It wast much of a surprise that in the hours leading up to and following Apple’s official unveiling of the iPad, “Kindle” was also a trending topic on Twitter. Whether the iPad will kill the Kindle is on a lot of people’s minds and while I’m not going to speculate on the future of the Kindle, I think you can be pretty damn sure that Jeff Bezos didn’t sleep well this week. For what it’s worth, I think Apple’s about to float comfortably into an almost uncontested blue ocean where competing with the Kindle won’t be much of a concern. But most importantly, this launch is going to shift publishing practices and change consumer behavior and expectations significantly this year. Here’s why…
First, The Bad
Before I say anything, I do share some concerns with the iPad’s design. No multitasking, no camera, and no Flash makes me scratch my head a little. Including a camera seems like a no-brainer. The only reason I can think to leave it out would be to reduce the cost to hit a price point. I have a feeling people will complain about their inability to use iChat or use Skype video etc.
Not being able to view Flash content when you browse the web on a screen that big is also a downer – you’re going to have holes in some websites, and you can forget about streaming video. Also, no multitasking completely eliminates the iPad’s ability to compete with even the simplest netbooks. Not having multitasking on the iPhone isn’t that big a deal in my eyes, but I have a feeling that with the larger screen people will expect more of a laptop like experience. That said…
The Market Is Primed For An In-Between Product That Improves The Reading Experience
You might say that the iPad is just a jumbo oreo, and that Apple’s R&D team has lost it’s magic touch. I’m not convinced that that argument has legs, though. True, what’s missing in the iPad’s design gives some of us pause, and the device doesn’t seem to be well-positioned to compete with netbooks, but I don’t think that’s the point.
Even with what it’s missing in this first-generation design, it’s clear that Apple is going to clear the “reading experience” hurdle that plagues the iPhone, and bring users a rich multimedia experience that other ereaders can’t match.
Creating a better reading experience on a screen is what this movement towards ereaders is all about. And that’s all they really had to do with this release – take everything we love about the iPhone, create a significantly better default reading experience and give it lots of screen real-estate for app developers to go wild. That’s it. And that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Here are a couple of videos from Popular Science’s vault that show what the reading experience is actually like on the iPad. It’s obvious that this is where the Apple R&D team put a lot of their effort:
The iPad Is The Best Positioned Device To Become The Next Major Platform For Innovation
If you ignore the device’s shortcomings and focus instead on what the device has going for it, it’s hard to argue that Apple isn’t well positioned to shake up the market:
- Familiarity Is An Important Intangible Asset: Millions of people already use iPhones and are familiar with the interface, the apps, the app store and iTunes. The Jumbo Oreo can be a good thing when it comes to adoption because it eliminates the perception of learning curves for consumers – don’t forget that just holding a tablet creates a completely new computing experience. Going “too innovative, too fast” could actually put Apple at risk for releasing something too different that turns mainstream consumers off. By sticking with the familiar UI, look and feel, consumers know what they’re going to get – and make no mistake, initial perceived value can make or break a product. This thing hasn’t even been released and consumers that are usually at the center of the adoption curve are probably already confident that they’ll be expert users on day one, even though the device represents a paradigm shift in computing. Chew on that for a second.
- Consumer Lock In: iTunes users and iPhone owners already have tons of purchased content and apps that they can start using the second they open the box. There isn’t a single other competing device that that’s true for in this market. Access to 140,000 apps at your fingertips. From day one.
- Apple’s (probably) Not Excluding Other Book Publishers: Users will likely be able to read their Kindle and B&N e-book purchases on the iPad. It doesn’t make sense that they’ll stop Amazon, B&N and any of the independent e-book publishers from creating their own applications. There’s always the possibility that Apple could decide that these apps now “duplicate” a core feature of its own apps and ban all other e-reader apps from the devices, but that this seems like a highly unlikely scenario.
- It’s all about the apps and the developer gold rush: It was a smart move by Apple to announce the device AND the iPad developer platform together, a full 60 days before the device is going to be available for purchase. You can bet your ass there are hundreds of developers busting their hump to make release day. We all saw what happened with the iPhone app store, and the developers know how important it is to be first to market. This’ll just be a rinse and repeat exercise – and this time, Apple’s given developers a ton more screen real estate to work with and opened the doors for new companies to focus on creating rich reading experiences. This’ll increase the size of Apple’s army of developers and companies that are going out of their way to push their apps and do the marketing for Apple. The structure of the marketing effort is completely different than any other eReader launch. After seeing what’s happened with the iPhone over the last 2 years, people are expecting the iPad to be able to do things it can’t even do yet on day one – and they’re also expecting the device’s utility and versatility to increase over time – more apps will come
The Reading Experience Itself Is Going To Change
I’ll say it one more time for emphasis (sorry) – it’s all about the apps – that’s where the real innovation is going to happen, and that’s where consumers are expecting it to happen. They don’t want a crazy new device they have to learn how to use – they want something they know how to use that does new and useful things. The extra screen real estate is exactly what developers have been waiting for, and it’s all they need to change the way we think about reading.
One of the innovations I’m most excited about is multimedia enriched books. Those of us who are used to reading and learning on the web have been waiting eagerly for this. There’s a company who’s already in pole position to deliver – Vook.com. The cleverly named “Vooks” (part video part book) are going to be some of the first instances of mutlimedia rich story telling on platforms like the iPad – and they’re not a part of the hardware – they’re apps. Seth Godin‘s already announced that he’s getting on the bandwagon, and Gary Vaynerchuck‘s got his latest book Crush It! on Vook already (and why the hell wouldn’t you want to experience Gary’s energy and exuberance on video along with his writing).
The point is that the “book” as a product is about to change. Long form content is going to start looking a lot more like web content – learning text will be accompanied by video tutorials, cook books will have recipes with matching technique segments and fiction texts will start looking a lot more like Myst. If players who are making these new multimedia apps can get the pricing right the floodgates will open and there’ll be no looking back. I’m not saying that books will disappear, I’m just saying that the iPad as a platform opens the market up to many more options and lots of innovation that extend the long tail of the marketplace for reading experiences.
And all of this together is why Apple’s iPad is going to be significant to publishing.
Thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments.