I pant, you pant, we all pant for iPad?
There's a whiff of desperation in the air. The iPad is now supposed to be the white knight that can save publishing. Is it?
I wrote before how the iPad will define a new market for consumer technology. There's no question of the appeal of a simple, extremely portable device with a decent-sized screen to peruse news headlines and browse magazine articles. But the mainstream media hype seems perhaps overblown a bit.
Despite the restrictions, the iPad's full color touchscreen is seen as a game changer for media companies that have long struggled to make money off digital content, which most consumers expect to get for free or at a very low cost.
Book publishers see a new chance to get their electronic offering right -- and win more bargaining power if the iPad emerges as a viable rival to Amazon.com Inc's Kindle.
"We have all struggled in this industry to find an online model that works successfully in terms of content and the consumer's propensity to pay," Penguin Books Chief Executive John Makinson told a recent media conference in London.
And then there's the mild FUD, such as in USA Today, who claims to have "your questions answered":
Q: The iPad doesn't run Flash, popular software from Adobe that powers many Internet videos. Isn't that a huge oversight?
A: Consumers are likely to find the iPad's lack of Flash incredibly frustrating.
But Apple thinks Flash is buggy and prone to crashing computers. It wants media presented in the alternative HTML5 format. That's fine, but if you bring home the iPad this weekend, you'll find many sites urge you to "Download the latest Adobe Flash Player." If you try, it won't work.
"Incredibly frustrating"? That strikes me as a bizarre claim. I've been finding more and more that sites depending upon Flash tend to be a few years out of date. And when it comes to video, the iPad, like the iPhone and Android, has a native YouTube application to play those videos. The odd sites that have other Flash at work are sites I simply tend to ignore and move on from. It's only "incredibly frustrating" if you feel some deep need to get at content presented by a Flash widget on a site (or a site built entirely in Flash). Absence is Flash is nothing new to to anyone who has a phone with a web browser.
Q: Can you run Adobe's Photoshop image-editing software on the iPad?
Actually that's not true. The iTunes store has had the Photoshop app up for quite some time now. [iTunes Photoshop app link] In fact, many software companies have developed lightweight apps that integrate with their more powerful desktop and/or web-based apps.
That's not to say that the iPad is going to thrill anybody as a computer. It's really an enlarged iPhone ... without the phone (and I'd say even the iPhone doesn't really have a phone). And I could see using it around the house as a magazine "e-reader". Maybe even for reading books, though on that score I'm not so sure.
John Erianne has an interesting take on why book publishing won't exactly be saved by the iPad/Apple store model:
Most readers are casual readers. Your average reader reads maybe two books per year. I’m not talking about voracious readers like yours truly — I’m talking about those people that might read the latest Twilight novel or maybe a Stephen King. These people will read a book once and then they are done with it. These people don’t spend a lot of money on books. Ironically, the more prolific the reader, the more esoteric their tastes in books so they may not go for the latest bestseller as gleefully as a casual reader. For perhaps different reasons, both of these groups aren’t going to be overly eager to spend $16.99 on a eBook and, unlike with music downloads, they are not likely to be downloading ten books at a time. Amazon has the advantage in that they’ve pretty much written the book on the selling of online books both the hardcopy and digital variety. Publishers fear Amazon the way brick ‘n’ mortar retailers fear Wal-Mart. And for good reason. Think about this: Amazon still has a virtual monopoly on selling hardcopy books online. They control the lion’s share of this market. As such, is it smart for a publisher to play hardball with Amazon over the Kindle? I’m not saying Amazon shouldn’t be taken down a peg or two, but when consumers are at stake, you’ve really got to pick your battles. And quibbling over a few dollars in price point is stupid.
While the Kindle may eventually go the way of the buffalo, Amazon is in a better position to turn the Kindle into device similar to an iPod Touch than Apple is to duplicate Amazon’s online marketplace for books. Which is not to say people won’t buy the iPad. Apple-o-philes will undoubtedly shell-out the $500 for this new toy just because it’s from Apple as well as other techies and gizmo-lovers who just have to have it because it’s the new thing. Just don’t bet on it as a game-changer the way the iPod and the iPhone were. It-is-not-going-to-happen.
And yet, I think we'll see more than just Apple fanboys snapping up iPads. Who else? Gizmodo has a funny post profiling 6 types of iPad fans and critics in which lot of it rings true — although I don't see myself in one category, but rather see bits of myself in all of them.
Still, while iPad represents at least a small inflection point in how people consume information, it remains to be seen how this will change publishing — let alone, whether it will be "revolutionary" in any way. It really depends upon the market. And on that score, maybe John Etienne is right: Apple is reaching out of its zone of competence and challenging Amazon's core business. And my bet is Amazon isn't going to take it lying down.
My sense, though, is that it's not entirely up to Apple. We have open source Android-powered touchpad devices coming soon, and they likely won't be constrained by Apple's walled market castle business model. How will content producers adapt to these new consumer behaviors? And will the consumers truly view a touchpad as profoundly different than the computer experience to the point of being more willing to open their wallets, as publishing prognosticators are predicting? The market will decide.
Personally I feel we need a new banking system where online transactions can operate in the fractions of a cent, rather than accommodating the roughly 30-cent floor on credit card-based transactions. (But that's a topic for another blog post.)
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how much of a breakout success the iPad will be, especially when even geeks run into the challenge of finding content. Dave Winer shared his experience this morning:
Okay so the iPad has a problem that lots of software has, when you finish the basic setup -- now what? There are no movies, newspapers or books on the device, and no clue as to how to get them on there. Those are the first things I want to do, see how it plays stuff. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I should disconnect and see what I get....
...Where can I get a book to try out for $0?
I also have to get Netflix. And the NY Times. What else?
Okay I want to copy bigLebowski.avi onto the iPad. How?
How to find good content. Hasn't that always been the challenge?