Hype Pad

How revolutionary will the iPad actually be? There’s a suddenly a big opportunity for Apple to provide a much needed boost to publishing and media brands using enhanced digital content, music, video and social networking. But it’s by no means guaranteed. Here’s my feature as it appeared on the shelves last week, published courtesy of Design Week: (post updated 28 May 2010)


We all knew it would be big news, but just how big will the iPad turn out to be? If you work in the digital media space, the chances are you’ve had one of Apple’s new ’tablets’ knocking around the studio for weeks, while everyone else in the UK waits patiently just to find out the release date.

Even so, the blaze of media coverage has been so prolific that we already know what it looks like, how it works, and that it’s sizzling on the shelves in the US – Macworld reports the iPad hit the one million sales mark in 28 days, almost three times faster than the iPhone.

You could be forgiven for thinking this is another one of ’those’ launches, yet, unusually for an Apple product, design opinion is divided about what its legacy will be. A lot of early interest in the iPad interface is coming from the media and publishing industry, which, despite some success with e-books and e-readers, could not master its content for smart phones due to screen size limitations.

Anna Rafferty, managing director of Penguin Digital, observes that some genres of book will work much better than others in an iPad format.

’We had a lot of success with our iPhone app for The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman because it was a fantasy adventure book which appealed to the youth market and it created a lot of interest online,’ she says.

Where the iPad could come into its own, says Rafferty, is in the design of interactive fiction for the young adult and children’s market, where storylines can be enhanced with touchscreen features, streaming video, animated pictures and social networking chat.

Because they can be more interactive, apps for the iPad can be bigger, better and potentially bigger money spinners than iPhone apps too, says designer Russell Quinn, who has designed iPhone apps for US publishing house McSweeney’s, as well as Creative Review.

’The simple fact that the screen is so much larger is where the revolutionary part comes in. You can now manipulate larger amounts of information in a truly immersive environment. This is what publishers are getting excited about,’ Quinn says.

If the iPad can bring about a new lease of life and new revenue streams to the world of publishing, it will also be welcome news for editorial and content designers, as well as for the brands starting to behave like publishers by ramping up their direct communications activity with consumers and businesses.

But as well as being a device for subscribing to newspapers and magazines and for testing interactive literature, some predict the iPad will be a second boost to other forms of online content as apps proliferate.

Early adopters say iPad is well suited to the home because it’s always on and easy to sit down with. Here is a device which could make streaming TV, music and new forms of rich online content very compelling, especially by integrating the social networking and digital communications features we currently only really enjoy at the PC or on our mobile phones.

Surfing the Web changes on the iPad, says Applied Information Group director Tim Fendley, who is already ditching all his Web bookmarks and replacing them with apps. ’For some forms of Web content the experience is so much better. We’re doing a lot with the mapping features of the iPhone and porting to iPad is a cinch. It’s the end of websites,’ he enthuses.

But actually it’s not that cut and dried. With all its potential, the iPad and its future rival platforms have a long way to go before they change the way most of us use the Internet. Existing Web content may not be quite so interactive, but it’s often free and there is no reason why a rival tablet platform won’t just extend existing Web features using Flash, says Poke creative director Nik Roope.

’I still have some doubts about what is painted by the media as an imminent invasion that will reach ubiquity in a matter of minutes,’ says Roope. ’The biggest issue for me is that it demands a new behaviour from consumers and it’s much harder building a new market for tablets than responding to the needs of an existing one like mobile phones. It’s not the end of the Web, by a long way. That’s just crazy talk.’

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