What's the single most worrisome thing about the newly announced Apple iPad? It's not the lack of a physical keyboard, or that third-party applications can't multitask, or even the fact that people are still arguing that it's unclear whether there's a market for the thing. It's Apple's monopoly on distribution of applications. Absent jailbreaking -- and I'm curious to see if Apple has done anything to lock down the iPad even more than the iPhone -- this is a device that will run the software that Apple thinks it should run.
For lots of people, that's a dealbreaker on both philosophical and practical grounds. Last August, during the controversy over Apple's failure to approve Google's Google Voice app, I blogged about my unhappiness with the situation but also said I thought Apple would decide it was in its best interest to do the right thing with app approval in the long run.
Months later, there haven't been any further major App Store approval fiascos (at least not ones that we know about). But Apple never did approve Google Voice, and Google gave up and developed a Web-based version. It's quite good, but not as good as the native one would have been.
As an iPhone owner, the whole Google Voice saga is still stuck in my craw -- especially since Apple's official stance appears to be that it's still "pondering" whether to approve the app.
Emotionally and rationally, I want the iPhone/iPad platform to be open. I still believe it'll happen. But here's the thing: At the moment, Apple's closed platform has a vastly richer and more interesting selection of applications than any mobile platform that is more open. An optimist would take that fact as evidence that Apple's strategy actually benefits consumers; a pessimist would conclude that it gives Apple little incentive to loosen up.
The next big milestone for the iPhone/iPad platform will come when Apple starts to disclose details about iPhone OS 4.0. Judging from last year's iPhone 3.0 timetable, 4.0's unveiling may be only weeks away. If Apple announces that it's formally allowing applications to bypass the App Store and its approval process, I'll be stunned. But if it has no news whatsoever about relaxing the current constraints on developers, I'll be very disappointed.
This story, "iPad: Who Wants it, Anyway?" was originally published by Technologizer.