Letters, Feb. 8, 2010

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Readers can't stop chiming in on Apple's iPad

Re: Phil Johnson's "The IAgency: How the IPad Will Change the Advertising Business" (AdAge.com, Feb. 3)

Thanks for another great post, Phil. I think it speaks first to Apple's penchant for releasing devices that are basically public betas. I was online for several hours in June 2007 when iPhone was released to the public, and it was only a matter of months before I was hearing about how there was a rebate on version No. 2 for us guinea pigs who dared to take the initial leap.

I think iPad is executing a similar model, and I would be cautious to fully embrace this as a new channel until they settle a few important issues, primarily the lack of Flash compatibility. For agency creatives, the iPad will be a gorgeous new medium for content and brand messaging when we can animate those messages without the time and GB required for video.

What iPad has done very well is open the door to a level of interactivity -- which you pointed out -- that doesn't exist right now with books. The idea of "augmented reality" is making puddle-size splashes with the proliferation of QR codes, and I think the idea of "augmented content" or "augmented literature" is a category the iPad has unwittingly (or perhaps very knowingly) created.

Why go for iPad when I can get all this (and lots more) on my MacBook Pro? I think this is the real difference and what Apple is banking on. It's about the user's experience with the devices that really matters. A laptop brings with it a certain expectation that you'll be able to get a lot of work done. The iPad, on the other hand, conveys a much more intimate and personalized experience -- like curling up with a good book. Something about its portability -- and perhaps even its limitations -- is exactly what makes it so romantic.

As an avid reader and someone in advertising the iPad/Bookstore model intrigues and sparks two questions for publishers, advertisers and content creators.

First, will the iPad/Bookstore model be as accepted as the iPod/iTunes and iPhone/App Store models? If the iPad/Bookstore can attain the iPod and iPhone's hockey-stick growth patterns the product reaches mainstream customer segments where the power of its distribution system can be leveraged. If the iPad doesn't reach these growth models, the device's impact on publishers, advertisers and content creators will need to be reassessed.

The other more interesting question is, does the iPad/Bookstore reintroduce the "failed" subscription model? One thing that didn't get talked about enough was how the App Store introduced paying one time for content. Will the iPad/Bookstore create a sustainable subscription model? Have we reached a point/device where consumers will subscribe for regularly delivered content? What are the billing, revenue-sharing and advertising implications in an iPad subscription model? What happens to the "free website" model and online content? It will be a brave new digital/online world if the subscription model is more accepted and viable.

I see the beauty in the iPad, but as a lover of print, I'm conflicted. Obviously, rather than a replacement, I'd rather see it as another option.

Yes, it's a beautiful, lightweight device for browsing and e-mail and as an e-reader, especially when you're on the road without a lot of room for books and magazines. And I'd rather see people re-discover reading by means of an iPad or Kindle than not read at all.

But I mourn the potential death of the beautiful, tactile relationship we have with print. Or its seemingly inevitable future as another luxury item.

The possibility of information overload is there, too. Do I pause to look things up while reading? Sometime, yes. Embedded content and access to expanded information would be great and useful and certainly an enhancement. But it can also be a distraction in our often schizophrenic and short-attention-span world. Will the point of a piece become lost because the reader is veering off every minute or so to play a video, visit a website or watch a sales pitch? So many embrace TV over reading, is reading going to become the three-ring circus to finally, fully meet that shift? I guess USA Today, way back when, was harbinger of bigger things than we knew.

The web may have become more democratized and accessible -- and even my father is using a BlackBerry -- but I've got clients who still can't figure out their e-mail. I hope we're a ways from the iPad become a total print killer.

However beautiful a display is, it is, at heart, only an approximation of ink and type on paper.


RE: Bob Garfield's "Watch This Spot and Then Tell Me That Unicorns Aren't Real" (AA, Feb. 1).

Walmart's "Clown" spot was created by Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco.

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