Friday, May 28, 2010

iPad Therefore I Am

I’m sure the brand new ipad, which has gone on sale in Australia today, is a wonderful whizz bang gadget. The pictures and videos I have seen show a sleek high tech device which looks all very impressive, but I’m just not sure I want one, let alone need one. I mean, I am already surrounded by various computers and devices at work, with ample access to the internet. At home there’s two more computers plus a laptop, all on the internet, as well as an internet capable mobile phone in my pocket. Don’t forget the three different TV sets, one of them a reasonably new digital LCD screen, and the surround sound 5.1 sound system. Do I really need another device?

The thing about the ipad, and other similar so-called slate devices which will no doubt follow quickly onto the market, is that it is supposed to provide a platform to allow mobile access to content that’s too big or cumbersome for a mobile phone. Things like reading the online version of a newspaper or your favourite magazine. Sure, I can do that at home on my PC, but I can’t really take the PC with me on the bus. I suppose I could lug the laptop around, but that’s still pretty bulky and clumsy for carting about on public transport. So along comes the ipad, filling a need we didn’t even really know we had. Fair enough, but does that mean I’m now going to be stuck with carrying around my ipad, my ipod and my phone all at the same time? I’m going to need more pockets in my cargo pants.

Actually, although I haven’t tried yet, I get the impression the ipad is probably too big for my pockets anyway. Besides, I’m pretty sure it’s bad for my pockets in another way too. The whole point of the device, it’s reason to exist, is to allow those newspapers and magazines I mentioned to actually charge us all a fee to read their content. Now this is where the whole idea begins to get sticky. Fair enough, it costs Rupert Murdoch plenty to pay all his journalists, photographers, and so on, and it is reasonable for content creators and providers to try to find a business model that will pay them for their efforts. But for me as a consumer, I’m starting to get the idea that it all adds up to a headache.

First, I have to buy the device. Anything up to almost a thousand dollars just so that I can read a newspaper which I could buy on actual paper for a dollar or so. Then, I have to pay a service provider for a network connection, not just once but every month, over and over and over again. Then if I want to read Mr. Murdoch’s newspaper I have to pay him a subscription too. And if I like five newspapers and two magazines I will be paying seven subscriptions. By this time I have probably exceeded my network data allowance as well so I will also be billed for yet another fee. So, in order to enjoy this marvel of modern technology, I must pay, and pay, and pay, and pay again, all so that I can read things that I could get at my local library for free anyway.

The ipad is a bright shiny new toy and plenty of people will buy it for that reason alone, but I believe we still have a long way to go before we work out a viable business model for online publishing.

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