5 top reasons it might be time for an iOS desktop

Summary:What do you think? Is it time for an iOS desktop?

The above is a mock-up of a possible iOS desktop device. Blame neither Apple nor Photoshop for your esteemed author's lack of mocking-up skills.

As many of you know, I've often been critical of Apple for the restrictive and closed nature of its iOS. I've complained that users should have the freedom to modify their devices in any way they see fit, and companies like Apple shouldn't dictate what device owners can and can't do. I've also been critical of Apple because of some of the reported conditions at its factories.

Then I had the opportunity to observe my neighbor in his natural digital habitat. As I wrote Monday, I have an elderly neighbor who's a malware magnet. Although this last bout of malware was the fault of the security companies who left him high and dry, it's anyone's guess when he'll get himself in trouble again.

See, my neighbor loves the Internet. He surfs, clicks, downloads, and opens attachments with reckless abandon. You can almost picture him hanging his head out of the car window as it roars down the information superhighway, yelling "Whee, whee, WHEE!" at the top of his lungs.

My neighbor desperately needs a restrictive and closed OS.

Many of you suggested we should move him to Linux, but with this man's ability to get himself in digital trouble, Linux is not the weapon of mass destruction we want him to get his hands on. My wife fears for our home's safety if I get my hands on a plasma cutter (for good reason!) and our neighborhood fears putting more power in my friend's hands.

But iOS is perfect! He can be locked into a browser that doesn't support add-ons. He can be locked into an OS that doesn't support modification. He can be locked into using email, but only opening attachments that are safe to open.

With iOS, my friend could be set free, free to roam the wild Internet, free to click to his heart's content, free to open silly email attachments from his buddies, free to play all the Flash games... Oh, wait, well, maybe not that free.

Of course, he could have this freedom now with an iPad, except he's a senior citizen in his 80s, and uses his current 22-inch monitor at 1024x768. The iPad screen is just too small.

We actually thought about using the HDMI port on the iPad 2 and feeding that to a large monitor. The problem is, he'd still have to look at (and actually see) the small screen to control the large screen, and that'd be a problem for his eyes.

What he really needs is an iOS desktop computer. He needs a computer with a big screen that's got all the draconian strictness of iOS. XP can't reign him in. Windows 7 can't reign him in. Linux might reign him in, but Linux might also give him unnatural and dangerous superpowers. What he needs is iOS.

So what would an iOS desktop machine look like?

Next: What an iOS desktop might be like »

« Previous: Keeping surfers safe

Well, it would be a big screen device, 22-inches or larger. It would have a touch screen, so if he wanted to make a section of text or picture even larger, he could just reach up to the screen and multi-touch his way to happiness. It would also have a mouse or touchpad, so he wouldn't need to hold his 83-year-old hands up in front of his face for hours at a time.

It wouldn't need to have any more power than the iPad. It wouldn't need a hard drive. It wouldn't need a ton more memory. It could simply be an iPad, scaled up for desktop use.

It also wouldn't have to cannibalize the Mac market. An iOS desktop is a different beast than a Mac. My friend doesn't want to create. He just wants to play. Give him a good solitaire game, let him surf, let him send grouchy messages to his friends, and he'd be about as happy a camper as happy campers get.

If it were just about keeping my friend safe, that might not be enough justification for Apple to make an iOS desktop. There are other good reasons. Here are top reasons it might be time for an iOS desktop.

1. Porn free, kiddie safe, and senior safe

iOS may be too restrictive for an experienced geek, but most people don't chafe because they're not allowed to change their app launcher. On the other hand, most people are heavily threatened by those bad apples across the world who are trying to separate people from their money, harm our kids, and otherwise cause damage.

While a portable device like the iPad is useful for many people, we still spend a lot of time at our desks, and that viewing distance and usage method is the most comfortable for many.

To keep our loved ones safe, it might be time for an iOS desktop.

2. More productivity

It's still not as easy to produce long-form projects and documents using an iPad as a real computer.

Keynote, Pages, and Numbers might be moderately useful in tablet form, but if you've gotten to know how to use those products and need to produce something in a longer form, nothing beats sitting at a desk with a mouse and keyboard and getting down to work.

3. Classroom education

Keeping our kids safe is a big benefit to the iOS environment, but it can be costly for a school to equip each student with an iPad. Plus, there are always the challenges of theft and breakage.

Sure, there are anti-theft clips for the iPad, but schools are long used to having (and physically asset-managing) Apple desktops. It makes total sense for classrooms to have rows of iOS desktops, physically and permanently secured to the desks.

Just as long as you're not teaching programming, Web development, or anything that requires creating any sort of code on the machines, an iOS desktop would be perfect.

4. Libraries and public locations

Like schools, public libraries and other public locations might be more comfortable managing physical desktop machines instead of very portable (and breakable) iPads.

Librarians spend a lot of time (and field a lot of hacks) to make sure their machines are operating in a predictable state when used. All of that hackery wouldn't be necessary with an iOS desktop.

All they'd have to do is install the apps they want, don't tell anyone the iTunes password, and be done.

Zero flexibility and 100% predictability.

5. Apple needs the cash

Have you seen Apple recently? They're obviously not making enough money. They need to find some sort of product that might be a hit. After their recent string of products that have failed to resonate with consumers, maybe it's time to think differently (or different, for that matter).

6. Bonus reason: enterprise security (UPDATE)

ZDNet EiC Larry Dignan wrote a really interesting post on tablet adoption in the enterprise. Apparently only 2% of enterprises are comfortable with employees bringing their own PCs into work, but a full 26% are using tablets. Read Larry's article to learn more, but an iOS desktop might work as well for some businesses (and job categories) as it does in schools and public locations.

Of course, I don't expect to see heavy power-users using these things, but we've for years issued simple, low-power PCs with Web interfaces and email to support staff. In the past, we used to have local applications that had to run on the PC for specific work-related tasks, but now -- with some much available in the cloud -- a basic iOS desktop with a browser probably would be all you'd need for a lot of typical jobs. Worth thinking about.

It's time

In all seriousness, I believe that -- despite all the flaws I've discussed over the years -- iOS may well be the safest environment for discipline-challenged Web surfers.

That's why I think it might be time for an iOS desktop.

Related coverage:

What do you think? Is it time for an iOS desktop?

Topics: Hardware, Apple, iPad, Mobile OS, Mobility, Operating Systems

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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