A critical breakdown of the iPad and iPad 2. All your philosophical questions answered. Enjoy.
I don’t own an iPad, and, due largely to financial reasons, I won’t be owning one any time soon. I have, however, had the opportunity to spend some time playing on one, extensively, with two of the devices currently in residence at my sister’s house. And I am the proud owner of an iPod touch, which never leaves my side and is, to all intent and purposes, a mini iPad of sorts.
Now, at this point, it is important to stop and think for moment here about what exactly the iPad is – not simply as a product, but as a franchise or even cultural phenomenon. When it was first talked of, all those updates ago, there was some debate as to a) what it was and b) what it was supposed to be for. We seem to have long since shelved these queries, having embraced the slick piece of gadgetry on its own terms. I had a quick look on the Apple website to try to satisfy these concerns, but it doesn’t actually say what an iPad is. Apart from all the specifications, the closest I could find was:
‘There’s more to it. And even less of it.’
Ok whatever. Now, on a technical level (and no, I don’t know what I’m talking about) the iPad is some sort of high-powered web browsing-cum-portable computer device, that you can do ‘stuff’ on. Beyond that (and this is where it gets interesting) the iPad is a powerful symbol of modernity, a sleek and tactile piece of human development that acts as a referent or our species’ advancement. It’s also an executive toy of the highest order. And obviously, because it’s so bloody expensive, it’s also an aspirational status symbol. These are my main conclusions. If you don’t agree, please contact Apple and let them know so they can put that info on their website.
Sounds ok so far? I’m not so sure. See, right about now, the iPad 2 is in full launch, and naturally, queues of people formed overnight in feverish expectation of the slicker, faster version of the already slick and fast iPad 1. What is going on? I mean, what is this thing? Whatever it is, we really, really want it, and it seems our relationship with it seems closer to celebrity worship than anything else. Very strange for a product that had dubious uses to begin with.
At face value the language of the iPad – and apple as a brand – is geared towards simplicity and ease. You only have to look at the marketing; a list of adjectives that tell you what the iPad can be – creative… musical… scientific… artistic… et cetera… et cetera…ie: anything you want it to be. We’re supposed to look at this thing and simply get it with absolutely no need for explanation. This appeals to some instinctive, innate ability to use the product, again reinforcing its identity as the latest step in human evolution. Instructions not necessary.
But. Behind this veneer of ease I bet you 20p that the language of the iPad is incomprehensibly complicated. It has to be. This is an advanced computing device. As end users we aren’t really sup[posed to understand or even enquire into the specifics of how these things work. We’re asked to just pick it up and prod away, making things happen on the screen as easily as making marks on paper or drawing shapes in sand. Behind the glossy exterior, I imagine that frightfully complex algorithms are taking place. Ironic no?
In this, there is a level of deceit that we shouldn’t ignore, because if we do, we turn into blind consumers – appreciating the product not so much for its inherent qualities but on face value alone. To be fair, this happens all the time, with everything from fine dining, to film, to music to computer games and any type of art, but at least in these cases we are invited to realise the skill and craft beyond the superficial. With the iPad, and its tendency to create brand worship, you have a situation where consumer is slave to product. We desire the iPad, but we don’t really get what it is. Hm…
Back to the marketing. People lounging, casually browsing, breezing through applications in naturally-lit, modern homes, wearing understatedly expensive casual clothing, a range of urban humans of all shades and both genders. Ah. The overall picture is one of the fully evolved human, at one with technology. Seems innocuous, but a statement is being made. This imagery is not reflective of life as it really is (not for most of us anyway), but more depicting life as it ‘should’ be – deeply aspirational as a result. In this sense the iPad is almost a statement of modernity. And the imagery Apple presents is do far removed from the reality facing most people on this planet that it makes the product (and suggested lifestyle) quite elitist.
All that needs to be said here is that any technological product comes with built-in obsolescence, and the iPad is no exception. In fact, Apple relies on this very fact for its sales projections, releasing new and improved versions of its product stable with bank balance quiveringly regularity. As you read, the iPad 2 sits on shelves, its existence rendering the iPad 1 a relic of modern antiquity, and you can bet that the iPad 3 is lurking in wait.
But, that said, all of this is irrelevant. Simply because once you subscribe to the iPad at all, you’re sort of committed to it for good. Humans are weird like that – we incorporate something new into our lives and can’t really go back to life before said thing existed. This is all well and good for usefull additions such as, I dunno, fire, electricity, indoor plumbing, refrigerators and so on, but what about trivial luxury items that don’t really add anything other than status or idle diversion to our existences? Like, I dunno, the iPad, or television? Suddenly, we’re locked into a process of desiring and obtaining a product that, at one stage, we agreed had no clear purpose. Interesting, no?
I’m not sure. On the one hand the iPad is simply an innocent leisure and lifestyle device, a bit of expensive fun that makes us all feel a bit more cool and luxurious and cutting edge, and lets us do stuff online in a slightly more exciting way than sitting in front of a qwerty keyboard. Fair enough. But on the other hand, I can’t help but cast a cynical eye on the whole thing and start asking some serious questions – of the iPad as a cultural phenomenon and of Apple as a creator of lifestyle.
Ok, so it’s trendy to Apple-bash, but there is something disconcerting about the way their products go beyond functionality into the realm of the poseur. I happily admit that many Apple products are indeed fantastic, combining functionality and style (macbooks and ipods especially), but the iPad? Expensive toy we just might be able to do without.
I very nearly left this section out, as I couldn’t quite figure out what the iPad is really about. Then it hit me: The Internet. Of course.
Without the internet the iPad is a pretty expensive paperweight. Its appeal, which I’ve debated over the last 1,237 words or so, is that it allows us to access the Wild Wild Web in a more advanced way than ever before. They say you can use the iPad to create things. I say: Really? I’ve used one and all I’ve done is go on twitter, run Google searches, watch videos of cats on YouTube and play games.
This in itself is no bad thing, as long as we understand it for what it is. I think we should embrace the iPad, and play with it to our hearts’ consent, but actually taking it to heart as anything more important could be opening a door to mindless brand worship – for an expensive object that could very realistically be worth very little.