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The iPad & Game Consoles

A quick thought or two on the iPad hubbub and the “casual computing vs. tinkering” conversation that’s been happening as of late. But first:

ThinkPad, anyone?

I concede “iPad” is a terrible name simply because of the similarity to Apple’s existing “iPod,” but I really don’t understand the fascination with “pad” jokes. A “-Pad” name has been pretty successful — without the toilet humor — for about 18 years now.

There are examples of names like this in recent history — take the Nintendo Wii, for example. Like the Wii, I’m pretty sure we’ll move on from picking on nomenclature once we start using the damn thing.

Which sort of leads into my main point

One of the general arguments against the iPad being successful is that it’s more expensive than a netbook, it’s not as full featured, and it doesn’t even multitask, etc.…

Who cares? Between my brother and I, we own several high-end computers that, by default, are closed systems. They don’t multitask. You can’t easily make your own content for them. You can’t really mess around with a lot of the performance-oriented settings.

They are: a Playstation 3, an Xbox 360, a Wii, and a few other systems.

For the most part, direct comparisons between these devices and “general computers” tend to be “apples to oranges” comparisons. (The classic “console vs. PC gaming” argument is probably the best example.)

They’re purpose-built machines, they’re in a different league and that’s that.

There are lots folks who own Macs or older PCs that want a way to play the latest games — and many of them own game consoles because that provides the easiest out-of-the-box experience as opposed to buying and maintaining a PC gaming rig. And it’s much easier than trying to play Crysis on a PC whose hardware is dated four or five years or one at a sub-$500 price tag.

My point is, there is a place for the iPad and people will buy it even if it is (several orders of magnitude) less versatile and far more expensive than a netbook. It doesn’t have to be a netbook to succeed. As long as the iPad gives the user enough of what they want (presumably: Web content, books, and apps) and wraps that up in an enjoyable experience, then Apple has a legitimate competitor against the netbook market.

Another point of reference: Some folks will go out and buy an Xbox 360 because of the platform-exclusive titles, like Halo. I could try to talk about how technologically superior the PlayStation 3 is to the Xbox 360, but I can’t specifically dissuade someone who loves Halo. Some folks will go the iPhone/iPad route specifically for the exclusive apps and features, too.

On hackers and tinkerers

On the other hand, there is the “tinkering argument” — that the spread and adoption of these “closed systems” will bring an end to the days of tinkerers.

Video game consoles also provide great analogue to the iPad’s “closedness” in this regard: they come “closed,” of course. But my Xbox 360 is modified to play burned games and doing the same to the Wii is, supposedly, a piece of cake. You don’t have to look far to find people willing to do the same with Apple’s closed systems.

(My brother and I do live on the far end of the tinkering range — in both PCs and game consoles — so my experiences are obviously a tiny bit skewed.)

Interestingly enough, I do notice that a great percentage of the PC gamers I know do tinker with the settings, update their drivers, upgrade their parts, etc., on a normal basis — or at the very least, know how to perform those tasks. And while I know of primarily-console folks who’ve modified or hacked their systems, they are a much rarer breed. This is exactly what the fear is: tinkering falling to the wayside because the closed-off systems inherently have fewer things to tinker with.[1]

While I have no reservations on the “closed” nature of the iPad specifically, I am one of the people that will be concerned if this truly is the “future of computing.”

At best, some console hacks are merely inconvenient[2], while at worst there are those that are outright illegal. I strongly believe that those who want to do more with their computing devices will inevitably find a way to do it. I just think it will play out better for everyone if we encourage and facilitate rather than criminalize curiosity and innovation.

[1] Alex Payne & Jim Stogdill both have excellent points on this, which inspired me to write a bit about it.
[2] Older PS3 models do allow you to install Linux on an unmodified console. And as far as I know, there are no hacks for the PS3 that allow you to play burned games.

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