Just think of it, a future where everyone works the same way. Where everyone experiences art and literature in the same way. Where people draw and think and create in the same way. Where collaborations are easy because everyone has the same ideas and the same way of getting things done. Just imagine how much more productive that future will be. How much less conflict we’ll see. How much more sterile, boring and uncreative we will all become. Branded across this future is the Apple logo and in everyone of these soulless zombies hands is an Apple computing device. If this is the revolution the iPad is starting then I’ll have to quote the Beatles “You better free your mind instead”.
Now I realize the picture I’ve painted above is incredibly extreme. It’s not meant to be an accurate predictor of the future but more of a cautionary tale. First of all let me set one thing straight, I fully realize that Apple has over the years done much to foster creativity by giving people the tools to create. Up to this point they’ve given people a robust set of tools and set them loose. While Apple’s desktop and laptop hardware and software are more restrictive than most they still give you options on how you handle your work flow, where you place things and allow you the opportunity to add several sorts of input devices so you can work your own way. This last bit is very important.
Every creative person works differently. They often spend a lot of time finding he work flow, tools, and methods which will allow them to be the most creative and productive. The way we create and the tools we use is as important as what we create and how we come up with the ideas. In fact many people find inspiration in the way they create. Let’s use the example of a writer. There are a lot of theories on how it’s best to write a story, some people think software is the way to go, others insist on doing first drafts on paper. Some combine the two forms taking notes in one medium and doing the actual writing in the other. There really are any number of ways to write something and a vast number of tools to use to write them. This is true of pretty much all creative endeavors.
Apple is trying to usher in a new age in computing. They’re trying to create a world where the PC fades into the background and is replaced by dedicated devices like the iPad. Pioneering the future is what technology companies should be doing and they should be applauded for that. There’s a significant problem with Apple’s approach to the future. Over the centuries of technological advancement we’ve seen that individualism and thinking outside the box have been key elements in progress. Some of the most important discoveries have started as rebellious ideas which were considered dangerous. Things like the earth being round or orbiting around the sun have been rejected by traditional science until someone looked at things differently and took action in their own way. What does this have to do with Apple and the iPad? I’m glad you asked.
Cory Doctorow referred to the iPad saying that it should use “screws not glue”. I whole heartedly agree, although I look at it quite differently. Cory Doctorow was referring to the hardware, on that point I disagree, hacking the hardware isn’t going to progress us the same way it once did. In fact hardware is tertiary in much of the creative process today. While we still need engineers poking around and making things better, they’re not the corner stone of the industry they once were. Now the corner stone of the industry, especially iPhones and iPads, is software. Apple has been locking down its hardware more and more over the last decade, what people seem to not notice is how drastic the leap to locking down software was with the iPhone and iPod Touch. They went beyond just rigidly and dictatorial control of what software you can run on your device but they locked down how you do things on your device. All of the sudden people weren’t free to design interfaces, they were locked into Apples idea of what the best way to do things is. They had to beg for things as simple as counters on text messages.
So by now some of you see where I’m going with this, let me spell it out for you. Apple’s limitation on not just what software we can use on devices but how we can use that software will start to stifle creativity. As Apple tries to bring about this revolution they are trying their damndest to make sure future developments follow their track. If it’s good enough for Stevie J it’s good enough for everyone. News flash, not everyone is Steve Jobs and not everyone should be locked into doing things the way Steve Jobs does things. The points I made at the beginning of this article may be exaggerated but they’re still valid. By discouraging people from doing things their own way we limit their creativity and stop them from developing their own work flow, tools, and methods. Now at this point I’m talking about the way we interact with our applications. I know what some of you are thinking, you’re thinking I’ve missed the point, that what Apple has done with their software development is what’s really important. Hell there are tons of teenagers writing applications out there, being creative. You couldn’t be more wrong.
Let’s look at the applications in the app store for a minute. Go ahead, grab that iPhone or iPod touch I know you have, browse through a few apps, I’ll waitâ€¦ all done? Ok, now tell me how many of those apps you just saw were variations on the same thing, shopping apps, or Netflix apps, or blogging apps, or twitter apps, or drawing apps. Several of each right? Not a lot variety and not a lot of difference between applications either. Tell me how encouraging people to make the same apps using the same tools and same interfaces is helping people be creative? A 13 year old making yet another drawing program for the iPhone isn’t creative, just because you wrote software doesn’t mean you’re creative. While I’m at it, I’d like to point out that forcing people to do said development under OSX isn’t all that creativity encouraging either, although it’s not that great a sin it’s a symptom of the larger problem. So now you’re sitting thinking to yourself, “What about games, there are lots of creative games out there.” Again, you’re missing something.
Let’s do our little visit to the app store again. Check out some games. Any games. I’ve played plenty of those games. The first five or six made me go “Wow, they’ve really done some cool things with this tilt stuff haven’t they.” Then reality set in, a handful of people had created interesting and unique games, then people had copied them. Now I realize this is always the case. I also realize that I could easily be proven wrong on this particular point, so I’m in no way saying this is set in stone (see that’s me hedging my bets, but only on the gaming aspect). The bottom line is, Apple has locked down how people interface with these devices, you don’t have the freedom to dig at the hardware programmatically and really see what this stuff can do. The ability to really push the envelope and create unique and wonderful things is stifled by these lock downs. Alright, we’re almost done, just one more point I want to cover.
iPads and iPhones aren’t the only devices in the world which are locked down. Far from it. They’re not the only devices in the world which restrict what software can be installed on them or carefully monitor things. However, they do take it to levels above and beyond most companies. They lock people out of more than they give them access to. They’re the worst offender, but even then it’s not the end of the world. The problem is Stevie J has shown that once he’s got a strangle hold on something he only tightens it. For every inch he seems to give he’ll take a mile when you aren’t looking. I don’t have a problem with the hardware of the iPad, or the concept (although I think people have blown things way out of proportion). I have a problem with the way they do business and where things are heading. This is a philosophy they’re supposedly building a revolution on, not all revolutions are good. I hope I’m wrong, I’d love for this to be me spouting off about nothing. I don’t think I am and I think things are going to get worse.