iPad early adoption: a risk too far

Steve Jobs wasn’t kidding when he said that the “technology road is bumpy”.

Those familiar with my initial thoughts about the Apple iPad won't be overly surprised if I waste no time in doing a little more "Apple-bashing", since the army of iPad early adopters are already reporting major hassles with their shiny new devices.

Don't get me wrong, I do have sympathy for those who rushed out to get their hands on the iPad the very first weekend it went on sale, only to find in many cases that its wifi was iffy, to say the least. Others have complained it takes an age to charge it up. But although I'm sympathetic, they were always likely, like any early adopters, to pay a price to be first with iPad bragging rights.

Just like the early adopters of the iPod, who went up in arms when Apple dropped the price from $599 to $399 within weeks of it going on sale, the purchasers of iPad 1.0 should keep in mind the words of Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, when he attempted an apology of sorts back then. As Jobs said, had those iPod buyers been "in technology for 30-plus years", like him, they would have a better understanding of how the "technology road is bumpy", and appreciate that "this is life in the technology lane".

Perhaps he will make a similar statement to appease the customers who have flooded Apple's discussion boards to complain that their iPad is struggling to get a strong wireless signal, despite other devices nearby working normally.

"I have rebooted the iPad three times, doesn't help. My MacBook is running on the same wifi network just fine. Not spending $500 on something I can't even use. It's going back tomorrow," said one user on a forum.

But I'd be surprised if Jobs gets embroiled in such "petty" complaints about his beloved tablet. Talking about early sales figures which showed that Apple managed to shift 300,000 units on the first day of the gadget's release and has sold another 500,000 since, he said: "It feels great to have the iPad launched into the world. It's going to be a game-changer."

Sweat sensation

For those with complaints about the device, it may feel like far less of a game-changer (though I suppose they can always play games on the thing even if they struggle to download books and audio, or surf the net, the purpose for which the device was primarily intended).

Nor are they alone. Buyers of the third-generation iPod Shuffle were staggered to discover that a device marketed as small and light enough to be ideal for gym workouts would break down spectacularly, should any sweat get near the headphone jack. As one of hundreds of commenters on a bulletin board wrote of the debacle: "I would have been SHOCKED if Microsoft was boneheaded enough to have released a product for exercise that was obviously not tested for its primary intent. For Apple, it is inexcusable."

So what does Apple have to say about the iPad wifi issue? Will it be able to do a software patch, or will it have to recall the faulty devices? You'll have to ask the company yourself. I asked what its response was to all of the third-generation iPod Shuffle failures a while back, and the press office failed to respond to my two emails and a phone call.

It seems that because I don't exclusively peddle positive messages about Apple and its gizmos, the company won't talk to me.

Compare and contrast: when I called Microsoft recently to ask about its thoughts on open source in local government, the company hooked me up with its national technology officer within hours. Yet many of the Apple faithful still call Microsoft the Evil Empire!

Anyway, as far as the iPad is concerned, the niggles over wifi haven't changed my mind: I still don't want one. As one commenter on my recent article wrote: "A completely stupid device . .. it's just a fashion statement if anything. It's really not competition for any other device . . . so the makers and supporters say, 'Oh, that's because it's a revolutionary new device' but I say '. . . that we didn't need.' "

For the sake of balance, another commenter said: "I love my new iPad. It's only $500, people, use it for what it does and not bash it for what it doesn't."

Damn, I've failed already.

Jason Stamper is technology correspondent of the New Statesman and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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