contention that the iPad will discourage innovation? Here is a telling passage from Dive into Mark:

"Today I am a programmer, a technical writer, and a hacker in the Hackers and Painters sense of the word. But you don’t become a hacker by programming; you become a hacker bytinkering. It’s the tinkering that provides that sense of wonder. You have to jump out of the system, tear down the safety gates, peel away the layers of abstraction that the computer provides for the vast majority of people who don’t want to know how it all works. It’s aboutusing the Copy ][+ sector editor to learn how the disk operating system boots, then modifying it so the computer makes a sound every time it reads a sector from the disk. Or displaying a graphical splash screen on startup before it lists the disk catalog and takes you to that BASIC prompt. Or copying a myriad of wondrous commands from the Beagle Bros. Peeks & Pokes Chart and trying to figure out what the fuck I had just done. Just for the hell of it. Because it was fun. Because it scared my parents. Because I absolutely had to know how it all worked.

Later, there was an Apple IIgs. And later still, a Mac IIci. MacsBug. ResEdit. Norton Disk Editor. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.

Apple made the machines that made me who I am. I became who I am by tinkering."

Without being able to tinker like that, how will kids ever learn to hack and program? 

Was the Apple ][ that magical of a machine? Did it inspire legions of competent developers that went on to make all our lives better? For a machine that topped out at 15% of the PC market you're probably better off remaining skeptical of the claim. And face it, most Apple ]['s weren't ever used in that manner, most Apple ]['s ran Oregon Trail while Dad promised he'd use it to balance the check book someday.

People don't learn to hack and program because they have a hackable machine around. They're hackers, they're going to find something to hack, they just can't help it. In essence, the worried hackers are assuming that since X preceded Y, then X caused Y. The reality is that they were going to find something to toy with be it a hair dryer or a computer. It was their drive to tinker that drove them, not some computer.

All this talk has to be bad for Apple right? Surely, with all the diatribes about the iPad and the closed nature of the things some people will be scared away. Chin up Apple fans, while the gripers sit back and drink glass after bitter glass of v-hate, consumers don't care. They really don't. Consumers just want something that solves a problem, they aren't interested in a philosophy.




  • Extremely well said!  I had this very conversation with someone about the iPhone last year. He insisted that the iPhone would die because of Apple not allowing for an open platform, developers will go elsewhere eventually.  My argument was that developers will go where consumers end up taking them.

    Consumers do not care about open and closed systems. Most of them don’t even know what that means!  Give them a product they will use and that is the product they will buy.  You can either develop for them or be more closed (minded) than the system you are griping about.

    groovusdavus had this to say on Apr 08, 2010 Posts: 2
  • The argument about lack of hacking is a joke. The iPhone is hacked to death. If you want to be a hacker on the iPhone, Jailbreak it!! Ditto the iPad. The one things a hacker loves more than anything is a challenge, and the locked iPhone platform has been a hacker’s dream.

    The real reason geeks hate the iPad is because it’s a threat to their Kingdom of Technobabble. They are going to lose the god-like status because anyone will be able to use the iPad.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Apr 08, 2010 Posts: 1209
  • While this guy was wasting weeks of his life figuring out peeks and pokes on Apple ][, modern day hackers have already released a new app on the app store.

    countach had this to say on Apr 08, 2010 Posts: 11
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