iPad as Media Savior: What Apple Got Right and Wrong

It figured out how to feed content to consumers; it completely ignored producers

Steve Jobs descended Mount Cupertino to deliver Apple’s iPad to the faithful on Wednesday. And no one was praying harder for a miracle than the publishing industry.

Jobs called it “a magical and revolutionary product,” which is what the media – particularly the beleaguered print kind – certainly hopes it will be.

Judging from Jobs’ flashy presentation (and reaction from Twitterville and around the Web) Apple got a lot right with the iPad, as far as the media industry is concerned. But not everything.

Here's what they got right, and what they got wrong.

RIGHT:

The size: Its 10-inch presentation is perfect for print publishers who have long sought a digital device that can replicate the display size of books and magazines – and those who complained about the experience of reading on handhelds.

“We think that we’ve captured the essence of reading a newspaper,” said Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations for the New York Times, which was given three weeks before iPad's launch to build a unique interface.

“We don't like reading long stories on a work device, like a laptop or desktop or really on the smartphones,” said Ken Doctor, a media analyst for Outsell. “We do like to nibble, a nibbling that's produced relatively little engagement with customers online, and too few ad dollars. The hope here [is that] tablets will be a consumer device, not a work device, and that readers might enjoy reading news, as they have long done in print.”

A plus on the consumer side, too: there’s already familiarity. “Because we’ve shipped so many iPhones and iPod touches,” Jobs said, “there are already over 75 million people who know how to use the iPad.”

The price. Starting at $499, the iPad will debut at roughly half the cost of what some pundits had predicted. (When Jobs announced the price Tuesday, a big applause ripped through the theater.) And expect the price to drop eventually, too, making the premiums publishers will charge at least somewhat palatable.

The display. Especially for its iBooks — another all-new application launching with the iPad. Which means it’s already going to rival other e-readers, like the Amazon Kindle. “Amazon’s done a great job of pioneering this functionality with the Kindle,” Jobs said Wednesday. “We’re going to stand on their shoulders and go a little further.” And when Apple stands on your shoulders, they eventually kill you.

The hookup with the iTunes Store. By syncing the iPad with iTunes – which most publishers are already familiar with through developing podcasts and iPhone applications – Apple is making it easier for content creators looking to jump into the iPad pool. That’s not to say that formatting your magazine for the iPad will be as easy as uploading a podcast, but at least it’s not completely foreign. And this says nothing of the film and TV studios that are imminently familiar with the iTunes way.

The battery life. At least for now. Jobs said that the iPad can run for 10 hours – that’s long enough to keep consumers entertained on even delayed domestic flights, without having to operate those unwieldy print newspapers in cramped coach. We'll see if 10 hours really means six.

Video games. During Tuesday’s presentation, there were plenty of demos of iPad’s gaming capability – Apple’s first reasonably formidable foray into that video game market. And while established mobile gaming players like Sony (with its PSP) have Apple beat on price, the iPad’s large screen could give consumers another incentive to pull the trigger on an iPad, particularly if game makers begin to adapt their buzzy titles for the iPad, too.

What They Got Wrong

Also, the price. Those who want the 3G version will pay $629 — $849 for 64GB storage. At those prices, says Doctor, “we could be waiting until 2012 to see meaningful adoption rates.” That's because without 3G, iPad users are confined to their homes or favorite Wi-Fi hotspots.

Also, the size. Its significantly larger footprint than the standard Kindle gives the Amazon e-reader a significant leg up in portability. And there will be those who are loyal to the Kindle's e-ink screen, which is considered to be easier on the eyes.

No Flash support. Which means no Hulu videos. And that's just for starters: The notion of having the Internet "in your hand" kind of goes out the window when just about any embedded video or site animation is unwatchable.
 
The hype. It allowed the iPad to be hyped as a savoir – right out of the gate. The intentionally mysterious build-up allowed for speculation among traditional media companies – great for brand hype-building, Apple’s specialty — but ultimately set the bar too high. If the iPad doesn’t save the newspaper industry immediately, some will view it as a failure. "I don't think this device is the messiah for print,” Jim Gaines, editor-in-chief of FLYPmedia and former corporate editor at Time Inc. told Agence France-Press this week. “But it is very possible that its descendents will be.”

The producer. It's strictly for media consumption – not creation. Nothing about the iPad appears to be content-producer friendly – no camera, no video, no conferencing, no phone.

Apple may be trying to kill the laptop, but for now, it seems, you’ll still need a laptop, camera and cellphone to be a competent digital journalist.

No multitasking functionality. “This is a backbreaker,” Gizmodo noted. “If this is supposed to be a replacement for netbooks, how can it possibly not have multitasking? Are you saying I can't listen to Pandora while writing a document? I can't have my Twitter app open at the same time as my browser? I can't have AIM open at the same time as my email? Are you kidding me? This alone guarantees that I will not buy this product.”

The name. iPad. The ensuing hygene jokes drove “iTampon” to become a top-trending topic on Twitter.


More to read:

Apple Unveils the iPad

[Images via GDGT's liveblog]