I have had more dissatisfying debates about the closed nature of the iPad recently. It has fueled an uncomfortable metaphor in my mind about the polarization this discussion is inspiring. More on that below.
The sticking point usually is that fans strongly equate the controlled, closed nature of the device as necessary for its ease of use and polished experience. I reject this as a false dichotomy, the fact that open systems are less polished is more historical accident or the result of more selfish priorities amongst open source developers. It is accidental, not essential. It is, however, overwhelming and unfortunate coincidence that the distribution of real world examples seems to support the Apple fan’s contention.
Just today I got into a brief discussion with Glyn Moody on Twitter dissecting a similar contention, that the iPad’s closed nature yields better security. Glyn is trying to hold a more open minded position for which I admire him but for myself it is a position on which I am gradually giving up. In my first hand discussions of the iPad with its fans I keep failing to get them past the closed = usable point. Thankfully, Glyn proved more receptive to my criticisms of the closed = secure argument. On the balance, I am not trying to get fans to abandon the device but to be more open to critical thought about it.
To be fair, he is generally skeptical and sent me a link to his H-Online article dissecting some concerns I had not considered. My own frustration in arguing the risks has led me to thinking of fans as the Eloi from Wells’ “Time Machine”–childlike people of wonder and sunlight who easily lose interest in any thought too involved or troubling. I will admit this is uncharitable but it is equally damning to my own position as by implication that makes me a Morlock–dark dwelling beasts who retain artifice but are dependent on the Eloi in the most grisly way imaginable. I haven’t been able to relate this to any practical point, though. Sharing it, as captivated as I am by the imagery, seemed counter productive.
In a less figuratively disturbing way, Glyn has furnished me with some risks that make my image a bit more relatable, as inflammatory as it may be otherwise. In that article, he highlights the very real risk of appliances like the iPad make the technology policy debates that he and I both follow very closely a lot more difficult. The hermetically sealed experience of the iPad risks insulating its users away from any sense of the stakes involved with very real risks, like the recently passed Digital Economy Bill.
Please read his thoughts. I promise that even though he presents an excellent point for the skeptic side, he concedes that those of us who make open systems haven’t done the best job providing more compelling rebuttals to the closed = usable contention. If you are on twitter, you can read my last message in my exchange with Glyn and follow it backwards (I wish he had replied on Identi.ca since it has that beautiful in context feature Twitter desperately lacks–hm, more usable open source software.) We pick apart the related false dichotomy that may prove to present similar risks if the market realities make the iPhone OS an attract enough target for attackers.