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There's No App for That

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A few days ago, like many of the other students at Penn State's Schreyer Honors College, I shopped through Penn State’s Schedule of Courses and registered for the ones I wanted using eLion. I suppose I differed from the majority in that I was doing so not at my desk, in my residence, on my laptop, but rather, on a bench, in the lobby of Music Building II, on my iPad. As I did so, my friend Jeannette walked by on her way to class. When she opened her mouth to speak to me, she did not say, “Hello,” but rather, “You and your iPad.” With one statement, she expressed two underlying sentiments. Firstly, she characterized me as an iPad addict; secondly, she indicated bemusement with and mock contempt for that “addiction.” It is true that I am a proud iPad owner. I never leave home without it and use it to read any PDF files I need to read. I used the iBooks store to purchase some of my required books. In fact, I’m typing on it at this very moment. I have actually owned three iOS devices, in the past four years, and though I was addicted to each and every one of them individually, I still deny the title of “Apple addict.” Now hold that thought.

In the fifth grade, I first saw what was then called an iPod, a little box with a track wheel, and until I got my first iPod, I wanted one because “all the cool people had one.” I became enthralled by its novelty, and loyally checked when the next one would come out. Ironically, I was more of an unconsummated Apple addict until I actually began to use Apple products. By the time I first opened my brand new third generation (3G) 32-gigabyte iPod Touch, I had been waiting for several years to own one, a wait that was ultimately worth it. However, it was only marginally different from any other music player for me until I discovered the App Store, which showcases the two closely related hallmark features of iOS devices: versatility and ability to be personalized.

Though the marketing of the iPod Touch makes a point of capitalizing on the device’s versatility, it is still subliminally marketed as a music player, as to allow its features to set it apart from any other music player. For an example of what I mean when by “subliminal marketing,” consider the fact that the iPod Touch shares a principal name with a line of other music players and is most often pictured with headphones. However, I call it a music player only out of convenience because doing so implies that playing music is the principal function of the iPod Touch when in fact, it is more like a computer inside the body of an MP3 player. As such, I propose a more accurate alternative to the frequently used buzz-phrase, “not just a music player,” that Apple loves so much, because the iPod Touch is “not really a music player.” The MP3 players I had owned before the iPod all had 2 gigabytes of storage, which goes to show how absurd 32 gigabytes is for a music player; the only truly logical uses for more than around 8 gigabytes on a music player are videos and applications.

Admittedly, I used my iPod to listen to music at times, but far more frequently, I made use of the applications check my email or the weather (using the native Mail and Weather apps), to replace text messaging with a Wi-Fi connection (using Textfree), and as a metronome (using Steinway Metronome, TempoPerfect, iBeat). Every so often, I forgot to bring my iPod with me when I went out when the missing weight from my right pocket didn’t register in the morning; on these days, I was left without access to the week’s forecast, my email, the Internet, and the musician’s most essential practicing tool outside of a computer. When the iPod Touch 4G came out, its main feature was the addition of two cameras; I got one not because I had gotten bored with my now “outdated” device, but because my sister wanted an iPod Touch and had just received a camera for her birthday. Thus, she agreed to “settle” for my iPod Touch 3G while I received a new one of the same 32-gigabyte capacity. To make up for what might have seemed like getting a “hand-me-down,” I let her open the new one and use it for a few days before trading, just for the thrill that I then saw as insignificant and ephemeral, but knew she would want.

My next upgrade came not much later when my parents decided (independently of my suggestion, I might add) that it was time for me to obtain an e-book reader as I went into college. That way, I wouldn’t have to carry so many heavy books in addition to my laptop. After comparing the features of Amazon’s various Kindle devices, Barnes and Nobles’ Nook line, and Sony’s aptly named readers, and other readers so obscure that referencing them would be pointless, we purchased the Apple device instead for the same reasons: versatility and computing power. We anticipated that with an iPad, I could eliminate even more weight in the form of a laptop from my backpack. When I opened my 64-gigabyte iPad (Wi-Fi model), I then handed down the iPod Touch 4G to my sister, and she handed hers down to my mother in a classic example of Reaganomics.
At first, the iPad was to readers as the iPod is to music players until other manufacturers decided to make devices to compete with the iPad. When these products came out, they were given their own class. The iPad was no longer a reader; instead, the rose smelling just as sweet was henceforth known by the more accurate description, “tablet computer,” which brings me to my next anecdote.

As I put away the homework I had been doing before class, my theory professor hits his palm to his forehead and rolls his eyes at a mistake he had made. “I forgot to print Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata in the course pack,” he announces. “How can you have a course pack without Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata?” he asks to himself before directing a question to the class: “Does anyone have a copy of the Pathétique Sonata on hand?” I had just played it for my graduation recital the previous year, so it was in my head, but that wasn’t particularly useful for anyone else.

I did, however, have another solution. “I’ll find it on my iPad,” I volunteered. Though I didn’t have a copy stored on the device, I found it on the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), a free collection of public domain music uploaded as PDF files. Surely enough, after a few minutes, the screen at the front of the room showed my iPad screen, displaying the very passage he needed.

With a deep laugh, he proclaimed, “I’m asking my boss for an iPad.” A few minutes after that, the backlight turned off and the device locked itself (saved what it was last doing behind a lock screen) to save its battery power. My none-too-tech-savvy professor, despite his best attempts, was able only to get the backlight turned on, but not past the lock screen, which displayed my weekly class schedule. (In his defense, my iPad is protected with a four-digit passcode.) “Now, I’m looking at your class schedule,” he told me, as if I had gotten him into this mess in the first place. “Why am I looking at your schedule? Thanks a lot.”

I went up to the front of the room to help him out; first unlocking the device and then adjusting the settings to prevent the device from automatically locking again until he was finished. “Wow. It’s like watching an Apple commercial,” remarked one classmate.
Despite all this apparent evidence to the contrary, however, I’m not an Apple addict, in case you didn’t hold that thought when I told you to. This claim, of course, raises the question I seek to address: where lies the distinction between an iPhone, iPod, or iPad addict and an Apple addict? After observing my use of the iPod Touch, my friends at Harvard Summer School named me “most likely to camp out for the iPhone 4.” If this accusation had been accurate, I would have no grounds to deny being an Apple addict, in the same way I have no grounds now to deny being an iPad addict. However, it is totally false. For the record, I still have not owned an iPhone of any generation, color, creed, or sex.

There are actually two kinds of Apple addicts; both blindly pursue novelty. The first kind of Apple addict is someone who buys an Apple device if one is manufactured in that category, and an Apple addict is someone who buys the newest generation of every device for any reason other than its function. Perhaps they do so because Steve Jobs has announces, “This changes everything. Again.” Perhaps they do so just because they can. Perhaps they do so because they think it will elevate their social status. An Apple addict is someone who, like I did, wants an iPod Touch when all they need is a music player and wants an iPad when all they need is an e-reader, and fails to see that the Amazon Kindle is a single-minded device that specifically provides a better reading experience.

The second kind of Apple addict is someone who uses the App Store to find games to satisfy the need for instant gratification, to which the App Store caters with extraordinary efficiency. There are more than many enough games to satisfy the need for a slightly novel experience every few days, for a new game can rise to replenish one’s collection when and old game loses its novelty. When I first received my iPod Touch 3G, I almost became one of these because I always need something to do with my brain. You might say that I “bore easily,” but I’m generally pretty good at finding that something to do. For a while, that “something” was playing games on my iPod. After seeing the lack of meaning in using games to occupy myself, I still use my iPad to keep myself occupied, but I now read (using the native iBooks), write (using the native Notes), or record music (using an app called Multi-Track Stereo Recorder) instead.

The iPad 2 was released shortly before we purchased my iPad earlier this year—I had actually caught a lucky break with this purchase—firstly because I had obtained one of Sam’s Club’s last first generation iPads, and secondly because it had been opened and returned (thereby reducing the price for me) by someone who decided he wanted a device with 3G (mobile Internet) access in addition to the standard Wi-Fi connectivity. Since iOS devices were first released, many improvements have been made to both the devices and the operating system, but quite frankly, but since then, “This changes everything” has been a lie. Devices have become indiscernibly thinner, and previously withheld features have been released, but nothing revolutionary has occurred.

The Apple addict brings to mind a proverb that says: “A fool and his money are soon parted.” I am proud to say that my iPad is not the so-called “latest and greatest.” It is still an amazing piece of technology that does exactly what I wanted it to do when I purchased it. Rumors say that the third generation iPad is coming out soon; it might be iPad 2 HD or iPad 3, but the point is that I no longer care. I love my first generation, just the way it is, and not just because all the once-ridiculously-expensive accessories such as premium leather covers are now on clearance.

Though I love the devices themselves, but Apple’s strategy of planned obsolescence (that is, holding back progress just because it is good for business) irritates me. Don’t misunderstand me—I am not seriously proposing that Apple downplay its aggressive marketing and be less business-oriented. The business (that is, money) is what ultimately allows Apple to develop such device in the first place. The people working for Apple just doing what they know best and it is the consumer’s responsibility to see past the exaggerated depictions of patchwork progress as revolutionary quantum leaps and to seek more lasting fulfillment than can be provide by App Store games. It is the consumer’s responsibility to think for himself, and unfortunately, there’s no app for that.





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