Technologizer

I’m Sorry, All Computers Are Fundamentally Compromised Content-Creation Devices

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Circa 1970, a man uses a fundamentally compromised content-creation device

Richard Gaywood is a blogger at TUAW, one of my favorite Apple sites. In a new post, he pokes at a controversy which I thought had pretty much died down: Is the iPad good for content creation as well as content consumption?

By the end of Gaywood’s piece, he makes the point that it isn’t a question with a binary answer. It all depends. Of course. He also compliments a few iPad content-creation apps, including GarageBand, iPhoto and iThoughtsHD.

But along the way, he devotes most of his wordage to enumerating the iPad’s limitations and frustrations: The on-screen keyboard doesn’t make for comfy typing, Bluetooth keyboards are too dinky, the touch interface isn’t precise enough, the lack of a conventional file system is a crippling, the iPad stinks at printing…you get the idea.

Immediately after acknowledging that people have written novels on the iPad, Gaywood notes that others have written them by blinking their eyes. I don’t think I’m dumbing down his stance to say that the man has significant reservations about the iPad as a content-creation tool, and believes that some of the praise it’s received as one is overblown.

Actually, some of that praise came from…me! In an article I wrote last December. To quote Gaywood quoting me:

Harry McCracken, who wrote one of the canonical “my iPad is my primary computer” posts, said:

And it was one specific thing about the iPad that made it so useful on the trip: I could use it for ten hours at a pop without worrying about plugging it in. … I can’t overemphasize how important this is to my particular workdays. Even when I’m not traveling, I spend a lot of time bopping around San Francisco and the Bay Area, attending conferences, visiting tech companies, working out of hotel lobbies, and generally having spotty access to power outlets.

So, hands up: who here spends their working life, or their personal life for that matter, “bopping around San Francisco”, jumping from conference to tech company to hotel?

There’s a quorum of superstar bloggers and CEOs who will tell you the iPad is perfect because it perfectly suits what they do — they prize portability, battery life, and ubiquitous cellular Internet over all other concerns. These people are not normal, and no matter how big a pulpit they preach from — no matter how amplified their voice is in the debate — their argument doesn’t extend to most people. Sure, more battery life is always welcome; but for most people it’s just one factor amongst many, not the overriding concern. And who knows, maybe one day Apple will finally give us a MacBook with 4G networking.

I’m not offended by Gaywood’s contention that I’m not normal. In fact, in my own article, I said that “I know I’m still unusual,” and explained that the iPad worked so well for me only because of my specific situation. I also noted that even my fellow bloggers were skeptical of my setup.

(Incidentally, I don’t bop quite as intensively as I did seven months ago, when I wrote the story Gaywood quotes. These days, I have a desk at TIME, with a nice MacBook Pro sitting on it. But I often ignore the Mac and use my iPad for blogging and image processing even when I’m in the office. And the iPad is also my primary computer when I’m home, surrounded by interesting computers.)

One thing I should make clear: When it comes to the whole iPad-for-content-creation question, I’m not a preacher at a pulpit, or a missionary or Johnny Appleseed. As always, I think that people should use the tool that makes them most happy and productive, whether it’s an iPad, a MacBook Air, a Windows tower, a Commodore 64 or a spiral notebook and an Erasermate.

So when Gaywood says that the Logitech Ultra-Thin Keyboard is too small for his fingers, and declares that a mouse or trackpad beats a keyboard like the Ultra-Thin for selecting large blocks of text, I’m not going to try to convince him that he’s sadly mistaken. Even though I can type as quickly on the Ultra-Thin as on any computer keyboard, and have written hundreds of thousands of words on the iPad without ever thinking to myself “What this thing needs is a mouse.” We’re different people, with different work styles and preferences.

Again, Gaywood himself is saying that different people need different devices. He’s not an absolutist. But neither is he neutral. His story is mostly about the downsides of the iPad as a content-creation machine. It reads like a rejoinder to a non-existent flurry of opinion pieces which argue that the iPad is without limitations, demonstrably superior to conventional computers in all instances.

I cheerfully admit that the iPad is rife with flaws when it comes to content creation. It’s just that I think traditional computers are, too: They’re just ones which we’ve lived with so long that we’ve learned to sublimate them.

PCs are more complicated and less reliable than they should be. They require too much maintenance, like a car that requires you to top off the oil, check the tire pressure and fill the gas tank on every trip. Even though they use chips that are far more powerful than the ones in the iPad, they’re often much slower. They rarely have built-in wireless broadband.

Every moment I spend dealing with this stuff is a moment I’m not spending creating content. I find that deeply frustrating. So for much of what I do, a Mac or a Windows PC is at least as fundamentally compromised a content-creation machine as my iPad, which reduces the percentage of futzing-around-with-a-computing-device overhead to nearly zero.

But those are just my priorities. Yours are likely different. And they’re the only ones that matter to you.

Which is why I think that even Gaywood’s piece, with its discussion of shades of grey and nuance, is searching for objective answers to a question that’s gloriously subjective. I had fun reading it anyhow.

And I have one final question of my own: Just how much content creation has to be happening on iPads before it’s clear to every rational person that the debate over content creation on iPads is silly?

73 comments
Redwan Huq
Redwan Huq

One word: Chromebooks. Better than a PC and a tablet at content consumption and creation.

Moeskido
Moeskido

"My personal use-case is the only one that matters!"

Jesse Jojo Johnson
Jesse Jojo Johnson

Either the author also accepts that pens amp; papers are fundamentally flawed content-creation devices, that all content creation-devices are fundamentally flawed, or this article is flawed. Fundamentally.

rsalermo
rsalermo

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. I'm on the road 75% of the time and I carry an iPad. Why? Well, for the same reasons you mentioned above. I create presentations, review budgets, prepare proposals, and check my emails. That's enough for me. Also, TSA doesn't require me to remove it from my bag...one less thing I need worry about during the security checks in the airport. 

Emersynn Nystitz
Emersynn Nystitz

If they could take the time to interview Harry McCracken for this story,

why didn't they stop and talk to his brother Phil?

Tecsi Aron
Tecsi Aron

"Even though they use chips that are far more powerful than the ones in the iPad, they’re often much slower. "

That's because they do more stuff in the background, but I do concede the point, iPad's provide a much more fluid experience. 

Yet for a lot of use the secret lies with what you mentioned: they use chips that are far more powerful. That power gives us a lot of possibilities that the iPad dose not.

JohnDoey
JohnDoey

He is just bashing iPad and iPad users by extension. It is like when people say President Obama was not born in America. The people who say iPad cannot be used to create content are saying it is not a real PC because it is not a PC by their traditional definition. Same as with President Obama's lesser critics. They fear change. The rest of us are reveling in it. Ten years ago, my songwriting setup barely fit in a car. Now, it is an Apogee MiC, iPhone with GarageBand, Beats Studio headphones, and iPad running Writer. It fits in a book bag. I carry it everywhere. I write songs anywhere I want, when inspiration strikes. Clearly, iPad can be used to make content. It can morph into a typewriter or a music studio or any other creative tool. And iPad critics know this. So it is not a rational criticism, it is just agreed upon code language for expressing unhappiness with the state of change.

DisqussionDisqusser
DisqussionDisqusser

For any professional who uses Microsoft Word (and I would venture to say Microsoft Excel as well), the iPad is simply not a content creation device when the content in question is a document that requires the features of Microsoft Word.  Pages on the iPad, and numerous Office clones, do not have the formatting, track-changes, footnoting and table-of-contents creating features necessary to get work done.  

One could argue whether this is a minority or not, but for starters, lawyers, accountants, bankers and retail buyers may all spend time wanting to use their iPads but end up using their MacBook/PC in order to use full-featured Word.

The other issue is research.  As you're limited to one program view at a time (yes, this can create a "zen-like" blogging experience, but not great when writing a report that requires you to do research or cite sources if they are not available next to you in print), it is also difficult to write reports and flip back and forth between your document and your sources (also a bit difficult on an 11 inch MBA, but workable on a 13 inch screen or larger).

The debate over the iPad as a content creation v. consumption device has largely taken place on the blogosphere, and therefore has largely been contributed to by journalists writing in their capacity as a blogger, bloggers, programmers or individuals using the iPad for creative writing (i.e., not research intensive) or visual arts.  The iPad is much better suited to those purposes (in keeping with Apple's history) and so no surprise that those individuals would deem the iPad a content creation device.  However, as I believe these professions make up a disproportionate percentage of the individuals contributing to this debate, I think it discounts the very real limitations the iPad (and the software available on it) has.

Steven Noyes
Steven Noyes

For any professional that has used super-computers to do complex pattern matching, any desktop PC simply can't get the job done. They are just toys and are unable to accomplish what much more powerful systems can do.

See how that works?

DisqussionDisqusser
DisqussionDisqusser

Not really. (1) no one is debating on blogs whether pcs/macbooks are replacements for the tasks currently conducted by super-computers (though maybe they should given that google/stanford just mimicked the brain using an array of xbox720s). (2) the debate over the iPad as a content creation v consumption device is a bit of ships passing in the night in that the actual debate seems to be what content is it currently sufficiently good at creating to replace pcs/macbooks (e.g., many of the examples from this post and comments), what content is it currently not sufficiently good at creating to replace pcs/mabooks (i've suggested word and excel documents in the workplace), and what changes to the design and/or software can push more content into the first category.

Ian Betteridge
Ian Betteridge

What you say about Word compatibility is true enough, but you're conflating features with creativity. I've worked with Word for decades (gulp!) and most of the features you use simply aren't used by most users. They're used by *some* users – but few of the features in Word are used by *most* users.

(As an aside, back in the dim and distant past I asked one of Microsoft's product managers why they didn't start simplifying Word by taking out features that people didn't use. The answer was that you'd never get an average bunch of users to agree on what features should die - everyone had some single obscure feature that they "needed". The problem was there was no agreement on what those features were.)

There are apps, by the way, which answer your need for research/writing tools - Writing Kit, for example, builds in a browser, note taking, and much more alongside a really good Markdown-based editor. It also supports Terminology, which is a really good thesaurus. 

DisqussionDisqusser
DisqussionDisqusser

Agreed as to the point that MS Office has to appeal to a very broad range of customers and tasks (whether personal or work-related, and across many industries). I don't mean that all customers, or even most, will need to footnote or use track-changes, but for those that use word in the workplace, which is a significant number of people, the lack of these features make the iPad not yet a replacement for their work computer. Same for excel. The research issue I think is tougher b/c part of the problem there is the design and not just software. True, there are clever software solutions like Writing Kit, but they're not as effective as a computer with two monitors. Maybe the solution is a way to link two iPads together, or several, so that you can type your document on one while reviewing content on the others, and in that way create a paper free workflow that is also portable. The Microsoft Courier at least as an idea seems to have taken a stab at a solution to this. I am excited to see what comes next.

MobileGeorge
MobileGeorge

Until a developer can create iPad apps on an iPad, it is not a complete content creation device. Sorry.

interpol_p
interpol_p

Cargo-Bot (cargo-bot.com) is an iPad game created entirely on iPad. 

So is the iPad a content creation device now?

gjgustav
gjgustav

What an arbitrary definition.

MobileGeorge
MobileGeorge

The key word there is "complete". If apps are replacing the web for content delivery on mobile devices, then if I cannot create apps on an iPad, then it is not capable of producing all the content that needs to be produced then, is it.

gjgustav
gjgustav

Whether people want to program on their iPad is not at issue here. Sure, I'd like to be able to do more with my iPad too, but that's not the point.

Hey, I can't look at paintings on a paintbrush, does that mean the paintbrush is a lousy painting creation tool?

Stop equating content creation with "completing content from start to finish." It's irrelevant. Only you have placed that restriction on the definition of "creation."

MobileGeorge
MobileGeorge

Disagree. It's not an arbitrary definition at all, but is defined within the context of the iPad itself. If the iPad is a touted as a content consumption device, and you cannot create the majority of the content that gets consumed by the device (i.e., apps) with the device itself, then it is not a content creation device within its own context. And, I believe there are a lot of people who desire to program their own iPad on some level. But Apple, being Apple and wanting to control what kind of software (and ultimately content) gets created for the iPad, does not allow it. Plenty of people care.

MobileGeorge
MobileGeorge

Disagree. It's not an arbitrary definition, but is derived within the context of the iPad itself. If the iPad is touted as a content consumption device and you cannot create the majority of the content that is to be consumed through the device (i.e., apps) with the device, then it is not a content creation device within its own context. And as far as people caring, I think there are a lot of people who would like to be able to program their own iPads on some level. But Apple being Apple, and wanting to control what kind of software (and ultimately content) get developed for the iPad, does not allow it.

gjgustav
gjgustav

No, it's still an arbitrary definition put forth by you. "Complete" is ambiguous in this context. You chose to define it as "able to create apps for itself." I could easily choose it to mean "capable of creating all content for all mediums" and then declare with certainty that no device is a "complete content creation device."

The issue debated in the article here was never that the iPad is not a "complete content creation device" according to your arbitrary definition, but that it was not suitable to be used by professionals to create content at all.

If you want to write an article declaring the iPad is not complete because it can't compile a runnable application for itself then go for it. But I think, other that iPad detractors, nobody will really care.

Ian Betteridge
Ian Betteridge

One word: Codea

But more meaningfully: back in the early days of the Mac, you needed to use a Lisa to develop Mac programs - the Mac itself didn't have the RAM for the job. Does that mean that the first Mac, too, "wasn't a complete content creation device"?

And finally: no one's claiming that iPad is a "complete" content creation device. No computer actually is.

Fraser Mackenzie
Fraser Mackenzie

My lovely MacBookPro collects dust now ... if I bought the camera adapter for my iPad it would be just a paper wieght