I'm afraid to start talking about the iPad because I'm afraid I might never stop. I'll try to keep this brief.
Some people are saying that this shift to a smooth, closed platform, that is more device than an actual computer, is exactly what consumers want. This is like automatic transmission on a car, or that desktop computing is likely to become the sole realm of developers and hobbyists And it's difficult to disagree with the premise that the iPhone's wild success demonstrates that many people don't care about openness in the face of things that "just work".
But that is a terrible future, for everyone, from the future entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley to children being born now into poverty in the Congo -- two groups that I hope overlap.
Everyone has witnessed or experienced humanity's fear of computers. It could be at the extreme ("all I know how to do is turn them on and off"), or it could be the sort of reaction I get when I tell people what I do for a living ("oh, I'm not smart enough to do that", or "I switched off at [some barely technical term]").
This fear is so devastatingly oppressive. I know people who are afraid to even try to learn to burn a CD. They think they'll break something. And once computers really are everywhere, from our clothing to our bathrooms to our necks for a population to be terrified of computers is to be literally oppressive. As in, we'll actually be an oppressed population.
Computers aren't cars. Cars just get you places. Computers are, or certainly will be, the fabric of every single thing around you. How you talk, how you plan, how you learn, what you wear, how you determine whether to trust -- and for some, what lets you walk, or keeps your heart beating.
If we address people's fear by making computers less frightening, at the complete expense of people's freedom to experiment and learn without needing Apple around to let them do it, we're only cementing the digital divide. Is there no middle ground here? We can conceive of well designed devices that allow alternate web browsers, for crying out loud!
I don't really care whether the iPad is successful. It's not evil. It raises people's standards for how approachable a computer should be. But for its model of tight control to become the dominant standard for personal computers is incredibly harmful. Apple can be a force for good, but as always, only when it has competition.