According to the Ministry of Communications, the iPads operate under a different WiFi standard than the European one which has been licensed for wireless devices working in Israel. An MoC spokesman went so far as to express concerns that the American-standard iPad would “overwhelm” local WiFi networks with its allegedly stronger signal.
The iPad ban quickly found its way to the foreign tech press, fostering a number of articles none of which made us look very good.
Although there has been lots of theorizing about shadowy business concerns standing behind the iPad ban, it strikes me more as a case of Israeli bureaucracy having its head stuck firmly up its backside.
Although Israel has a bleeding-edge 21st century high-tech industry, it is regulated by government ministries whose mindset has not advanced much since the 1980s. Bureaucrats, like IT technicians and IDF quartermasters, tend to operate on the policy of “first say, ‘No’”. In this case they threw out what appears to be some half-understood mumbo jumbo about WiFi standards to bolster their case and will stand by it despite the fact that it’s all a bunch of rubbish.
Whatever the cause, the iPad for the moment remains certified un-kosher.
Adam Fisher at Bessemer points out that this is another example of “the shoemaker going barefoot” when it comes to Israeli tech. The Israeli tech industry is very good at inventing innovative technologies. And yet, the Israeli economy as a whole tends to lag behind when it comes to adopting and implementing new technologies on a large scale.
This is both doubly true and doubly puzzling when it comes to a lot of aspects of consumer technologies. Israelis are enthusiastic adopters when it comes to new gadgets. Israel had one of the fastest and most significant penetration rates for both Mobile phones and broadband. Similarly, the iPhone has taken off like crazy despite its super-premium price point.
And yet, it took more than two years for the iPhone to go on sale here officially, and nearly a year after it was being sold in Europe and other countries in the region. The same story goes for commercial WiFi, which only became available in 2004 after having been held up for several years due to IDF stonewalling, and is now extremely widespread
The tech lacunae here doubtlessly hamper the local hi-tech industry when it comes to developing compelling consumer applications. Besides the relative unavailability of iPhones over the last few years (one of the reasons, I’d argue, that we haven’t seen a lot of great app developers coming out of Israel), you could list issues as seemingly trivial as the fact that the Google Maps API renders Israel as one large undefined gray patch. This makes location-based services such as Foursquare virtually meaningless here.
I think this also helps answer a question I’ve had lately about one of the more compelling up-and-coming spaces in tech: augmented reality. On paper, at least, Israel should be leading the way with AR apps. The combination of location awareness and clever signal processing are both part of the Israeli skill set thanks to IDF technologies. And yet, I have seen almost no local startups in the space.
One of the drawbacks, it would seem, is lack of devices to work with. The iPad (assuming Jobs and his magical elves ever make the 3G model widely available to the world) should be one of the most logical platforms on which to run AR apps. But instead of pioneering the development, a lot of Israeli developers will first have to face the choice of sitting for months waiting for the iPad to work its way through bureaucratic hell or risk having their devices seized at the airport.