At the dawn of the personal computer age getting your hands into the innards of your device was not an option, it was a necessity. The first PCs arrived at your door in kit form and you had to figure out how they all bolted together or you’d have nothing more than an assemblage of expensive parts on your desk. As Apple and other makers pioneered the way towards turn-key systems, the hands-on crowd graduated to mixing and matching PC components to obtain systems that were customized to their precise needs. This decade has seen the advent of the sealed systems, such as Apple’s iPad. There are no user-serviceable parts inside and indeed, it would take an engineer to figure out even how to open one! There are pros and cons to this design approach, so is it worth your while to be a customizer or an acceptor of the Gospel of Stock?
Customized computers are going the way of hopped-up cars
The customization of computing devices has, fortunately or unfortunately, gone the way of the automobile. In the Fifties and Sixties there was a huge industry catering to the millions of people who customized their cars to suit their own preferences. Hop-up kits which derived more power from standard factory engines were de rigeur, as were modifications to the hood to include fresh air scoops, and even raising the rear end to fit larger wheels for that racy drag strip look. With the creeping electronicization of our cars that mainstream market dwindled down to one for the rich lunatic fringe, as messing about with an engine these days requires half a million dollars worth of diagnostic equipment. The result is that precious few motorists customize their cars and the roads are filled with vehicles that are essentially identical.
If you want to upgrade a mobile’s innards, buy another one
Your iPad or Samsung Galaxy or other similar mobile device is just that… similar… to every other one that has ever been cranked out of the factory. Even though the manufacturers offer varied storage and connection options, those are only to be specified at the time of purchase. There is no way for your WiFi iPad to be upgraded to Wi-Fi + Cellular, or for the Dual Core A6X processor to be swapped out for a Quad Core. Similarly if you’ve purchased the 16 GB storage model and now find yourself pining for more capacity, the 128 GB level is only available by flogging your iPad on eBay and going out to buy the greater storage capacity model.
Apple revived the famous Henry Ford dictum
The defenders of this homogeneous model make the argument that there isn’t a single iPad which is identical to any other as the app combination loaded makes them unique to the individual user. While that is true as the possible combination of available apps creates probabilities in the quadrillions, that factor is only applicable on the software side. When it comes to hardware it’s not fair to say that today’s mobile computing manufacturers have re-adopted Henry Ford’s famous dictum that they can have it in any color they want as long as it’s black, but pretty close. When it comes to the iPad you have a choice of black or white, to have Cellular or not, and four storage capacity options. That means that of the over 125 million iPads sold to date, each “option” version has many millions of identical clones in the hands of users around the world.
The vast majority of these iPad users love their devices exactly the way they are and it is a testament to Apple marketing that they have been able to convince these millions that Cupertino Knows Best, and that they should be happy with the devices the way they are issued from the factory. While there is little doubt that the iPad is a consummately capable device as is most of the competition from Android, Windows, and BlackBerry, there is still the question left as to what these devices could have been if they had been devised to be customizable from Day One.