Today is the 12th of July, the day in which the people of Northern Ireland celebrate and perpetuate religious conflict. Because it was a ncie sunny day, I went out on my bike. And as I cycled, I continued to mull over what to do about a tablet computer.
I really fancy a tablet computer. I think they are very cool. But I am having a really hard time making my mind up on what to buy. Because it’s not just a technical decision. I decided it could be framed as a religious conflict, and that seemed very fitting for today.
Umberto Eco famously wrote that fountain pens were protestant, and ballpoints were catholic, because of the universality of ballpoints versus the maintenance and finickiness of fountain pens. That got extended to PCs versus Macs. And now I guess it applies as well to IOS vs Android.
The Apple Ipad could be thought of as Catholic. Catholicism brought us the beauty of cathedrals, and I suppose thereby invented aethetic design. The ipad is the triumph of design, with its minimalist approach. However, it also has a pope, who rules over his flock. Steve decides what you can and can’t do with your ipad, and what he says goes. His triumph is that in his role as priest, he has mediated between the complexity of the technology and ordinary people, and has created a universal device – everyone is welcome, and it works for all without a lot of tedious theology. And that of course is what attracts me to it – it just works, and it works beautifully.
But then the reformation comes, and the people stand up and say no to what they see as an authoritarian regime that has gone astray. At first, they’re not sure what to believe, what to take from the old church, and what to reinvent. But they do know that they believe in making their own decisions, and that they don’t need Steve to tell them what they can and can’t do. Of course, being essentially Protestant, it is a completely fragmented approach. There are lots and lots of different ways to do everything. So there’s no standard way of doing it – to get the best from it, you go and find your favourite email client, video player, keyboard. And so it’s hard work, an uphill struggle to get it the way you want it.
My head says that I should get an ipad. It’s very clever, and it just works. Every reviewer says that despite it’s faults, it is the best machine. But it does have faults. The lack of flash is irritating, right from not being able to go straight to the BBC News Page, and having to use an app instead. It is also not expandable. My 16Gb iphone is almost full, so I would need to move up to a 32Gb ipad, which increases the price. I have at least determined that by grabbing some other video players, it should be able to handle some of the other video formats though, which is good.
But my heart says that I should get an android machine. I don’t like Apple, and I don’t like Steve Jobs. I want the android machines to be better than the ipad, but they’re not. But they are not far off. And crucially, they have a much better chance to improve, because of the flexibility of that ecosystem. They are expandable with cheap mini-sd cards. They play flash, avi, and anything else that can be thrown at them. They are a little cheaper. But it is an act of faith. If people don’t buy into android tabs, the marketplace will not grow, and it won’t happen. But if people do buy them, I think it’s better for everyone, as Apple need the competition to keep them honest. And of course there are disadvantages – you’re on your own for content for an android pad, since there’s no itunes store, so you have to get your own content from CD, DVD or out there on the net.
So there we are. A battle between head and heart. In years to come, wars shall be fought over it I’m sure. But for now, the fight goes on inside my head.
And just to be clear, I’m not an expert on the differences between protestantism and catholicism; this isn’t meant to be a comment on religion, and the framework is largely based on the half-remembered Umberto Eco essay, which I couldn’t find on google.
PS: But Alan did find the original, and it’s here.