So When Can iGet One?

I will be buying an iPad once they’re available to us meagre Canadians, which I suspect will be in the early part of summer. I know, I know… Colour yourselves surprised.

But besides the fact that, sure, I could be called an Apple fanboy, or groupie, or techie, or whatever (not follower – no, I don’t follow anything Apple-related on Twitter), this device will assist me in my professional life in several important ways.

As the Steve Jobs keynote was about to begin, I was having a chat with some Globe and Mail technology writers about the possible application of the yet-to-be-announced device and how it could simplify, if not change, my life. I imagined some of the features and uses for a Mac tablet, and had the whole thing conceived in my imagination before Jobs ever took the stage. And I was darn close.

The confirmed attributes that I am most smitten about:

– magazine, newspaper-reading ability

– calendar/day-timer management

– note taking at meetings (no prohibitive laptop screen barrier between me and my counterpart)

– email and email management

– excellent battery life

– high quality video playback (perfect for airline travel)

– sync and bluetooth connectivity with my other computers, backup devices and iPhone

The way I envisioned this product mattering to me was if I could get all of these items (and a stylus for hand-writing and a phone for tying in absent colleagues on speaker-phone conferences), and have them tidily available in a compact format. I explained it to my colleagues as such: imagine a device like this that you would take to meetings instead of a pad of paper, upon which you could take notes, manage your meetings in your calendar, add or subtract contacts within your address book, send or receive emails and perhaps tie in absentees on a speaker phone. And have all of this synced with a computer and an iPhone. The stylus and phone unfortunately didn’t materialize, but were substituted by lifestyle-oriented features – hi-def movie playback, photo viewing and iPod.

Thus, in addition to being fully functional during a busy work day, I considered what a great gadget this would be for flying. Long flights can be torturous and even the 13″ MacBook that I am typing on right now is too big to work with on a plane. The person ahead of me’s seat disturbs my view of the screen at any sort of appreciable angle. But with this, a smaller device, I can watch 10 hours of 720p video, play games and read magazines and newspapers at any angle at all. Now we’re talking!

Furthermore, the prospective print media-viewing ability of the iPad has me particularly tickled. Being in the print business, I gave this idea some serious thought. I discussed the potential of this device with my VPs and publishers the day it was announced, and what it could mean for an old-fashioned industry searching for revenue streams in the new reality of digital consumption. My thoughts went a little bit like this:

We all know that newspapers (and magazines, but particularly newspapers) are beginning to float sideways in the water, what with advertising revenues at all-time lows and a business model dependent on them. Companies continue to search for ways to monetize their content in a world where online content is almost always free, and the vast majority of the public have grown so used to reading news on the internet for free that the idea (and experiments) of charging for content have spectacularly failed.

But then along comes Apple and the iPad.

See, the music industry was in the exact same boat ten years ago. Piracy was rampant and no one was paying for music anymore. But with the iPod and iTunes, that changed. Apple created a legion of followers – some 100 million credit card accounts – who were prepared to pay, however modestly, for new music that they could conveniently manage themselves on their home computer. That music could then be played on an iPod, burned to disc, or streamed wirelessly within one’s house. It could even be put on a USB device and plugged into a car stereo. The convenience and small cost reinvigorated the music industry. While music labels weren’t earning $20 for a CD anymore, they were saving money in physical production and distribution costs, so the profit margins were hardly impacted.

This reality and turn of events can and probably will be the same for print media. And Apple’s might and cult following will be the key. If the iPad is widely adopted and partnerships are struck with some of the world’s great magazines and newspapers, we might see the tides turn on digital subscriptions and the renewal of revenue for print media. Imagine if you could enter the iBookstore or iTunes, and while flipping through titles of music and novels, you came across your favourite newspapers and magazines – the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun; or MacLean’s, Rolling Stone and Wired. Imagine if you could purchase today’s newspaper; say for $0.99. Or a one-year subscription for $24.99. Say you could buy the current issue (or a back issue) of MacLean’s for $1.99. And once purchased, it downloaded to your library with a simple confirmation, and subscriptions downloaded every morning as you turned on your computer.

As long as the quality is there – articles that are full and rich with colour; perhaps photos can be scrolled over and videos play on demand; and ads link through to the advertiser’s website – I can see darn near everyone adopting this within 6-10 years. I see greater adoption for digital magazine and newspaper reading than I do iPods and MP3s, because older generations can better understand newspapers and magazines than they can digital music. And while old music formats subsist, old newspapers do not. But there must be concessions and long-term thinking employed, as there was with music. Newspapers will have to understand that they cannot charge the same price as they do for their physical incarnation. Where a weekday copy of the Globe and Mail costs $2, the digital version should cost $0.99. Where the Saturday Times costs $4.95, the digital version should cost $2.50. And for magazines as well. And they can’t skimp on quality. Every page should be viewable in high resolution, printable, and capable of being shared with friends and family members, just as a hard copy version is now. Any attempt to lock or restrict usage will breed contempt and sour consumers.

I for one can envision having an iPad sitting around the house, receiving magazines and newspapers; full of music and books, simply waiting to be listened to and read. Think of the trees you’ll save, not subscribing to paper copies of your favourite newspapers and magazines. And consider the professional application – for those types that want to stay in touch with media reportage – what about being able to search for a simple term and have your iPad scour through the depths of your digital subscriptions to find all relevant articles? Your very own media aggregator.

If there is enough buy-in (and certainly Apple can deliver a crowd unlike any other technology company) and say 50,000 people subscribe to the Globe and Mail’s digital newspaper edition, I can honestly see them trimming their website content down by 75%. It’s the only way these companies will be viable in 10 years.

I’ll be buying a wireless-only iPad once they’re available – no 3G for me. I don’t foresee needing the 3G connectivity, because I have an iPhone. If somehow I find myself jones’ing for connectivity and am out of a wifi hotspot, I can always tether the device to my phone. I won’t waste my time with two data plans, whilst padding Rogers Communications’ pockets.

Let’s not forget for a moment that the iPad is a gadget and a tool. It is not a computer. It seems that several tech websites and blogs were climbing over each other to knock down the utility of this device, specifically after Steve Jobs announced that the netbook was not the missing link between PDA and laptop, rather the iPad was. Thus, some of the hacks against the new device reference it’s lack of computing prowess. That it will not be able to replace or make obsolete a netbook. Personally, I don’t believe Jobs was trying to say that the iPad was a direct counter-part to the netbook, rather that the netbook didn’t fulfill the needs of a device between a PDA and a laptop (that netbooks are, in effect, just small and incapable laptops themselves). Never the less, some of the criticisms include:

– no multitasking

– no flash support

– no camera

– too thick of a bezel (seriously?)

Frankly, I don’t think any of these items are crucial to the operation of this device, so long as it’s understood that the iPad is a gadget and not a computer. And besides, these features are battery-drainers. I’d rather a smart and coherent way for me to manage my calendar, emails and clients than wildly point a camera on a 8″ x 10″ piece of steel and glass. And sure Flash is nice, but I’ve heard that Flash is on its way out anyway.

I think Apple has hit a home run with this product. Of course the G2 version will have some of the items that tech critics are crying for – namely a camera and multitasking, but for now I am impressed and eager to get one.

About the author cdub

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