The iPad, as many others have noted, is designed to work best with apps: Apple’s own and the third-party apps that are coming into the Apple-controlled market from which Apple profits with every sale of a paid app and will profit further from commercial activities that take place inside those apps. It’s much more in Apple’s interest to push the iPad as an app platform than as a Web platform, however well the device runs Flash-forbidden Safari (competing browser providers are not welcome in any case).
Apple wants to be not just the platform but also, effectively, the pipe — a permission-required conduit — for the information that gets to the device. This makes the iPad a fundamentally anti-Web platform no matter what Apple and its supporters claim. It makes the iPad an anti-Internet platform, as GigaOm’s Paul Sweeting told NPR the other day. Apple’s lockdown methods suit a large number of media consumers just fine. They want a walled garden. They want Apple to protect them. They want an ecosystem where someone else makes all the key decisions so they don’t have to worry.
The more thoughtful among this group figure they can go elsewhere if Apple abuses its power (not caring, apparently, that Apple already has amply demonstrated abusive ways). They are falling into the trap Jonathan Zittrain warned about so presciently in his book, The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop it — a future where our ability to be creative will exist more and more at the whim of companies and governments that prefer centralized control and want us to ask permission. Truly dynamic societies don’t work that way.
Traditional journalism executives (and not a few of their editors, writers et al in newsrooms) have found the walled garden’s fragrances too alluring to resist. They are making an understandable short-term decision, but in seeking what Cory Doctorow so aptly calls a “daddy figure” they’re casting their lot with a company that hasn’t begun to earn such fealty. (I use that last word deliberately; it comes from feudal times and refers to the enforced loyalty tenants and vassals were forced to swear to lords.)
Journalism principles will survive the iPad. Journalism will survive panicked efforts to restore a former “glory” that was based more on rapacious, unsustainable business models than on actual value to society. It will survive because the entrepreneurial spirit — if permitted by those in authority to flourish — always finds ways around control. In the long run, it’ll all work out. But in the short run, I’d be happier if journalists recognized and discussed more publicly the conflicts they face in supporting this controlling device — and doing business with the company that controls it.