Will the iPad Stunt the Growth of Future Geeks?

Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company.

While reading The iPad Falls Short as a Creation Tool Without Coding Apps over on Wired, I was reminded of that Rich (@rmanalan) has said this a number of times about the iPad.

For many of us, it’s essentially a casual computer/toy because it lacks any tools for creating software. This is the main reason why a tablet won’t be replacing our laptops anytime soon.

This won’t change until Apple relaxes the restriction on apps that include code interpreters other than Apple’s.

Incidentally, the recent focus on movie and music editing tools for iPad seems a bit off to me, considering iPad’s roaring success as a toy. This could be a case where Apple wants to guide the use of its products in a certain direction. Frankly, I wonder how hard it will be to use Garage Band and iMovie on device with limited in/outputs like the iPad.

But anyway, the key quote from the Wired post was one from ex-Twitter developer and current BankSimple (@banksimple) CTO, Alex Payne (@al3x), from a post he wrote when the original iPad was announced:

The thing that bothers me most about the iPad is this: if I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I’d never be a programmer today.

How true is this for you? I know a lot of you grew up banging out programs on your Commodore 64s and Apple IIs which indelibly set you on the path to geekdom. My family couldn’t afford a personal computer in my childhood, but whenever I was in front of one at school, I was creating something.

The iPad is and from the looks of it, will be a consumption device at least until we see what iPad 3 offers. Tons of parents are buying iPads for their children; after all, it was on the hot list for Christmas 2010.

Do you think it matters that these would-be nerds won’t have programming as an outlet on their computing device of choice? That they won’t be able to take what they learn in CS classes in school and apply it in their own time?

That might be a stretch, given that iPad households have to have a computer of some kind running iTunes. But still.

Alex goes on to say:

Wherever we stand in digital history, the iPad leaves me with the feeling that Apple’s interests and values going forward are deeply divergent from my own.

This hits the nail on the head for me too. The rise of iOS, specifically the App Store, has changed how I view the kids in Cupertino. I’m not mad at them, but we’re not on the same page anymore. Yes, I still rock a Mac and will continue to do so as long as its the best tool for the job.

But, like any good geek, I keep my options open and play the field.

Your turn. The comments, they beckon.





  1. This makes me think two things: that future geeks with be even more likely to have a parental geek, since that way there will be a programming device in the house. For now tablets will remain consumption devices; the targets of innovation rather than the tools of it, so young innovators will need access to other tools. However, as the processors and memory rise, I could see programming come to tablets. I don’t think it will be the standard XCode and Eclipse, though, but more likely an odd new WYSIWYG approach appropriate to the platform. These would hopefully not be as restrictive as the UI design tools now available on tablets, but it seems likely, which if these tools do get created will possibly launch a new era of innovators who are less geek and more business.

  2. As I wrote this, my mind went down the old programming vs. new programming rathole, and your point speaks to the senseless debate, i.e. new ways should emerge.

    As a general comment, tools are moving up the stack, and I do think that the old school experimentation is largely gone with sanitized iOS devices. So, we might lose the cavalier, I-can-fix-anything approach that many of us have.

  3. I suspect the iPad won’t make much difference. My 8-year old is being taught how to build a PowerPoint presentation at school. I can imagine most readers at this point thinking, “Noooooo! Another generation of Bullet-pointers”. But the point is an iPad doesn’t work for generating ‘normal’ content (essays etc) and can’t replace a laptop. Most kids will have a laptop or netbook, and anyone with real geek tendencies will. The iPad is as irrelevant to that space as the Walkman was to the 80s programmer.

    And the iOS / Android / HTML5 app is a great target environment for junior developers, just like the home computers of the early 80’s where the limits of the machine were so low a single developer could produce stuff as good as commercial offerings.

  4. While I agree with your point about good target environment for junior developers, I don’t think it’s irrelevant to the space as per your analogy. The iPad is the consuming device for the junior developers, which makes it infinitely more relevant than a Walkman was.

    I think the main point is that iPad is a casual (and cheaper) computing device, which might elbow out those who might have been converted. Yes, the core will still be there.

    The point about creating Office content is interesting. I suspect that bc many household computers will be used for this type of homework, there will be fewer experimentations, i.e. don’t mess around with the household computer bc we all depend on it.

    The PC of our youth was the sole possession of its hacker. Big difference for many would-be programmers. I think that’s Alex’s point. When buying a computer for a child, the iPad creates less desire for experimentation than its predecessors were. That’s also partially the fact that there was so much less to do with a PC back in the day; writing programs was one of its main attractions.

  5. I think that is our difference, I just don’t see an iPad a “computing device”. I see it as a media device and a communication device and a game device. Even if you do hook it up to a real keyboard and screen, then a geek can start learning Javascript, which will be more useful than BASIC ever was.

  6. Maybe the guy who wouldn’t be programming if he had grown up with an ipad shouldn’t be programming. Maybe the majority of the people who grew up with pc’s and learned to program by hacking on them don’t make good software engineers. Creating creative content is a far different thing from programming, and that is how it should be. Some people can do both, some people have all sorts of skill mixes, and that is a good thing, but not everyone is excellent at everything.

    When I was a kid, I was tinkering with radios and tv’s, burning circuit boards and soldering logic chips when they became consumer-available. So by the time I actually started to program, I had an understanding to the physical level. That’s a big part of what you need to engineer. The other big part is the training and discipline to make it, well, a discipline, and to understand how to scale up, to understand the math, to understand the chaos of many variables, to understand the importance of design, categorization, theory, and application to the real world. Anything less is as much programming as some artsy person with an original mac playing with photoshop.

    One of my kid’s friends got an iPad the day they came out. Within a few months, he sold it and bought a laptop.

    I used to joke about my kids and linux, but they have other interests. I’ll spare you the bragging, but they’re way past where I was at their ages. Computers are just another tool, and that’s fine. It has little to do with DIY, that comes more from internal motivation and watching others. Last Sunday there were a bunch of high-schoolers at my house, they help the middle-schoolers in math and science. The middle-schoolers are going to be building little trebuchets. The high-schoolers were building a bigger trebuchet to learn how to teach the middle-schoolers. I was glad to get rid of the extra odd shaped pieces of wood my last project building stairs. And I’m envious. How cool are trebuchets?

    Nothing is stopping anyone from taking what they learn in a CS class and applying it. Saw a couple of kids on TV last week who founded a software company…

  7. We in tech have a different viewpoint than the average person. I think there will be losses, even if you, other people that care about tech and I don’t fall victim. How many children end up following their parents’ paths anyway? I think the loss will be to other kids without that influence.

  8. You forgot the “get off my lawn!” Not everyone with a CS or IT degree should be programming, but that doesn’t stop them.

    This isn’t a point about everyone being excellent at everything. It’s an opportunity problem. Your background is exactly what I think will be lost by making technology so easy and accessible to kids, no more desire to learn the fundamentals.

    I think it’s valid to think that the prevailing trend toward easy will rub off on the quantity of really good hackers, which essentially is what you were back at the beginning, i.e. someone with a curiosity.

    And yes, trebuchets are very cool, always enjoy Punkin Chunkin in the Fall.

  9. Won’t stunt it. It’s just another channel for your message. I don’t think the aegis of geeks carrying one just device is even close. That kinda defeats the whole purpose of geeks really…

  10. Again, not really the point. The point is that many non-geeks spawned people like us. If the family’s computing device is an iPad, not as good a chance.

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