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?