Though whispers of an Apple tablet device practically predate Australopithecus, this week they’ve reached a fever pitch. It’s been reported by several news outlets that the supposed iTablet will feature a 10-inch touchscreen, both Wi-Fi and 3G data, and a custom ARM processor. It’s already been priced at $800 and even greenlit by none other than His Majesty Steve Jobs for a September release. Not one iota of this has been officially confirmed, but the prospect of a Mac Tablet seems more within reach than ever before.

This is not a good thing. If an Apple tablet is ever actually released, we should all be very concerned for the future of what most of us take for granted today: our digital freedom.

The Apple tablet will likely sit somewhere in between the iPhone and a Mac laptop. But it won’t just blur the line between them—-it will attempt to erase it. This should scare you because it will be the biggest leap yet towards the notion of a completely closed “desktop” operating system.

Much of the iPhone’s success is due to the fact that it’s the first smartphone in history that feels like using a real computer. But, think for a minute how different it still is from a desktop or notebook. On a Mac computer, you’ve got a filesystem you can access and monkey around with. You can download any program you wish (from wherever you wish) and install it. You can open up the box and customize the hardware. You can run Windows or Linux on it if you were so inclined. The iPhone, on the other hand, is by design like living under Dad’s roof--convenient, but restrictive. Without some serious rule breaking, you’re only allowed to do the things Dad says are OK to do. Want to download a cool program? Ask Dad. Want access to the files in that 32GB of storage? Sorry, but Dad says no. Want to do the whole ‘Manually Managed Music’ thing on more than one computer (like every iPod ever made)? Dad took away that privilege, and as he is wont to do, he won’t tell you why: “They are different devices that behave differently,” is Apple’s response. Thanks.

Now, imagine what life would be like if your laptop or desktop was subject to the same draconian rule. If Apple decided it didn’t want you using Flash anymore, it would take it away and there’d be no way short of potentially breaking the law for you to ever get it back. If you wanted to download a useful new program (Google Voice, perhaps?) you’d have no choice but to go through the App Store to get it, hoping with fingers crossed that Apple had allowed it to exist—though, experience would tell you otherwise. If you wanted to move files from your computer to another device or just to another folder, you’d need a paid MobileMe account. And, any freedoms you do have today could just as easily be gone with tomorrow’s software update.

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