Just because the iPad's simple, doesn't mean it's for idiots

Apple iPad

As you might have spotted, there's been a lot of talk about Apple's new iPad. Some people like it, some people don't like it, some people are daft enough to spend $500 on something they're pretty sure they'll hate only to discover that they hate it and the usual PC versus Mac flame wars have kicked off.

But there's something different this time, something quite worrying: the oft-spoken claim that if you want something simple to use, you're an idiot.

Even BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow, someone we have enormous respect for, was guilty of it. In a post slagging off the iPad, he slammed Apple for appealing to "that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother... listen to the pundits extol the virtues of the iPad and time how long it takes for them to explain that here, finally, is something that isn't too complicated for their poor old mothers."

We're not going to say that, but it's not because our mothers can't code. It's because the iPad isn't actually simple enough for our mums. It still needs a computer to sync with, and so far iWork doesn't appear to support wireless printing. Those are deal-breakers for us. For now, our mums will continue to swear at their laptops, which make everything much more complicated than it needs to be.

Maybe it's not for mums, though. Maybe it's for kids. Adam Kmiec says: "Is it a game changing device? Will you love it? The simple answer is YES… so long as you have the mindset of a 3 year old." What evil hath Apple wrought? "Everything about the iPad interface is linear. Every desired final action is accomplished through a series of taps. Want to read a book? Cool. Tap the home button. Tap the iBook app. Tap the library view. Tap the book you want to read."

In what demented, upside-down world is that a bad thing?

Before becoming a writer, your correspondent spent many years teaching absolute beginners how to use computers – and I still do a monthly tech surgery where people call in with their computer problems. Here's the truth: computing is far too complicated for most people. Supposedly every-day technology is built by geeks, for geeks.

Some of us are out of touch

Stripping down your computers to component parts, making your own circuit boards out of cheese and doing 432 things at once while ripping a DVD to Ogg Theora is what geeks do. It's not what real people do. My mum wants to look at Flickr, do some online banking and write the odd letter. That's it.

Others want to do Facebook and Farmville, or The Sun and Spotify, or... you get the idea. Ease of use is much more important to those users than the ability to peek at source code.

The iPad certainly isn't perfect and Apple is certainly guilty of various bad things including DRM, premium pricing and control freakery.

But to look at the iPad and ask, as Kmiec does, "what consumer problem does it solve?" without seeing that the problem is the sheer complexity of modern PCs and Macs, or to get irate, as Cory Doctorow does, because you can't take it apart with a screwdriver and turn it into a robot horse, shows just how badly out of touch we geeks are with the rest of the world.

The iPad may not be the answer, but at least somebody's finally asking the right questions.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.