(Note: I’m aware this post comes dangerously close to topical relevance, but I promise, it’s not long before I start talking about things in a really abstract, general way, and there’s a footnote about grammar.)

The discourse on the iPad (aside from a very cogent observation my friend Linguistics Mike about the fact that in certain parts of the country people were already pronouncing iPod as iPad) tend to consist of people who are really angry about the iPad, generally with an undercurrent of “how you could you let me get this excited?”*; people with more of aschadenfreude thing going where they just love watching Apple fail; and people defending the iPad as a matter of course.

I’m ignoring all of this though, because in every conversation I’ve seen people are discussing things on the wrong terms entirely. People complain about all the ways it fails to perform tasks one would expect from a personal computer; or doesn’t have flash like every Windows, Mac or Linux box has for years now (fewer years for Linux**); or that Apple is denying access to the file system at a meaningful level. All of this completely misses the point: The iPad isn’t a computer, it’s an appliance.

Disagree? Let’s go to the tape:

2 a : a piece of equipment for adapting a tool or machine to a special purpose : attachment b : an instrument or device designed for a particular use or function ; specifically : a household or office device (as a stove, fan, or refrigerator) operated by gas or electric current
Merriam-Webster

Computers up until now have been tools. It’s function has been fluid, and the designers and manufacturers have generally hewn to an open, easily accessed and modified method of use and interaction. It’s worth noting that with both software and hardware this has been less true of Apple than any other group. My guess is that, with the iPhone, Apple finally got the chance to make something they’ve longed for for years. A totally closed hardware, with every application filtered through them, functioning in a walled garden. There is none of the chaos of variety or permutation. An application running on one iPhone 3G is identical in it’s performance to any other, regardless of the other software the user may have installed. There is almost no meaningful access to the actual operating system, but the trade off is that if something works once, it can be reasonably assumed to work in all cases. Talk to any iPhone owner, one of their favorite things will be that things just work.

Now expand this mentality out to another type of device, one where small size can be traded for speed and screen real estate. It makes a lot of sense. The iPad doesn’t do computer things, because it’s not really a computer. It’s an internet appliance, designed to facilitate access to the content and functionality of the internet without the complication of a tool like the normal personal computer.

I can understand some of the frustration. A computer can be utilized*** to perform an incredibly wide variety of tasks in a multitude of ways. The iPhone, iPod Touch, and now iPad can be used to perform a relatively small number of tasks****, very few ways, often only one way.

The big upshot for Apple, is that it turns out the tasks they perform are the tasks most people actually give a shit about. Imagine the average mid 30’s lady on a bus ride to work. Can she check her email? Can she read some news? Can she check Facebook and Twitter? Yes? All of those things? Really easily? Wow, this doesn’t sound like she’d find an appliance like that useless at all.

*Which is hilarious, since Apple’s response to the hype was silence.
**Every computer in my house dual boots Ubuntu. I know from whence I speak.
***Utilize is not the way you write use when you want to sound fancy. It is a different word and means a different thing. Yes, the meaning is similar, and yes, the words kind of sound the same but that doesn’t mean you should default to utilize in an academic context.
****Of course, the specific tasks one can perform are always changing, after all, “There’s an app for that.”