The iPad, “it’s ‘evolution’ my dear Watson”

Since the announcement of Apple’s iPad and the subsequent leaks on what features and capabilities will or won’t be included, I have taken a ‘wait & see’ attitude.  Some of the things that it won’t have like Adobe’s Flash or a camera, seem like real detriments to the device.  Then, this afternoon I caught a blog post from Clay Shirky titled “The Collapse of Complex Business Models“.  While on a different theme, his piece was the catalyst for the subsequent thoughts that formed for me.

First off let me qualify that I’m a Kindle user and love this device.  It is bar none, the best electronic reading experience I have ever had.  The combination of the soft backlit-less screen, the light weight, the awesome battery life, the built-in 3G for downloading books seamlessly, and the cost of books, really makes this a book reader’s device.  Second, let me qualify that other than pictures and online videos, I have yet to come in direct contact with an iPad.  With these two disclosures, I’ll explain why I think the iPad will still rock the world.

As I thought back to what kind of reading I was doing before the advent of the Internet, this broke out into four groups; (1) books (hard cover and paperback), (2) magazines, trade journals and newspapers, (3) documents that I or others had created using wordprocessors on our computers and printed, and (4) newsletters.  What all of these had in common was their portability, the idea that I could take any of these into any part of my home, or review on the way to the office, or on a plane, and still enjoy them all the same.  When most of these publications went online we gained from their timely delivery and in some cases from the ease and frequency with which they were updated, but we lost a tremendous amount in terms of their portability.  In the case of books and certain magazines, there were certainly not a practical read online.  The Kindle deals very well with books, but the magazine and newspaper experience has been a stretch for the device in my opinion.

Well, all of that looks to be resolved with the iPad.  In seeing some of the early prototype offerings being planned by the magazine publishers, it’s clear that the things that made magazines enjoyable like glossy pages and gee-wiz high quality images, are all looking to make a comeback on the iPad in a big way.  As for the newspapers, so many have moved towards similar online layouts to magazines that I believe they will benefit equally to magazines.  While the backlit screen won’t help with eye-fatigue, hence not making this device ideal for long hours spent with a book, the fact that many publishers are promoting more video (some are even going to offer HTML5 versions of videos for iPad users) and that the device will support iTunes, should overwhelm the book negative.  While perhaps in shorter doses, books might still be enjoyable given that the same device can distract its reader in so many other ways.  But most important in the iPad’s value proposition is the return of portability.  In a way, it’s the evolution of portability, because we’ve had portable music and video viewing devices already, but now all of these are be rejoined by the portability of magazines, all in one device.  Reading blog posts and tweets also come as additive bonuses, since at least in the case of the former, reading those on mobile devices did not make for an ideal portable experience.

Where magazine publishers’ content might be what makes the iPad successful, for all of these years that such a device has not existed, I think it’s Apple that should get most of the credit for bringing a device that can once again make magazines and newspapers relevant.  As for end-user fee-based business models, I think Clay Shirky’s piece referenced above should be heeded lest a new crop of magazine publishers come along and is able to better capitalize on the new device with a more compelling business model for end-users.




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