Presenting the iPad

The whole media world, it seems, was waiting for the iPad reviews to come out this week.  They were almost universally great. Walt Mossberg stopped just short of saying it was “magical and revolutionary” and even PC Magazine, that tecchie sceptic, had one review out of its several that was almost grudgingly positive. If you want to see a whole bunch of reviews side by side, here you go: http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/4/2010/04/ipad_review_matrix.jpg Although many qualities have been attributed to the iPad, one to note is that it actually IS a laptop – it fits comfortably in your lap  and as Xeni Jardin from Boing Boing says, “It fits well in my lap for tweeting when eating during lunch break, and it’s easy to wipe off a stray mayo glop and get right back to updating the world on the details of my sandwich (using Twitterific for iPad, a free app which does what it promises on the tin).” Jardin also gives a description of the iPad version of the “Periodic Table of Elements”, which sounds, although you may not believe it, unbelievably cool.  Its creator, Theo Grey describes the experience thus: “The Elements on iPad is not a game, not an app, not a TV show. It’s a book. But it’s Harry Potter’s book. This is the version you check out from the Hogwarts library. Everything in it is alive in some way.”

It’s very early days in iPad development – so far most media sites are making themselves iPad ready by stripping out their Flash (which is not compatible). Different media will use it in different ways, and over time, you can envision the melding together of the different media in which a story can be told – book, movie, TV show —  and having them all in one package. Immediately, it will shine, compared to its greatest competition, as an e-book reader.  It’s in color for one thing, which means that the big problem with the Kindle as a text book reader has been eliminated.  And, as far as that competition is concerned, a study of anticipated purchase of e-book readers over the next 12 months showed that… well, here, see for yourself:

PriceGrabber E-reader survey

Of course one of the main reasons that the iPad will easily outpace the Kindle is that is more than just an e-book reader.  The PriceGrabber study also asked people what they would be using their real or imagined iPad for. Only 13% of 1,631 people interviewed said they would use it primarily as an e-reader. Twenty percent would use it mainly as another “mobile productivity device,” 19% as a replacement for a laptop or a netbook, and 10% as an entertainment device (which is interesting in that entertainment is exactly what Apple is pushing right now).

Meanwhile, JP Morgan anticipates that although Amazon owns the e-book market now, the iPad, the Nook, and all of the other competitors will eat away that ownership until Amazon’s share is about 30%, which will still bring them about “$1billion in incremental value”.  The JP Morgan analyst, reports MediaMemo, “assumes that e-books will follow the path of music sales, which quickly moved over to digital following the introduction of mobile devices–specifically, Apple’s (AAPL) iPod. But there are several big differences between books and music, and the biggest one is that you don’t need a special device if you want to travel with a book–they’re already mobile.”

And then there are the apps.  As of today, a few of the earliest of early adopters, the journalists and others who got their mitts on pre-launch copies of the device, as well as some people are anticipating tomorrow’s love fest with their new toy, have already done a lot of downloading of apps.  No surprises here.  According to ReadWriteWeb, the top ten free downloads are: iBooks, Netflix, ABC Player, USA Today, The Wall St. Journal, NYT Editors’ Choice, NPR for iPad, Twitterific for iPad, eBay for iPad and Shazam for iPad. You did notice that Netflix was in there, didn’t you?  As far as paid apps are concerned, half of the top apps are for productivity or reference, including those from Apple’s Productivity Suite (i.e, Pages, Keynote).  Which may be an early indication that people are looking at this as a computer at least as much as an entertainment gadget.

Smaller publishers are rushing to create electronic versions of books, as well as the big houses.  Self-publishing service Smashwords has signed a distribution deal with Apple, and, according to VentureBeat, the distribution cost to get a book on the iPad is zero.  If you have a book you’ve been wanting to get published, this might be your moment.  All you have to do is make sure that it is in EPUB format and has a big cover image.  You can price it at anything ending in .99, as long as that number is less than a paper copy of the same book. Smashwords and Apple divide 40 percent of the ebook price.

The iPad is where the rubber will hit the road as far as the pay-wall for newspapers and magazines is concerned. Hulu will start charging for its services soon, and it’s possible that on a new platform, people will be more willing to pay than they would have been on a regular computer. Or…..

A recent article in the MediaPost about virtual currency caught my attention.  Ordinarily, I would toss off the billion dollars that Americans spend on goods in Second Life or on Farmville, as just one more idotic thing that people are willing to waste their money on.  But Douglas Quenqua brought up an interesting point here that ties in with the growth of the pay wall on the iPad.  So far, of course, virtual goods are the only thing you can buy with virtual money (even if you are paying real money to get it). Publishers, as we know are looking for a way to get people to pay for something that they’ve been getting for nothing. And they are looking at virtual currency as a way to make that happen.  “Letting readers charge $20 worth of a magazine’s virtual currency to their credit cards, which they can then spend in tiny increments each time they want to access a story, could solve a lot of problems.” Mostly, it alleviates a psychological barrier.  People tend to spend virtual currency fairly freely because it doesn’t feel like real money, and because they’ve already spent the money for it.  This is particularly enticing to companies like Condé Nast with multiple magazines.  Buying a chunk of what Quenqua supposes might be called “Condé Cash” would give a user access to several articles over several titles.  And lest you think disparagingly of this concept, look no further than Farmville, which raked in close to $100 million last year, despite the fact that only a small percentage of players opted to buy virtual goods on the site. And a number of gaming sites used virtual currency to make real donations to real charities, like Haitian disaster relief.

And here’s what it made me think – suppose there were iPad Bucks – virtual currency that you could use to buy music, magazine or newspaper articles, books, or apps.  Not that Apple wants to go into the banking business, but wouldn’t that make everything easier for the user?

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