MPs and iPads

Over at Political Scrapbook there’s a headline or “Tory MP too busy to answer emails buys £750 iPad on expenses.

Outrageous! Shocking! String him up!

George Freeman
George Freeman MP

Except… what has he done wrong? Well, refuse to answer emails, obviously. Except he hasn’t refused, he’s just replied en-mass with a statement. Not the best manners, but justifiable if his workload is high.

What has that got to do with his iPad? Nothing, actually. This headline is bad journalism. There are two separate issues here, one is whether he fulfills his duties in communicating with constituents, and the other is whether or not this expense is justifiable.

So, is his expense justifiable?

First of all, realise that MPs expenses are supposed to cover the running of their offices and administration. That includes purchasing computer equipment for that purpose.

Secondly, just because an iPad is a toy for many people, that does not preclude its use as a tool for work and productivity. In fact many journalists, writers, and others make very effective use of an iPad to carry out their work. An iPad can be used for searching the internet, reading documents, taking notes, replying to emails (!) and much more.

Thirdly, why an iPad when he could have had a cheaper tablet, or a netbook? How can he justify paying for Apple? Well, love or hate Apple, their products are the slickest, most effective, and simplest on the market. People that are terrified of computers can use an iPad. Everything is locked down and checked by Apple, so a virus is unlikely. Apps just work. The interface is simple. Yes, there are tablets running Android or Windows. None of them are anything like as simple or reliable as an iPad, and I say that as a fan of Android and I’m not particularly enamoured of Apple since they started being so ruthless and nasty while locking down their products. And anyway, if the cost of Apple can’t be justified, neither can the cost of Microsoft Windows. Could he use a netbook? Of course. But tablets have an extra edge, an extra simplicity, ease of access, that netbooks don’t have.

iPadI’ve seen bargain basement Android tablets. They’re pathetic. Sub-par construction, broken interfaces, and missing the Android Marketplace (app store equivalent) because the manufacturers haven’t licensed it from Google. People who buy these cheap tablets get very annoyed when they can’t find any of the apps that they expected to use. Many return the product in frustration.

So, then, I conclude that George Freeman is quite within his rights to purchase an iPad as a work tool, even if he happens to play a game on it one day. He recieves money to spend on computer equipment, and he has done so. I have no problem with his choice of product, I think it is right for the job and will boost his productivity.

None of that stops me being annoyed that he is a Tory, disagreeing with his views, or thinking perhaps he should pay more attention to his constituent’s complaints.