Jeff Jarvis on the iPad

Let me just start by saying that I like Jeff Jarvis. He may look like a poindexter geography teacher (you just know he has elbow patches), but as new media “experts” go, he’s one of the better ones.

I also read Buzz Machine, Jeff’s blog, and enjoy him whenever he’s on TWiT. But liking Jeff doesn’t mean I won’t call him out when I think he’s talking the crap. Like he is in his latest post at Silicon Valley Insider.

It’s probably one of the more tortured pieces I’ve read on Apple’s new device. Jeff clearly hasn’t decided whether he’s a lover or a hater. Which is no bad thing necessarily, it’s just that his reasons for attacking the iPad seem desperate, and yeah I’m going to say this, a bit mean.

Firstly he has an issue with the iPad being a closed system.

The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again. That is why media companies and advertisers are embracing it so fervently, because they think it returns us all to their good old days when we just consumed, we didn’t create, when they controlled our media experience and business models and we came to them.

Well nobody is selling the iPad as a creative tool – even if, inevitably, artists and photographers build the device into their workflow. It’s basically the world’s best portable multimedia consumption device. It’s for the plane, the couch, the bedside. Steve Jobs never pretended the iPad is anything more than it is.

Yeah it has the iWork suite of applications, but they’re there if you want them, to buy and download. Apple presented the iPad as a half-way house between the laptop and the phone. It fits where it fits – it will not do everything, but it will do what it does brilliantly for >10-hours on a single charge. And what’s wrong with that?

Also, what is so great about the two-way web? Seriously.

So you can comment on an article? Big deal. Take a look at CiF or Engadget. How many of those comments add any value to the content? Commenters tend to represent a small fraction of a site’s readership, and even then, many of them are morons.

Jeff, just because someone has something to say, doesn’t mean the general internet-using masses are the least bit interested in it.

But what about flickr, Vimeo or deviantART, you say? They’re all brilliant. But the iPad is not primarily a creation device, AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

If you want to inflict your creations and opinions on the universe, don’t buy a fricken iPad! Nobody is forcing anyone to buy one.

Jarvis also has a problem with websites using the app ecosystem to present their content. He sees this as an attack on the open web. That’s a nonsense.

Apps allow content providers to tailor their service for the device it’s viewed on. Take the recent digg app. It’s a tad unstable at the moment (it’s the first release), but it’s a brilliant experience. In my opinion it’s better than the website. The Reddit app is also one of my favourites. Interestingly, both apps allow the user to comment on threads, and their respective site APIs allow other apps to post links. That’s not a closed system.

It’s not about controlling the consumption, but controlling the experience. Again there is nothing insidious or wrong about that.

Simply picking on the dog-shit Time app (as Jarvis does) to prove Apps are a bad experience, is like saying cricket is rubbish after watching a Bangladeshi batsman face 30 balls in the nets. Also, no version of Time Magazine is worth $5 – I don’t care if it’s written in unicorn tears. Other than the occasional column by the fabulous Joel Stein, it’s almost completely without value.

Next Jarvis turns his ire on the hardware:

First, in its hardware design, it does not include a camera — the easiest and in some ways most democratic means of creation (you don’t have to write well) — even though its smaller cousin, the iPhone, has one.

Oh please, what pancake is going to wander around town holding up a giant iPad? It’s hardly the most appropriate device for image capture, is it? A front facing camera would have been useful for Skype – if you don’t mind having a conversation with a flabby chin – but to kick a 10″ sheet of aluminium for not being the world’s greatest point-and-shoot is a bit shit.

Equally important, it does not include a simple (fucking) USB port, which means that I can’t bring in and take out content easily.

I have an iPhone, iMac, MacBook Pro and a Linux netbook. And I can’t remember the last time I transferred a file – other than media via iTunes, using USB. Get with the times, Jeffy. Ever heard of Dropbox, MobileMe, or plain old email?

Anyway, you can always buy a USB connector, if it’s that much of deal breaker.

However, the section that really got me was:

Apps are more closed, contained, controlling. That, again, is why media companies like them. But they don’t interoperate — they don’t play well — with other apps and with the web itself; they are hostile to links and search.

This is just not true. One of the killer features of the best iPhone apps is the way they’re integrated. Reeder 2, the brilliant RSS app from Silvo Rizzi, works beautifully with Instapaper, twitter, Delicious, Google Reader etc. Tweetie plays nice with Birdhouse, and Reddit allows direct posting to Instapaper from within the app.

With intelligent open applications, the workflow on my iPhone is as joined up as that on my laptop.

Jeff then goes on to talk about the war between Apple and Google in classic grecian hyperbole, and then he loses me. He probably talks a lot of sense. To be fair Jeff usually does.

I think Jeff’s at his most honest when he admits:

On This Week in Google last night, I went too far slathering over the iPad and some of its very neat apps (ABC’s is great; I watched the Modern Family about the iPad on the iPad and smugly loved being so meta). I am a toy boy at heart and didn’t stop to cast a critical eye, as TWiG’s iPadless Gina Trapani did. This morning on Twitter, I went too far the other way kvetching about the inconveniences of the iPad’s limitations (just a fucking USB, please!) in compensation. That’s the problem with Twitter, at least for my readers: it’s thinking out loud.

Jeff’s clearly having a crisis of conscience. He loves the experience, but loathes himself for falling for the iPad’s charms. Jeff’s career is built on chastising old media for its new media failings, and he fears that everything he feels the web is fundamentally about is threatened by Apple’s new toy.

I’d ask Jeff to chill out and see how things play. Who knows how the creative types will embrace the iPad? And I don’t think online communities such as digg, YouTube or twitter will be threatened by the device either. They’ll embrace it.

Relax, Jeff.