Ignore the crappy name. The iPad is a game changer for news media.

January 27, 2010

Make no mistake, today’s introduction of the iPad was a big
deal for a lot of reasons. But for news media it was nothing less than
earthshaking. As we swim through reviews from the technology press it may be hard to
see the forest for the trees – especially since the iPad is missing Flash, a
camera, a hard keyboard, whatever-floats-your-boat, etc. – but the reason why the iPad is
important to news media has less to do with hardware and more to do with
software we have yet to see.

Before I go further, a disclaimer.

I love Apple products.  I’m on my fourth Mac and I own an iPhone. I was an Apple contract employee my senior year of college. But please leaven that with the fact that I also spent college doing repair work for PCs, VAX/VMS and Unix machines as well as Apple. I used to bleed Windows and hated Mac-heads, until I got sick of fixing the same recurring problems on my own PC. Then I saw why Apple products are great. They just work.

So, my religious conversion aside, here’s the things that most impressed me with Apple’s demo today:

  • 150 million iTunes accounts – That’s 150 million people who are have already put their credit cards into Apple’s computers. An incredible draw for anyone selling anything.
  • 75 million iPhone owners – Like Steve Jobs said, those are people who already know how to use (and like) the iPhone interface. Because so many people already have a high likelihood of purchasing the new iPad, content providers can be sure there will be readers on this platform soon.
  • Over 3 billion Apps sold through iTunes – Again, lots of people like to buy stuff through Apple. Not through Amazon. Or B&N or what ever proprietary system devised by Google or Palm.
  • Books sold on iTunes will use ePub standard – If you’ve coded HTML, this open standard is easy to understand. Anyone can create content – text, video or audio and publish it immediately.
  • Five major book titles are behind the launch – It’s not as big as when four big record labels got behind iTunes, the book market is more fragmented, but it means lots of new content will be hitting iTunes’ virtual shelves.

Then, some other things we didn’t see in the demo:

  • McGraw Hill CEO Statement – Terry McGraw’s early leak on iPad yesterday just proves that one of the world’s biggest textbook publishers is taking iPad seriously. Imagine if you bought your college textbooks on iPad? Remember what a pain selling your books were? Imagine the money saved by eliminating print.
  • Sports Illustrated’s “think piece” – Watch this amazing video. SI released it in December and it shows not just how forward thinking SI editors are, but how much cooler SI could be on the iPad rather than print. If you could subscribe to this today, would you buy an iPad? I think I have a sports nut brother-in-law that might. (He does not like computers, BTW.)
  • iPhone OS 3.0 In App Purchase API – Bear with me here on the geek speak. Apple announced this last year. It basically means that you don’t have to run over to iTunes to buy stuff. From Apple PR, “you can create a subscription magazine app where you ask for payment on a monthly, yearly or periodic basis of your choice…Build a general-purpose city travel guide app and let your customers pick the city guides they want.”

Are you excited yet?  It gets better. Although the iPad won’t hit the street for two months, you can download the iPad developer kit today and start making your new online magazine/newspaper/hybrid-whatever. Anyone. Even you.

The hybrid-whatever ideas are what excites me the most. With each new information technology paradigm – and that’s what the iPad is – we’ve learned that new technologies bring new uses and new ways of seeing things. We should expect future news products to be a blend of newspaper/tv/travel guide/magazine/blog/etc. Everything will blend. 

Don’t try to mash this into your current understanding of things.  It’ll be totally different.