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The fallout grows over Apple's silly new policy
device
jducoeur
Had to happen eventually: the iPad has crossed the "think of the children!" line. (I actually expected it to take longer.)

Thanks to Lambda the Ultimate, which pointed to this blog entry, pointing out that Scratch has been removed from the Apple App Store. Scratch, for those who haven't come across it before, is an educational tool for rather painlessly teaching programming the right way: instead of focusing on syntax and compilers and crap like that, it's instead an interactive tool for creating fun little apps, aimed at teaching kids. It's become quite popular, and the iPad is obviously a great platform for it.

But of course, it's a programming environment -- and Apple has just outlawed all programming environments except for the four officially-approved ones. You are now absolutely forbidden to program for the iPhone, iPad, or what-have-you in any other way or manner than that in which Apple wants you to. And since Scratch is, god forbid, a nice platform for creating little open-source apps, it is *totally* against both the letter and spirit of the new rules, so I'm not surprised that it had to be pulled down.

So yay for the Law of Unintended Consequences: the iPad is now *officially* a crappy tool for creative kids. Apple took a hard line, effectively declaring that their platform is for consuming rather than creating. (Since when you get right down to it, creating is the heart and soul of programming, and it's hard to build truly sophisticated creative tools these days without giving them some programming flexibility somewhere in there.) This is the result.

Seriously: if Google isn't already planning their ad campaign, they're missing a bet. And I do hope somebody is porting Scratch to Android, because I suspect that the new Android-based pads will be rather good platforms for it.

And I continue to suspect that Apple is going to have to climb down from the recent change: this is the best illustration yet of how idiotic a decision it was. It's one thing to piss off developers, but convincing kids that your tool doesn't let them do fun stuff -- well, that's not exactly smart long-term planning. Frankly, Apple is butting heads against a historical trend here, and they're going to lose: this nicely underscores that enabling creativity is one of the major points of computing nowadays, and the line between "creativity" and "programming" is often blurry almost to the point of meaningless...

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*boggle*

Thanks for continuing to post on these issues.

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Sure, but even some of those programs you toodle around with are illegal. I mean, just to give one common example, the new rules *absolutely forbid* Firefox from running on the iPad. Ever. It's flat-out, clearly illegal by contract, unless they rewrote the program from scratch, because much of it is written in a language other than the Official Four.

You may or may not think that specific program is necessary, but personally even if I thought Safari was the best thing on Earth, this would make me squirm -- knowing that if a good tool comes out, and even if the maker was willing to go to some reasonable effort to port it, Apple was declaring it illegal on the grounds that it might be too easy for it to run on anything *other* than an iPad. (Which seems to be the growing consensus, that this rule has one primary purpose -- to make it too difficult to run the same programs on both iPad and Android, so that people will be chained to iPad.)

Mind, I agree with you about the main usage for these things, and I want one of these pads myself: I may dislike Apple's business practices, but I was at least *considering* an iPad until this happened. But given all this, I'm not touching the Apple version with a ten-foot pole, or indeed any other Apple hardware -- I'll wait until a nice open Android version appears, that doesn't run the risk of somebody arbitrarily declaring what programs I can and can't use on it...

The consumer who is interested in programing is going to have another tool - an actual computer, probably - that lets them do that.

I think you're missing the full picture here: even if kids use other tools to do this creative programming, *they can't use what they create on the iPad*. Anything they create elsewhere can only be used elsewhere. By contract, it is forbidden not only to do the programming, but to use any *results* of that programming on the iPad.

So, the iPad may be a crappy tool for kids who want to program, but I think the range of art-related tools: video, still photography, drawing, music related tools, etc, are still going to make it a good tool for a whole lot of creative kids.

Again, this goes beyond merely creating on the iPad, and you're underestimating how central languages are to deep creativity these days. Serious graphics programs these days often have a programming language or equivalent built into them, to enable fancy effects. Certainly any decent game-creation system (and let's be clear -- most creative kids these days are saying that they want to be in the game business) absolutely has to have a programming language built into it. And not only can you not *create* any of that on the iPad, you again can't use any of the results of your creativity on it.

Basically, the implication is that Apple's old "There's an app for that" slogan is now limited: there's an app if and only if you jump through their hoops and write it the way they want. If you try to create almost anything in a different way, they won't allow it onto the iPhone, iPad, or anything like that. Frankly, coming from the company that made it's name with the slogan "Think Different", I find it fundamentally offensive: they are saying "Think The Same", right down in the contract language...

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Hard to be sure, but I'm coming across an *astonishing* number of kids who want into the game business. Indeed, I'm often having to be the wet blanket, pointing out that it's harder than it looks...

This also represents a complete 180 from the longstanding Apple policy of being very friendly indeed towards educational environments, on the reasonably sound basis that exposure to Apple products as the most fun available in a captive situation would increase long term loyalty.

i.e. the Apple II series and Macs being heavily discounted for school and student purchases almost since day one; emphasis on educational software, especially including programming languages. For how many thousands of programmers was AppleBasic, Logo and Pascal their first languages?

Yaas. Mind, I'm fairly sure it's an accident (hence the "Law of Unintended Consequences" reference above), and one reason I pointed out this particular example is that it seems likely to be the straw that breaks the camel's back, forcing Apple to find some face-saving way to back down from the dumb policy...

It's worth noting that things like the Scratch player were always forbidden: you couldn't have any app that allowed people to run software that Apple hadn't approved.

What's new is that, if someone used a Scratch-to-iPhone compiler to create an app, that app would be rejected.

From the comments, it sounds like the iPad is really meant to replace a TV, not a computer. Yes/No?

Sort of. It's marketed as a game+media machine: music, videos, video games, Web browsing. It's also got some light office apps (word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation); but entertainment is the main marketing thrust.

There's 2 uses I would want it for:
1) Lighter weight than a laptop for my traveling office - this is the first thing that might replace my paper calendar. I can pull it out of my bag while standing up, check a date without balancing anything, while looking at the whole month at once. Add the ability to read past emails (let alone new ones!) and it is much more useful than a laptop or a smartphone.

2) Gaming. This might also be the first thing that will replace my paper character sheet. (I don't like a laptop for this - the vertical screen separates me from my friends)

So, I need a calendar app, email, and a word processor.
A WotC character builder app would be a great addition, but they need to have a version for the Mac desktop first, I expect.

IIRC, the iPad doesn't come with a calendar app. This is notable because the iPhone does.

The iPhone comes with something that's *called* a calendar app, but hasn't got half the functionality I expect out of an *actual* calendar app.

If I were inclined to be optimistic on the topic, I might think that they didn't put it on the iPad because they realized its weaknesses and are working hard on a better replacement. But I don't actually believe that.

Really? I *think* you're incorrect -- I seem to recall reading somewhere (Ars?) that it came with a completely-different but much better calendaring app than the iPhone's. (Which I gather is kinda crappy.)

...you're right. I was thinking of the calculator.

No great loss. The calculator that comes with the iPhone is garbage. It was one of the first things I replaced. But then, I'm probably not mainstream, in that I find any calculator that doesn't work in post-fix (RPN) to be garbage.

Actually, it's quite clear that any statement of "meant to" is mistaken: there's been a lot of press that nobody, even Jobs himself, is terribly clear on what the thing is intended to be for. The idea was to create an insanely great new platform that people could use to explore in new and creative directions, probably including lots that nobody has even thought of yet.

That's the tragedy of the whole story. I think the goal is *great*, and the execution looks generally pretty good. But by limiting people with this dumb contractual stunt, and trying to kill off any competition, they are in danger of stunting everyone's expectations about what's possible here, just as this big new idea is taking off...

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True from a hardware standpoint. But that doesn't really answer the question of what it is *for*. Apple's being deliberately scattershot about that, and focusing on media consumption for very sensible and pragmatic reasons. (Encouraging a lot of media to be available produces excellent network effects, and having more Big Mucking Companies on their side is just plain useful.)

But as far as I can tell, most assertions about the purpose of the device are post-facto -- mostly, Apple spotted an empty niche in terms of form-factor, made a lot of cogent guesses about how to build something that didn't suck for that size, and is otherwise making lots of stabs at what you might do with such a machine. I actually approve of that approach -- I just disapprove of limiting its potential in ways that are arbitrary and pointless from a user's POV...

Indeed. As much as I love the idea of the iPad in many ways, items like this leave me cold.

I suspect Apple has fallen prey to short-term gain in exchange for long-term viability. After all, something of the like worked for Microsoft for so long...

Unfortunately, Jobs has been using the "Think of the children" line a lot, lately. Back in February, they removed a bunch of sexually explicit apps from the app store, even after they implemented an age rating scheme that was supposed to make it friendlier to adult content, provided it was labelled as such. Then, when they announced iPhone OS 4.0, Jobs was asked about the iPhone ever running unsigned apps, and his response was that Android had a "porn store that even your kids can see," and he "didn't want to go there." I find that a fairly unconvincing blow off as a response.

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