by Marcus Carab

Filed Under:
communications, ipad, publishing

Are Publishers Putting Too Much Stock In The iPad, Or Are They Just Doing It Wrong?

from the either-way-their-hopes-are-too-high dept

Jim Lillicotch points us to a post by MediaPost blogger Steve Smith, who was surprised by his 18-year-old daughter's immediate dismissal of the iPad. It may be, as he speculates, an omen of the device's future in general, but he also makes some points specifically related to the publishing industry that are worth highlighting.

"I need a keyboard. Even my phone has that." It is really all about input for her, and her focus on interactivity underscores a glaring limitation of the iPad. It is primarily a media consumption device, not an interactive device. Publishers think of digital merely as a delivery vehicle, but users think of digital as a communications and interactive platform. After a life of leaning in, why would she want to lean back and consume content just to make media companies' business models work for them?

Smith lists several drawbacks to touch-screen tablet input that probably haven't occurred to those who, like me, have never gotten the chance to use one. I still think that with the right interface and after some design iterations, iPads (and other tablets) will be excellent interactive devices, but Smith is dead right in his assessment of how publishers view them. The iPad magazine demos that some have shown off are compelling and cool, but they are mostly one-way media. This is exacerbated by the obsession with native apps, which Smith notes are much less likely to explode on the iPad the way they did on the iPhone:

Unlike the iPhone, where an app can clearly trump a mobile Web site experience, the iPad makes full Web browsing much more viable. Early audience research I have seen suggests that for even those interested in the iPad, Web browsing and email are rated far above app downloads as the device's main attraction. And so, publisher apps will be competing with their own Web sites.

This is a point we've made before: everything in these fancy magazine apps can be replicated in the browser (there is one small problem to do with scrolling that remains, but even that has nearly been solved). Publishers should be working to ensure that their product—whether it's books, magazines or newspapers—is available on every platform with minimum hassle, instead of building closed apps that frustratingly trap the user. Nobody is loyal to one publication anymore, and nobody wants a dozen different news and magazine apps littering their tablet or smartphone—they want to browse the web the way they always have. It's time for publishers to stop trying to alter user behaviour, and start learning from it.

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  1. icon
    Brooks (profile), 29 Mar 2010 @ 12:38pm

    I'm going to disagree

    I think we may be in for a surprise, and I think native, per-publication apps may very well see substantial success. Here's why:

    - Users don't care about the difference between a native app and a browser. If switching between apps gets better, it's just not going to matter.

    - Native apps are designed with very well known device parameters. A web app has to scale between different devices, expect different input devices, different CPU and GPU capabilities, and so on. Native apps allow for standardization and higher (perceived) quality.

    - Publishers are more likely to invest in easily monetizable products. Spending $1M on a native app can be justified by looking at price points, expected retention, and so on. They might be *wrong* but at least "how are we going to make money from this" is easily understood, at least compared to trying to justify spending $1M on a new web site.

    - iPhone/iPad/iPod offer a very low transaction cost to the user. Your credit card is already on file; it's two clicks to pay and you get immediate gratification. Publishers don't have that option on the web

    I think some of the arguments against iPad's success are based on wishful thinking -- content *should* be open, users *should* reject vendor lock-in, open standards *should* produce just as robust an experience, etc. But I'm increasingly convinced that actual reality may make iPad an attractive solution for consumers.

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