Binary Static

Apple’s iPad: finally turning the Internet into TV?

Posted in Politics by Chris on February 1, 2010

What’s the impact of Apple’s new Uber-product, the iPad? There’s tons of discussion on the web, mostly focusing on the limited geek-appeal of the new device. It’s true, all these complaints tell us nothing about the still likely success of the iPad. But they show how fundamentally Apple has changed in the last decade. While Steve Jobs was still boasting his company’s reputation among creative customers on  last week’s keynote, it seems now more obvious than ever that Apple has become an appliance company targeting Joe Sixpack (and his Mom).  While Apple’s products were once bought because they seemed technically superior, they are now bought by the middle classes around the world because they are universally recognized status symbols.

Steve Jobs has essentially turned Apple into a global luxury electronics brand, much like Sony was in the 1980s.  This strategy may seem risky on first glance, since for creative elitists Apple products are more and more loosing their distinguishing appeal.  Using an Apple product is not so much saying “I’m better, I’m in” anymore, but rather “I can spend more money than you”. For Apple’s shareholders of course, this turn from underdog to market leader has very well paid out.

More remarkable are the side effects of this development.  As Jobs pointed out, Apple sees itself no longer as a cutting edge computer design house but as selling portable devices which function as internet outlets for all kinds of media stores. This means that, thanks to Apple, people don’t need to bother with a computer anymore when they want to enjoy the internet. To be sure, Apple always tried to build devices where the user could feel as without actually being a geek. Now that they are selling the iPad to the masses, we are looking at users whose everyday internet experience will mean consumption, not production.  Of course, the old powers, publishers, networks, labels will eventually embrace this concept, since it preserves a central role for the media, for the middle-man of communication.  Imagine a world where 90% of the people use their iPads to consume internet delivered media like they now use their TV sets to consume old media.  Since they are glued to their new sexy internet handsets, they won’t care about DRM or standards or whatever, they only want to read that article or watch that movie or see that picture, right now “that simple”.  What about learning the nuts and bolts of the internet, what about actually participating in a global, many-sided communication?  Forget it. The new iPad-style internet will belong to Rupert Murdoch and his media buddies. With the iPad Apple may reach the holy grail of internet monetization – with the web as collateral damage.

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Killing the Internet

Posted in Politics, Web by Chris on November 23, 2009

It’s getting worse everyday now. Cory Doctorow reported and commented on new restrictions on internet use which are about to become law in the UK. The proposal has the usual ingrediences: extended control over ISPs serving private interests, draconic sanctions against copyright infringement, and forcing users off the net. First France, now Britain, who will be next? Western nations are obviously under enormous pressure from the content industry to end the so-called “misuse” of the internet.

This whole crusade against file-sharing is way more dangerous than it might seem. It is not only successful lobbying on behalf of the content industry. And it is not only about cutting off some cheap kids from their music supply. Old media, content industry and politics might find a common interest to change the nature of the internet forever. The old powers have reason to turn the internet into something like TV: a malleable means to distribute products and channel approved information.

The content industry used mass media to sell their products, politicians used them to control the masses – and the old media gained power and wealth from both ends. However, the internet changed the rules of the game because it allowed individual communication on a massive and global scale. Precisely its peer-to-peer nature established a public infrastructure which could not as easily be twisted and influenced as the old media in the TV age. In terms of peer-to-peer communication every client is equal – and every voice and opinion may be heard unfiltered. No need for mediation nor content salesmen, no easy access for politicians to the public opinion. In our new age people can exchange digital goods and analog ideas without direction and control of the establishment. This is why content industry, TV-age media and old-school politicians all have a very good reason to hate the internet in its present form. And this is what worries me most in the power struggle that lies ahead. Sure, private broadband connections will survive, we will still have packet-based protocols – but what if all people may use it for is buying TV streams from established outlets as everything else is effectively outlawed? Would you still call that “internet”?

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