A long time ago in a galaxy far away, it was not at all certain that the IBM PC would prevail. Back in the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, there were several competitors all gunning for the emerging home computer market. There was Commodore, Atari, Timex-Sinclair, Radio Shack, Texas Instruments, Apple, and several others. Many of these machines had a “closed” architecture, which meant that their electrical designs were not available to third parties who might be interested in manufacturing add-ons. Texas Instruments took this mindset to the limit by closing both its hardware and software architectures on its TI-99/4A home computer. In other words, people who bought this machine could only purchase hardware add-ons and software from Texas Instruments. The problem was that Texas Instruments couldn’t innovate in their hardware and software products fast enough to meet the growing demand. They were trying to be all things to everyone, and in the end, after peaking at about 35% market share, Texas Instruments could only watch helplessly as their competitors passed them and left them in the dust.
The lesson? Without the innovation, quickness and flexibility of the open market, any high-tech product is vulnerable to suffocation.
Which brings me to Apple’s latest product, the iPad.
From what little I’ve read about this product, I already know that I would never purchase one. Why? It is completely closed in both its hardware and its software. For example, there is no USB or Firewire interface to attach third party products. There is no internal drive for DVDs or Blue Ray disks, nor is there a way to hook up an external drive. You can’t even hook it up to a printer! Multimedia options are equally limited. Though it is being promoted as a better way to view the web, it cannot run Adobe Flash applications, and therefore, a wide range of websites – including the very one you’re looking at – will not render properly, if at all.
You can, however, run any multimedia application from iTunes, Apple’s online multimedia store. Although I’ve used iTunes in the past and I have nothing against it, it is a proprietary solution run by Apple, and all profits go to Apple. Period.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but until I go senile, I do have a pretty good memory. I remember the old TI-99/4A as a fine machine. It was, I believe, the first 16-bit home computer on the market. It was technically superior to anything else on the market at that time. But it suffocated nevertheless, primarily due to its closed architecture. Thus, I predict the iPad will follow the same path down the same rat-hole. Like Texas Instruments and their TI-99/4A, Apple will have to discount the price of the iPad until it is no longer profitable. At that point, they will either have to radically change their design – not likely – or drop back and punt.
I hope I’m wrong, but I fear I’m right.
PS: I really, really, really hope that the automatic Google advertisement on this page does NOT put in an ad for the iPad. That would be sad, but – in a way – funny.