Apple's iPad: The End Of The Internet As We Know It?

A customer waits in line outside an Apple store i i

Customers waited in line outside Apple stores across the country to purchase the new iPad. Apple is marketing it as a revolutionary device that lets you feel like you're "holding the Web right in the palm of your hand." Tom Pennington/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Tom Pennington/Getty Images
A customer waits in line outside an Apple store

Customers waited in line outside Apple stores across the country to purchase the new iPad. Apple is marketing it as a revolutionary device that lets you feel like you're "holding the Web right in the palm of your hand."

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The obsession of the tech-savvy this weekend was the release of Apple's iPad. The tablet computer, which looks like an oversized iPod Touch, is being hailed by many as a revolutionary device. But there are some critics who say it's a sign that the Internet revolution could be coming to an end.

On its Web site, Apple boasts that the iPad makes you "feel like you are actually holding the Web right in the palm of your hand."

Paul Sweeting, an analyst with GigaOM, sees it differently. "With the iPad," he says, "you have the anti-Internet in your hands."

'Pushing Content To You On Their Terms'

Although Apple is marketing the iPad as a replacement for a netbook or a laptop, Sweeting says Apple's control over the iPad makes it very different, because on most computers, you can choose any software or application you like. "This is not an open platform where you can create a lot of content, or other people can create a lot of applications and content that you can then access and use and incorporate into what you're doing," he says.

Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Harvard, says Apple even rejected an application that took a position that was critical of the former Bush administration. The app was called Freedom Time, and Zittrain says "it actually simply counted down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until President Bush would be out of office, regardless of who his successor would be."

Zittrain and Sweeting worry that if the iPad becomes popular, both entertainment and computing companies will imitate its closed system.

Sweeting says he thinks many of the major media companies would love to see computers discourage people from searching the open Internet for content.

"I think the media companies will leap at this," he says. "It offers them the opportunity to essentially re-create the old business model, wherein they are pushing content to you on their terms rather than you going out and finding content, or a search engine discovering content for you."

The iPad does have an Internet browser, but it won't be possible to download unauthorized software or to view sites that use flash — the technology that animates most visual content on the Internet.

'A Gated Community'

But people waiting in line over the weekend to buy an iPad didn't seem bothered by Apple's restrictions. In fact, many prefer it.

Apple fan Damen Brown says open systems worry him because "there's more of a risk of there being less quality control and a lot of garbage apps."

The iPhone has more than 100,000 apps available, and there are already more than 1,000 just for the iPad.

Jennifer Childers, who was also in line over the weekend to buy an iPad, says she doesn't notice the restrictions, and she doesn't mind them. "It's not being controlled so much, because every idea's gotten through except for things that are like pornography or some other things that I wouldn't be looking at anyway."

There is one big competitor that is likely to try to create a device that will offer up major competition to Apple's iPad: Google. The search giant profits from an open environment. But its Nexus One Android phone hasn't been as appealing to consumers as Apple's iPhone.

Analyst Sweeting says Apple's limitations make its products feel like living in a safe neighborhood. "Apple is offering you a gated community where there's a guard at the gate, and there's probably maid service, too."

As more consumers have fears about security on the Internet, viruses and malware, they may be happy to opt for Apple's gated community.

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