The iPad is a toy, but still good news for newspapers


The iPad has been available in Canada for just over three weeks and the hype runs large, especially for those of us in media. I feel like an iPad veteran having received my device shortly after they were introduced in the United States in late April.

There is no doubt that the iPad is well designed, easy to use with an interface that truly is intuitive. Pinching and spreading fingers to increase or decrease the size of the material on screen really is a joy. Simply put, it works well. The size and feel makes it the perfect device to surf the web, play videos, watch movies and read books, magazines and newspapers.

So is this a serious game-changer or just another toy, a gadget, another entertainment device?

The debate about just how the iPad and the expected flurry of tablets coming to market will actually change the “game” is hotly debated on many fronts. The techies are quick to criticize the simplicity of the device and they love to beat up on the quality of the applications and how they are built. The user comments for many of the magazines available on the iPad are quite complimentary while the techies tend to tear apart the technology behind the experience.

To date I’ve seen some users who really are embracing the iPad and I see them slowly moving away from their laptops. As for me, well, I’m typing this blog on my laptop, not my iPad. That’s because I hate the keyboard on the iPad. It’s fine to search the web. But beyond that I don’t find the experience to satisfy my more intense work-related needs.

The iPad, and probably the tablets to come, are not likely to replace any device for the majority of consumers, making it a toy in my opinion. A nice, beautifully engineered toy, but a toy nonetheless.

But I don’t think this is a bad thing for media organizations. This letter-sized device works perfectly to consume information in a leisurely way, not hunched over your laptop in a lean-forward manner but relaxed on the couch or at the dining room table in a lean-back mode.

Don’t think about users consuming your product, but imagine them enjoying the experience with your content. Newspapers and magazines are especially blessed with this new device as the size, feel and functionality suit them perfectly.

So who will be using the device? It’s hard to tell at this point because the hype drives sales. Early adaptors and Apple enthusiasts are rushing out to buy the iPad, creating a supply and demand problem. This is probably not sustainable. I’ve seen a sales forecast that indicates Apple might sell as many as 20 million devices in the United States by the end of next year. Impressive? Yes. It’s a nice volume, but only a fraction of the total population.

It’s quite possible this will be a niche device for some time to come. It’s a lifestyle device. People like the ability to easily browse the Internet, they like the portability and they like that it’s somewhat affordable. Sales will be driven mostly by want, not need. Also, it will appeal most to Apple lovers, high-income earners, those aged 25-49 and will likely skew slightly male.

Early research indicates the market for tablets will likely be heavy news consumers. These users may be more likely to pay for content, thus opening a door for media organizations. But what will those same organizations do with their web sites? It’s hard to believe we will see users rushing to pay for content on the iPad or any tablet if the same content is available online for free. Both the New York Times and News Corporation appear to be heading toward locking down their dot-com operations, limiting free access to a limited volume or news of abundance, interesting times.

So, is this device a toy and if so is that good or bad for media organizations?

I believe it’s a toy and that this will play out well for media organizations. People may not pay for content, but they will pay for entertainment, leisure activities and an enjoyable experience.

Newspapers and magazines have a great opportunity.

Let’s not squander it.

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