The iPod, the iPhone, and the new iPad. I hate them all. They are a horrible abomination that appeals to the worst in us, the part that thinks if we all just let someone else handle all the details for us that everything will be OK and we don't need or want to take any personal responsibility for the things we own, for the attitude that convenience beats freedom.
And this isn't because they are small and not a 'full-fledged' computer or anything like that. I would love a world full of tiny useful gadgets that help people get stuff done without getting in their way. No, I hate them because you can't open them up and tinker with them. You can't make them do anything you want them to do, you can only make them do what Apple wants you to be able to do.
And this author has distilled for me at least one incredibly important reason why this freedom is so important in his short essay "Tinkerer's Sunset".
I got my start with computers because of that exact sense. This is the ultimate gadget! I can make it do absolutely ANYTHING! I just have to figure out how to tell it in a language it can understand.
None of the products I mention have that. They all treat 'developers' as a special class that you have to jump through hoops to become a member of (and what kid is going to go do that?). And even then, people who choose to be in that class still don't get to make the machine do anything, just what Apple approves of. That is very, very not OK.
I'm not an Apple hater here. I own one of their laptops because I get root access on it, just like I would own an iPhone if I got root access on it. The laptop is a good piece of hardware, and it's the only laptop I've ever used that I've really enjoyed using.
The most excusable of them all is the iPod. It masquerades as a simple, single-purpose device. But even then, the fact that Apple purposefully hobbles the platform in various ways in order to try to keep you from doing things Apple doesn't want you to do has kept me from even considering buying one.
It's my hardware! MINE! I should get to do whatever the heck I want to with it. This whole 'joint ownership' thing (especially when they pretend it isn't happening) with some large corporation is totally broken. It really distresses me that so many choose convenience over freedom (hint: it doesn't have to be a dichotomy, and I suspect that Google will get this right). My only, rather bitter, consolation is that such people will get the future they deserve.
Note, that I am most definitely not insisting that everybody should open up their appliances and tinker with them. I don't want you all to become developers or anything like that.
What I'm insisting on is that you choose appliances that you can open up and tinker with. Not because you know you want to, but because having the freedom to do so taken away from you is very bad for everybody, especially children who will never get the chance to learn they enjoy tinkering because their corporate overlords forbid them from doing so.
Unfortunately, people who buy such devices may also end up, by their aggregate choices, dragging me into a future that I don't want. Network effects (as in marketing speak network effects) are king on computers. If freedom destroying gadgets become popular, it starts to become really hard to use anything but freedom destroying gadgets.
Edited 2010-02-01 00:14 PST: People who commented before then are commenting on a diatribe where I didn't try nearly so hard to separate the nice things the gadget does from the freedom destroying effects of the policies of the corporation that makes it.