Apple’s new iPad is going to be a laptop supplement for some early-adopters, a laptop replacement for others, and a laptop instead-of for still other users, including some surprising late-adopters.
In other words, it’s going to be the computer of choice for a number of us, perhaps millions of us, perhaps, if the iPhone is any guide, tens of millions of us.
But if it’s not an eBook reader, it’s also not a computer — at least, it’s not a computer that can take its place within the thirty year tradition of open computing that has marked the PC era.
Consider: Today, when you want to buy a piece of software, whether it’s for your desktop, your laptop, or your netbook, you first make sure there’s a version that runs on your computer’s operating system, and then you go out and buy it. That’s it. Not so with the iPad.
If you want to run, say, Adobe’s PhotoShop on the iPad, first Adobe has to make a version that runs on the iPad. Let’s suppose they do. Can you go to your local BestBuy, or go to Adobe’s Website or to an online distributor? Nope. You’ll go to the Apple iPhone/iPad store. And you’ll buy it there only if Apple has allowed it into the store in the first place.
That kind of imperious control of the software channel might — might — have made sense when it came to a device that’s trying to do something as difficult as run software programs while it’s also listening for incoming phone calls, and arguably users aren't too concerned about having to go to the iPhone store when it comes to free newsfeeds or a $0.99 weather app.
But real software on a real computer is another thing entirely. The Adobe example wasn’t chosen at random; iPhone users have yearned to run Adobe’s Flash technology — and Flash-based videos and applications — since what is now the world's best-selling phone was released.
Steve Jobs spent a lot of time yesterday demoing iWorks applications Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheets), and Keynote (presentation); is the company going to allow Microsoft Office to warm itself at the iPad hearth? Probably (although at $10 apiece for the iWorks apps, it seems like Jobs is, en passant, gunning for Microsoft’s Office cash-cow), but the very fact that we can ask the question is pretty disturbing.