iPad: Great New Device or Harbinger of Digital Confinement? (UPDATED)

Apple's iPad A few weeks ago Apple formally announced the long-rumored iPad and my first impression was that I HAVE to have one. I think the device is really a cool, neat toy that would be nice to use around the house.

Like any other Apple device it has generated a lot of buzz. Some early reviews have been quite positive and others were more measured.

The more I thought about it as a device though, the more I began to think of it as going down a path I am not sure I want to go down.

One of the things many of us take for granted with our computers is the ability to install what software we want when we want. You buy a Windows machine, a Mac, or a Linux box and you can go on the Internet, download freeware/shareware, or buy commercial apps, install them, etc.

Contrast that to a device such as an iPhone (and many other phones for that matter) that require applications to be digitally signed before they can install and run on the device.

In our phones this has been par for the course under the guise of it being in our best interests so that when we need to count on the phone it works (though it is likely in the interest of carriers to keep certain apps from interfering with their lucrative business.)

But for our actual computers this has never been the model. We have always had the “freedom to tinker” with our PC’s.

While some folks are quick to point out that the iPad is basically a larger and enhanced iPhone, the cynical side of me thinks this is a gateway device to Apple (or other large companies) being able to change the locks on our digital front doors.

What if the next generation of Macs and Mac OS X used an app store model and required signed apps? What if Microsoft Windows adopts a similar model in order to “keep us safe” from all the malware?

Of course this is all what if’s at this point, but there has been a trend with corporations like Apple, Microsoft etc acting more and more like gatekeepers of content and information. Look at what happened with Amazon’s Kindle. It had it’s own beacon of irony when they remotely removed Orwell’s “1984” off of users’ Kindle readers.

Even Apple’s app store is not without it’s own controversy. Many developers have cited Apple for their glaring inconsistencies in the approval process and in some cases exercising some behavior that seems to be anti-competitive such as removing applications from the app store for mentioning competitor’s services or in some cases denying approval to an app such as Google Voice.

Sure one could say this is all tin-foil hat territory and that I am reading too much into it but am I really?

Guess only time will tell. Either way I have to admit I do like what I see in the device from a technology and user experience standpoint. My only hope is that Apple is more open with the platform and more forthcoming with the application approval process than they have been with the iPhone.

UPDATE – Somehow I missed this when digging around but it seems the Free Software Foundation has some similar concerns.

–Jon