Apple released its tablet computer this week after years of speculation. The tech media went wild with some loving the iPad and others leaving disappointed. OTM producer Mark Phillips chimes in on why everyone is so anxious to see the device in action.
BOB GARFIELD: This Wednesday, while the political press waited eagerly for the President’s State of the Union Address, the technology press waited for another leader to make a very [LAUGHS] different kind of appearance.
STEVE JOBS: Thank you!
BOB GARFIELD: This address was Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, unveiling Apple’s new iPad tablet computer. Five, [LAUGHING] yes, five OTM producers were glued to their computer screens to watch live blogging of the event - kind of sad. While most wished to remain anonymous, one OTM producer, Mark Phillips, agreed to share his thoughts on why everyone cares so much.
MARK PHILLIPS: Cable news cut away from what they were doing to show pictures of Steve Jobs holding up the device.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Breaking news now coming out of San Francisco, and, yes, they have now unveiled - Apple has unveiled its new tablet, and you want the name? iPad.
MARK PHILLIPS: Twitter was abuzz with jokes about the unfortunate name, and bloggers griped about missing features. And then came the reports from tech journalists at the Apple event who got to play with the device. This whole time I'm sure many of you were thinking - who cares? It’s true. The iPad could prove to be a total dud. But we're not crazy for caring about it anyway. About a decade ago, Steve Jobs hosted a similar presentation. He was even wearing the same trademark black shirt and jeans.
STEVE JOBS: We are introducing a product today, and that product is called iPod.
MARK PHILLIPS: The audience did not gasp, and sales were lukewarm for a few years. But today, there’s no way to argue that the iPod was anything less than revolutionary. Many of you are listening to one right now. And even if you've never touched an iPod in your life, it’s changed the way music is sold, shared and listened to, for better or worse. Of course, there was no way to know that all the way back then because the first iPod was just – okay.
FARHAD MANJOO: We're not going to be using this iPad next year.
MARK PHILLIPS: Farhad Manjoo writes about technology for Slate Magazine, and he says that even if this iPad is just okay the next one could be sweet.
FARHAD MANJOO: There'll be a better version that has more capabilities, and there'll probably also be competing versions of it from other companies. I hope that this is sort of a new category of computers that lots of people try to build.
MARK PHILLIPS: This new category would fulfill the prophecies of technologists. For years they've been forecasting the arrival of the so-called “fifth screen.” First, there was the film screen. [MUNCHKINS SINGING FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD] Then the TV screen.
[ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW THEME SONG] Third came the personal computer screen.
[SOUND OF MODEM] And fourth, the cell phone screen.
[SOUND OF DIALING TONES]
[SOUNDS UP AND UNDER] The fifth screen, the believers say, will be the final one that works with all the others to create technical enlightenment.
[COLLAGE OF SOUNDS/SINGLE BELL SOUND] It could be your window to the Internet but also a panel to adjust your home’s energy consumption. Doctors could use it to view patient charts and architects could use it to tweak 3-D models on site. Devices like them have existed in movies and TV shows for decades. And so, this is the moment where we find out whether sci-fi becomes reality or whether it’s just another flying car. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo got to play with Apple’s iPad on Wednesday and he says it’s the real deal.
FARHAD MANJOO: Until you use it, it, it seems a little odd. But, once you use it, it seems like a very – you wonder why they didn't invent it before. It just feels very [LAUGHS] natural.
MARK PHILLIPS: But the fifth screen’s allure is that it will be the last screen; you wouldn't need another one for this or that, because the fifth screen would interact seamlessly with everything. But Apple’s recent history suggests the iPad will only work with the things that Apple allows. And it wasn't always that way. Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, told us last year that one of Apple’s first products, the Apple II desktop computer, succeeded precisely because anyone could write whatever program they wanted for it.
JONATHAN ZITTRAIN: Back in 1979, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, two guys unknown to Apple, invented VisiCalc, the first digital spreadsheet ever. And businesses around the world were ecstatic, and Apple IIs were flying off the shelves, and Apple had no idea why. [LAUGHS] They had to do market research to figure out what had made their box so popular, because of what these outsiders had done. If you are the Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin of today, you have to get yourself certified as iPhone programmers by Apple and, once certified, you submit your code to Apple, where they will approve it or not.
MARK PHILLIPS: Apps on the iPad will work the same way, and Apple’s history of app rejection is troubling. Jonathan Zittrain:
JONATHAN ZITTRAIN: One fellow wrote a book and then bundled it inside a little application so you could actually run the application that would be his book that you could then read on your iPhone. His book included the F-word within it, and Apple refused to allow the application in the store. And after he relented and [LAUGHS] got rid of that word, Apple said, okay, the application can now run.
MARK PHILLIPS: Apple’s announcement this week also included the iBooks Store, where you can get digital books to read on your iPad. Apple, of course, will have the final say on what books are sold. And it won't just be books that get filtered through Apple’s gates. TV and movies will work best on the iPad if they're purchased through iTunes. Newspapers can make apps for the iPad, but they'll have to sell them through the app store and give Apple a cut. Adobe’s Flash software won't work on the iPad, so many websites just won't load. I have no doubt that the iPad is fast and intuitive to use, but that’s just half the battle. If this is going to be our final screen, it must seamlessly connect with everything – your car, your TV, your Apple computer at home and your Windows PC at work. For now, Apple seems uninterested in that kind of connectiveness, and so long as they are don't count on this being your last screen.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] For On the Media, I'm Mark Phillips. BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Mark Phillips and Nazanin Rafsanjani and P.J. Vogt, with more help from James Hawver and Alex Goldman, and edited this week by our senior producer, Katya Rogers. We had technical direction from Jennifer Munson and more engineering help from Zach Marsh. Thank you, Zach, for all your hard work over the last two years. We - will miss you. Radio’s loss is totally social work’s gain. John Keefe is our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can also post comments there or e-mail us at Onthemedia.wnyc.org. This is On the Media from WNYC. Brooke Gladstone will be back in a couple of weeks. That is official. I’m Bob Garfield.