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The iPhone/iPad Ecosystem

February 12th, 2010

The iPhone-style app environment is another aspect of the iPad which tends to be overlooked. In fact, many cite this as a complaint about the iPad, saying that it’s not a “real” computer, that Apple has “locked” you in or out, that it’s an oppressively controlled environment. Sure, it has its down points–a famous one is Apple’s sometimes arbitrary (not to mention self-serving) censorship and lagging delays for app approvals, but that is something that users are barely even aware of.

The truth is, the environment, for all its foibles, works. People have accepted it for the iPhone, but few have looked forward and really thought out what this will mean for the iPad, which is much closer to being a “real” computer.

Begin by thinking about the issues with installing apps in Windows, on a netbook or any other such platform. While many apps can be downloaded from the Internet, those tend to be shareware/freeware apps, and must be screened for malware of all sorts–not all of which can be caught by anti-virus software, which must be bought or acquired and always represents a drag on the system. Most vital software must be bought, usually at a significant price, either at a store or by mail order, and then installed. Almost all such apps have serial numbers that have to be entered, and many have “activation” procedures; in short, a legitimate purchaser is treated with suspicion by those who sell to them, as if they were guilty until proven innocent. Then there are software learning curves as well as frustrating documentation (or lack thereof), not to mention facing the interference often times thrown up at the user by the OS itself. Windows is also notorious for losing stability with repeated installs and uninstalls; I recall once installing software on an office PC to test it out, and having someone who worked there become furious at me for it–as a Mac user, I was completely blind to this person’s concerns.

Now move forward to the software paradigm for the iPad.

One-stop Shopping: for all the complaints about Apple’s control, it means that searching for and finding software is a heck of a lot easier. It’s all in one place, categorized, searchable, and with a good number of user reviews right there which give you a good idea of what you’ll think of it after you buy it. Demo software will likely be included this time.

Abundance of Software Titles: Ironically, this is the major reason people used to give for why they used Windows over the Mac–that Windows had all the titles, and the software they wanted just wasn’t available for the Mac. Well, now the tables will be turned: developers are going full-speed to develop for the iPad (even Microsoft hinted today that it was “looking at” porting Office to the iPad–c’mon, you know they’ve already started working on it). The App Store for the iPhone already has 140,000 titles available (OK, maybe only 40,000 which are actually what you’d call a “useful” app, but that’s still a huge number), and that number will explode when development for the iPad gets truly underway. “There’s an app for that” is more than just a catchphrase. If you ever used the “more software” argument for Windows, then you can’t not use it to argue for the iPad.

The iPhone ecosystem opened up software development like nothing before. I used to know one, maybe two people who developed software; now I know at least a dozen who do so for the iPhone, including people I never suspected of belonging to that club. And although my own progress has currently stalled on this, I fully intend to continue studying programming and joining that club myself–something I never expected to do before. Certainly I never expected to be able to sell anything I could make.

Cheap: prices on the App Store will be lower than what you would normally pay for equivalent software elsewhere, to a great degree because there will be less piracy, but also because of the legacy from the iPhone store, as well as from outright competition. Seriously, a commercial office suite (iWork) for thirty bucks? Expect to buy apps for maybe half or a third of the price you’d pay elsewhere. (Question: will Apple’s iTunes Store policy of authorizing up to five machines for iPad apps? If so, that solves the “family pack” issue.)

Secure: Anti-virus? What’s that? It’s already redundant on the Mac platform, it will be meaningless for the iPad. A huge advantage of a controlled ecosystem is that it’s controlled.

Fast and Dead Simple: You want an app, you find it in minutes and install it in seconds. No serial numbers, no activation, no install wizard. At most, you type in your iTunes Store password, and bam, it’s loading. Uninstall is even easier, won’t corrupt your system, and the app will always be there waiting in your account if you want to re-install it (no more “where did I put that install CD?”). Using the software will also be simpler: the iPad environment is geared towards intuitive, easy-to-use apps. Think about your iPhone: how often do you have to resort to the instruction manual? Same principle. The multitouch UI will make computing easier just as the GUI did.

The iPad will be a cheap, mobile computing device with a big enough screen to run most of the software you’ll need, and will have all the advantages of a multitouch UI. The software for it will be cheap, abundant, easy to find, a snap to install, and easy to learn, free from worry about malware. Tell me that this description is (a) inaccurate, or (b) not a huge plus for the device.

And if you prefer having more control over your computer, or secretly wish to pirate your software rather than buy it, then just wait a few weeks–maybe even just a few days–after the iPad is released, and get the jailbreak software. I guarantee you, it’ll be there. Of course, you’ll lose many of the advantages listed above, but if that’s how you swing, then so be it.

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  1. Troy
    February 13th, 2010 at 06:50 | #1

    and get the jailbreak software. I guarantee you, it’ll be there

    Maybe not soon. Apple’s getting better at this.

    Think about your iPhone: how often do you have to resort to the instruction manual? Same principle. The multitouch UI will make computing easier just as the GUI did.

    I wasn’t too enthralled by the iWorks multitouch demo, the UI there seemed real fussy and cryptic. The problem with gestures is that you can’t see them! (I also hate the “shake” UI functionality — I was out walking with my iPod and it would skip to the next song whenever I put it in my pocket — it thought I was shaking it!)

    You understand the device’s strengths and advantages.

    People with $300 netbooks or $600 ultralights are scoffing at this, “no flash!, can’t multitask!” but fail to understand what Apple has done here.

    They’ve taken appliance computing to the next level. They are years ahead of Microsoft and months ahead of Google.

  2. Troy
    February 14th, 2010 at 07:47 | #2

    I’ve thought of an analogy that kinda works and you might appreciate. . .

    The laptops of the 80s and 90s were crude motorcycle of the early 20th century.

    The laptops of the late 90s got better and became the motorcycles of the late 20th century, usable and fun.

    The laptops of the 2000s became near desktop-replacements — heavy, hot behemoths not unlike the racing replica sport bikes popular today.

    Netbooks are like 250cc race replicas motorcycles. They’re trying to imitate their larger cousins but lack the oomph. But they’re cheap, much lighter and get better mileage.

    So the Palm Pilot was like the original 80cc motor scooters, the iPhone was like modern 125cc motor scooters. Great devices, but kinda limited.

    The iPad is like those 250cc hybrid freeway motor-scooters I guess. The ease of use of a scooter but can go anywhere, and is not trying to be a racing bike but just the most practical collection of technologies for the price and weight.

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