Like many of my fellow analysts, I was suitably impressed by the first accounts of the iPad introduced on Wednesday to an adoring crowd of Apple followers. Without the benefit of the actual device, a formal review is not possible. However, for the benefit of magazine, newspaper and other media publishers, a mini-review is in order.
On the hardware side, the iPad resembles an oversized iPhone. It was built around Apple’s own A4 processor, designed to prolong battery life. It has a 9.7-inch backlit LED touchscreen and a dock connector (for recharging and a host of potential USB add-ons, including a physical keyboard). It can have between 16 and 64 gigabytes of flash memory, plus a SIM card tray on some models. Networking includes 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth (standard) as well as 3G mobile network cabability on higher-end models.
The software applications shown at the launch covered a wide gamut, including browsing, email, calendar, presentations, basic word processing and spreadsheets, photo sharing and, of course, a wide range of media experiences. Video and audio media on the iPad are simply extensions of the iPhone/iPod paradigm. The book-publishing universe (particularly Amazon) will be heavily impacted by Apple’s decision to offer books in standard ePub format, although DRM, pricing and title selection questions remain. Magazine digital editions were not shown, but an iPad version of The New York Times — similar to its AIR-based Times Reader — offered a glimpse (barely) of the platform’s potential for newspapers.
Pricing begins at $499 for the base model, available in March. The higher-end 3G models will cost up to $829, and will be available in April. AT&T will continue as Apple’s 3G mobile network provider, despite recent service-related complaints in New York and other high-usage regions.
The iPad will use the iPhone operating system, not Mac OSX. This will disappoint Mac users looking for an easy replacement for their laptop and its applications. It does mean, however, that the iPad will run iPhone apps — over 140,000 by Apple’s count. This decision, combined with the physical dimensions and ergonomics of the iPad, is potentially great news for paginated media publishers (magazines and newspapers) and their advertisers. Let me explain:
The idea of using “pages” should not be dismissed as a relic of the print age. A page is simply a deliberate arrangement of text, images and other components — all designed to catch and hold one’s attention, and to convey a story or idea. Media such as magazines or newspapers can be a rich combination of compelling stories (narrative and commercial) for which a page, or series of pages, is the ideal vehicle. Whether the pages are printed or not is irrelevant. The key is sequential engagement — something that paginated media has succeeded at for decades. What the iPad makes possible is the addition of interactivity and relational engagement to the proven page approach.
Digital editions of magazines and newspapers are only beginning to tap the potential for combining sequential and relational engagement. (An upcoming Beacon study, Going Digital: Emerging Trends in Digital Magazine and Newspaper Publishing, will address this trend in detail.) The iPad and its potential applications for paginated media will only accelerate the process.
Publishers will make their share of mistakes in creating interactive pages for the iPad. As with other disruptive technologies (remember desktop publishing?) the ability to add new page elements includes the possibility of doing so foolishly. We should expect a host of poorly conceived digital edition apps, as we learn to design our e-pages. Out of that chaos will emerge new expertise, as successful publishers and advertisers build compelling e-publications worthy of this intriguing new platform. — John Parsons
John Parsons is the principle of Byte Media Strategies (www.bytemedianews.com) and the former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report. He is currently working with Steve Paxhia of Beacon Digital Strategies on a research study on digital editions for magazine and newspaper publishing, to be published in June. He may be contacted at email@example.com. This review ©2010 by Byte Media Strategies LLC. Published with permission.