Why Apple’s iPad Is So Significant To The Future Of Publishing

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).

sethvook

garyv_vook

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.

5 Unmissable TED Talks On The Future Of Technology And The Web

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#1 Tim Berners-Lee On The Next Web of Open, Linked Data

20 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. For his next project, he’s building a web for open, linked data that could do for numbers what the Web did for words, pictures, video: Unlock our data and reframe the way we use it together. (Recorded at TED2009, Feb 2009)

Read More

The Real Dynamics Of First-Mover Advantage

Mick Liubinskas (Co-Founder and Web Product Director of Pollenizer) wrote a piece today on ReadWriteWeb as part of their ReadWriteStart channel that had some great points about the realities of “first mover advantage” that I’ve heard echoed by many battle-hardened internet entrepreneurs. The post is titled First-Mover Advantage Is About Compound Interest, Not Market Share. Here are some of best nuggets: Read More

Designing Remarkable, Viral Widgets

Image Credit: http://opengardensblog.futuretext.com

Image Credit: http://opengardensblog.futuretext.com

As the popularity of blogging, social media and open source development continue to explode, widgets are taking root as a mainstay of the online social experience. The interdependency of self-publishing, social media and open source platforms are ensuring that widgets, those bits of code that allow us to aggregate, publish and share a wide variety of different content/information in one place, are here to stay. In fact, the rapid growth in online cultural trends like lifestreaming, microblogging and social browsing is creating increased demand for ways users can pull information from a diverse array of profiles and information sources, aggregate them and publish them quickly and easily. Said simply, widgets help us glue the web together, and as online social ecosystems become more complex, and as web sites and web based applications rely on more underlying services, widgets will prove to be a core component of the self-publishing culture and infrastructure.

For all of these reasons, we can estimate that companies will continue to throw a lot of time, money and energy at creating widgets and widget-like applications that online goers want to use. That said, not all widgets are created equal, and only the very best widgets spread (which is the whole idea). In this post I want to explore what makes a remarkable viral widget and offer developers some design tips…

#1 It’s Not About You.

Widgets that are perceived as ads rather than tools lose, plain and simple. Widget design should always be about the publisher/user and their content. Developers can put a small trademark on it, a link back to their service and a “grab this (for yourself)” button, but that better not be the focus. Subtlety in marketing is critical. It’s easy for developers to get excited about building an “ultra viral” widget that promotes the heck out of their service and brand, and it’s natural to want to put their mark in a prominent place that steals the show. Big mistake. Widgets that win put the user’s content front and center. Self-publishing isn’t like fashion. There are no label whores. Users want to highlight their stuff, not yours. The moment a reader sees a widget, interacts with it and THEN thinks “can I get one of these and do this myself?” is the point that they’ll start looking for a trademark. That moment should be the first time they notice your marketing. Viral is about the utility of the tool, not the marketing.

#2 One Size Fits Few

If you think you can make a popular one-size-fits-all widget these days, you’re dead wrong. The one-widget-for-all model is dead. More and more amateurs are diving into code and are customizing their blogs and social profiles in all kinds of different ways. People know that creating a unique web site design is key to blogging and online-social success. Radical individualism IS the norm when it comes to web design. For that reason, users want widgets that fit in a variety of spaces to fit THEIR unique design, so make it easy for them to get what they want. Developers should consider designing an easy to understand installation wizard that allows users to easily create a widget of any size they chose TO THE PIXEL, no matter how wacky. Flexibility will win out over standardization. Maybe even offer a few shape-formatting options. Help them look good and they will love you for it. You’ll be sewing the seeds of evangelism.

#3 Make It Customizable & Reflective of The User’s Personality

Personalization and being different is everything on the web. Widgets need to fit that trend. Give the publisher every facility you can to personalize the widget so their instance of it is different than any other user’s instance.  This could be as simple as letting them select a fixed color scheme OR as complicated as pulling the user’s account data in from other services (for example, FriendFeed’s feed widget pulls delicious tags, twitter updates, Flickr photos etc all into one feed).

#4 Dynamic, User-Created Content Increases Engagement

Giving people tools to make their site(s) more engaging should be a primary goal of every widget developer. A lot of developers out there seem to forget this, which baffles me. Good widgets are useful tools for the user FIRST and branding for the developer a distant second. Users should see an obvious value proposition when they ask themselves “How can I use this to enhance MY brand/message/content mix?”. On the flip-side, readers who engage a user’s widget are asking “What does the information this widget delivers say about the author?” If the answer is “nothing”, reader engagement completely vanishes and wont return. You only really get one chance to convince a reader that your widget is something they should pay attention to (and might want for themselves). If they decide that it’s not, readers will simply remember that the widget is there, and that they should ignore it and skip to primary content. Ad blindness works the same way. It’s the developers job to turn a widget into a node of interaction, and the way to do that is to allow widget users to create and display THEIR content with it. When readers see fresh streams of dynamic, user-created content in a widget, they’ll remember it, return to it and interact more.

#5 Make It Simple Stupid and Easy To Maintain

Simplicity of installation is just one part of the challenge. Making a widget easy to maintain is the other. To keep a widget engaging, a user needs to keep creating dynamic content, which is not easy these days given the complex array of things we do online in any given day. Developers need to be sensitive to the fact that most people who blog and use social media are dying for simplicity – many have too many accounts and use to many services to manage it all consistently…the time and effort required to add yet ANOTHER widget (and new behaviors) that they need to manage will (in most cases) lead a user to decide against joining your widget community at all. Widgets that win will allow users to create content by doing the things they already do. For example, a widget that showed the most recent items in my Netflix queue would update automatically as I updated my queue in Netflix, and not require any additional work on my part. AdaptiveBlue’s widgets are a great example of this.

#6 Individualization and Community

One last point before I wrap up. Widgets often represent a user in a greater community  – sometimes they act like a badge that identifies the individual as part of a tribe (think mybloglog). Although I’ve discussed above how making a widget personal and customizable is important, developers should also remember that if a widget is about community building, allowing users to highlight their affiliation and status within that community is also very important.  People don’t want to just stand out from a crowd, they want to belong to your community. Let them show that affiliation proudly.

In short, the above are just some thoughts I have on building great widgets based on my experiences and observations. What are yours?