In terms of technology, 2010 has undoubtedly been the year of the iPad.
It has been hailed by many as being the future of everything from computing to publishing, whilst, as with the iPhone, publishers & advertisers alike have pounced on the new device, launching apps for their products and services.
But will the iPad live up to its hype, and should brands & publishers be falling over themselves in the way that they are?
As with most things, the answer is a mixture of yes & no.
“Well, we’ve got a lot of free apps — we like that, users like that…What some (developers) are starting to do is put mobile ads in their apps… and most of this advertising sucks.” -Steve Jobs, April 2010
So what does all of this mean for advertisers?
Well, as already discussed, at present the iPad is very much a niche device, but one which punches above its weight in terms of the desirability of that audience and the publicity it generates. And the audience it attracts certainly seems keen to test everything that the iPad has to offer, with over 1 million apps being downloaded on its first day of release.
As a portable device, but one with a browsing experience far beyond that of even the best mobile phones, the iPad opens up new ways for brands to connect with consumers. Targeting content and experiences based on location and demographics, but with rich media experiences, means that brands could create deeper and more durable interactions with consumers.
However, the app rush also exposes two potential issues for brands. Firstly, the fact that the iPad is definitely much more than simply an oversized iPhone means that you can’t simply port your old iPhone app across, at least not if you want it to provide a high-end experience. And, just as the iPhone’s app library is now full to bursting, so a similar rush to develop iPad apps could mean that it becomes very hard to stand out from the crowd.
With more things than ever clamouring for consumers’ attention, any brand app or experience will have to be exceptional to really break through.
Don’t Believe The Hype?
What then is the final reckoning for the iPad?
Whilst it has generated enormous publicity it is still a niche product, and likely to remain so in the near to mid-term future. But by, once again, creating a new sector, Apple is likely to spark a wave of competition that should drive costs down and specs up.
Outtake: Brands shouldn’t simply throw money at tablet apps, but should definitely be thinking about how their audiences are using them, if at all, and how they could fit into that usage.
The continuing battle between closed environments and open platforms will continue, with no winner obvious at the moment. Whilst it would be stupid to ignore Apple’s latest uber-gadget, it would be a very brave exec that bet everything on one or the other.
Outtake: In the mobile wars, all the major operating systems have announced a common app language. Bar Apple. Investing in iPad apps is certainly not a bad idea, but be prepared to have to recreate it for other systems as they come along.
Tablets start to show us what the future of content consumption might look like. At present however too many magazine/newspaper/book apps simply recreate the printed page in a digital format, whilst the revenues likely to be generated won’t plug the massive defecits saddling so many publishing companies.
Outtake: Forward thinking brands will be working with publishers to re-imagine the world of publishing. Just as Time Warner & Toyota’s Mine showed how printed magazines might evolve, so there are opportunities to do the same on tablets.
Advertisers will want to test the capabilities of the iPad, and use it to create more immersive experiences for consumers. But the challenge will be to stand out and, as always, it will come down to creative, rather than technical details.
Outtake: Just because you can do something on the iPad, doesn’t mean you should. Ask yourself why anyone should care about what you plan to do, and keep asking until you have an answer. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, It’s the creative, stupid.
And what about us, will we all be rushing out to buy an iPad? Well, I’m no Apple fanboy, but as the owner of a Macbook, iPod and iPhone I’m clearly not immune to their wiles either.
But for all of that, I’m going to follow the advice of British satirist Charlie Brooker, and wait till it’s cheaper and lighter, and in the meantime I’ll continue to stare enviously at my friends who have bought what Brooker describes as the world’s most expensive rectangle.
The author is Ciarán Norris, Head of Social Marketing, Mindshare