The Apple iPad: Sit Back, Relax, and Consume

Categories: Tech, internets
Before you write your first novel, you have to write a lot of garbage. This seems to be what's happening with the new generation of gadget makers at Apple. Their new iPad tablet computer is the result of Apple learning from their own mistakes. By which I specifically mean Apple's MacBook Air. Remember the laptop so thin it slid out of a manila envelope in TV ads?

You wanted one, yes, but did you buy one? No.

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While the iPad is an improvement on the Air, it has its own issues that need to be reassessed if Apple wants it to be as revolutionary as the Mac in 1984.
 
Here's the problem: the Internet today is about participation: Tweeting, commenting, chatting, uploading pictures and videos. The iPad, as demoed by Steve Jobs, is a device focused on Internet consumption only. There's no way to take pictures or hold a video chat with it. The touchscreen keyboard is meant for idle tapping, not overcaffeinated typing. There's not even a mini USB! Sure Steve Jobs invites us to relax, read the New York Times, and look at photos, but the iPad paralyzes its user from engaging with the Net as a content creator.

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Illustration based on a photo of photographer Quang-Tuan Luong by Buddy Squires.
Not to get all Marshall McLuhan on your ass this late on a Friday, but the iPhone is "colder" (i.e. more participatory) than the iPad. Now it'd be great if cutting off our mobile engagement with the web was part of some Jobsian master plan to ultimately improve our lives but most likely it's because Apple hopes to score lucrative iTunes-like deals with media companies. Thus the iPad is less like an iPhone, less like a laptop, and more like a big iPod for pictures, video, apps, newspapers and books.
 
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Apple let me into the iPad petting zoo this past Wednesday. Yes, I loved the thing. I squealed. But once the marvel of flipping pages and making photo-set origami with my fingertips wore off, I found myself wondering if this so-called brand new gadget category is really revolutionary. Instead of kicking Twitter and Tumblr into the next higher gear of human-to-human interaction over the Net, the iPad's lean-back-and-consume focus makes it feel more like a 21st Century boob tube.

Follow us on Twitter at @alexiat and @sfweekly.


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