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The iPad: Searching for answers to the wrong questions

The iPad: Searching for answers to the wrong questions Ian Wolfman

It's not often that you come across something that manages to compel complete strangers to compromise your privacy. And I'm not talking about the virtual privacy that Facebook and its leadership are currently contending with. No, I'm referring to the physical world/personal space kind of privacy. The kind where you can be minding your own business in a public place and nearly every stranger in the vicinity feels obliged to approach you and introduce themselves -- not to you, but to the iPad in your hands.

Previously, there were only two ways to elicit this sort of reaction in public: puppies and celebrities. Unless you own a new puppy or have been "lucky" enough to attain a certain level of fame, you wouldn't necessarily expect this phenomenon where perfect strangers, from the perfectly nice to the perfectly strange, basically throw themselves at you (and your iPad) like groupies.

In considering how to best share some thoughts on the iPad's impact on the world of consumers, brands, and marketers, I reflected on some of the common questions I'm hearing from marketers. I'll start by addressing the core issues and questions regarding the iPad. I'll also offer a perspective that further expands the conversation about the implications to consumers and marketers of convergent devices like the iPad.

1. Is the iPad really that big a deal? Isn't it just a giant iPod touch?
Let's put this one to bed. It is a huge deal for consumers, businesses, and marketing professionals. As Seth Godin wisely notes about Apple's success, "[The company] didn't sell 300,000 iPads in one day, [it] sold them over a few decades."

In other words, the brand's deep bonds with its consumers represent an incredible cumulative effect among a following that has been carefully cultivated over many years; the market for every future creation is rooted in the brand's almost mythical past. So that helps explain how Apple builds excitement for a product that's never been seen. It's built on the trust that Apple's consumers have that something of unique and significant value will be gained when they receive the iPad, even when they don't know exactly what form the value will take.

But is there something else happening here besides a brand cult following? I would say yes and point to the unprecedented consumer pull-through demonstrated with the iPad.

Brand love is not the lone factor driving impressive iPad adoption rates. The more basic reality is that consumers are ready for the next type of device in their lives and are pulling this desired change through the system. They hunger for the convenience and "magic" of media convergence the iPad provides, backed with the consumer-friendly and familiar iTunes content distribution system. In other words, consumers are voting (so far) with their wallets that Apple is the brand they trust to teach them the relevance of convergent devices (this is the second time -- they voted against the Apple Newton many years back).

And lest you think that the rapid adoption of this new convergent technology will be limited to the black t-shirt and Converse set, I would invite you to think about the impact that the iPhone has had on the smartphone market. Is there a major manufacturer that hasn't created a competing product, complete with touchscreen and budding app catalog? In fact, it might even be recognized that a closed-system provider like Apple may be more inclined to lead the market in new innovations of this sort because of the healthy profit streams likely to come from content and ads.

So consider the significance of an emerging device that delivers the power of convergence and that people can't simply chalk up to being a replacement for something that already exists (like the iPhone). Henry Ford hinted at the power a visionary can have on a market when he stated, "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse." Similar to the way the automobile changed the transportation paradigm, I predict that the iPad will be viewed as pivotal in "three-screen convergence" (oh wait, I guess that term is already antiquated). Yes it's that big a freaking deal.

2. Can I replace my laptop, e-reader, or phone with an iPad?
This may seem like a legitimate question when considering why someone might add yet another sophisticated device to an already impressive high-powered technical arsenal. However, owning an iPad is not so much about addressing the current requirements of one's daily professional or personal life. It's much more about tapping into new, unexplored, and as yet unimagined opportunities to create, to collaborate, to connect. These characteristics are what make the platform worth exploring additively; not the prospect of replacing your next laptop, phone, or even TV purchase.

Whether in an open system like Google's or a closed system such as Apple's, the iPad allows a sort of crowd-sourcing model where other businesses ideate, fund, and build the software for the platforms. This is opposed to the old model where software was created, marketed, and sold on the shelves of Best Buy.

Within this new software development paradigm, the iPad enables a person or a business to create and propagate software at a rate and scale never before seen. Unlike the old model for computer software, where most consumers purchase from a limited number of creators in the software store, circulation of inexpensive long tail software is now largely enabled by the forces of aggregation. This is made possible by the surrounding infrastructure Steve Jobs and company have methodically released and expanded since 2001 through the introduction of iTunes. Now we purchase apps for our devices from any passionate business or consumer with an idea or solution through the app store.

The iPad and smartphone platforms also open up an almost unimaginable field of opportunity and exploration by providing new ways to interface with data and people. Think for a moment of what we can do on an iPhone. Consider the iPhone's more unique user interface capabilities such as the touchscreen, voice recognition, location-based tools, acceleration detection, and others. Now, think back 12 or so years to your first laptop computer, and ask yourself how the software and uses for those machines may have been different had they been endowed with the iPhone's unique capabilities.

For example, there may be an entirely new market for collaborative applications where people leverage the iPad's larger touchscreen, something they could not previously do with the iPhone or laptop. By leveraging unique capabilities of the iPad platform and offering user interfaces that were never before practical, we can expect the iPad to change the way we view the roles of various devices, just as the iPhone did.

So expect a whole new wave of collaborative and shared experiences to emerge. And stop looking to replace your phone or computer, because you'll likely find other unique uses for the iPad. I'll let you decide if you want to keep that Kindle for the near flawless digital ink reading experience.)

3. Will the iPad penetrate the mainstream audience?
This is almost the right question, but really only one part of an extraordinary story. A better question might be, "How does the iPad further demonstrate that Apple's mainstream penetration is about to take off?" The basic assumption that Apple can be a mainstream brand might be a bold one if we only considered the fact that Apple owns less than 8 percent of the mobile phone market about three years after its iPhone launch, or if we focused on the lackluster sales of its Apple TV. You could probably throw in the company's desktop and laptop share as well if you wanted to drive home the obvious.

But there's no way we can or should think about the brand by isolating any one or even several revenue streams. Let's think chess and not checkers for a moment. What I mean is that Apple appears to have the pieces in place to deliver a new breed of converged systemic offering to consumers.

Think back to the hardware/content marriage of the iPod with the iTunes marketplace. Many point to that combined system as the primary reason that Apple was able to transform the marketplace, and successfully usher in the shift to digital music content, while once-popular brands like the Rio were ultimately relegated to the margins.

So how does a comparable approach, but on an even grander scale, look with the iPad platform? There are a few signals that point to a potential market coup d'état. I call it the "build your own razor blade" business model.

Apple is close to improving what razors with disposable blades did in the consumer products world: essentially creating a second business where profit is driven from an ongoing stream of high-margin sales subsequent to the first sale. In other words, Apple has historically been focused on selling high-end razors in the form of computers, iPhones, iPads, etc. and is moving at an impressive rate into the space of selling highly profitable content, software, and ads (the razor blades). Not only that, Apple even "allows" people to build and sell razor blades for them as long as they're up to Apple's quality standards in the Razor Store. Oops, I mean iTunes and the App Store.

So what indications are there that this sort of game change might be coming again in the near future? Several things seem to make a compelling argument that Apple's suite of hardware platforms combined with the iTunes and App Store marketplaces may suddenly overtake the content marketplace similar to the way iTunes and the iPod did with music. It's as simple as thinking about what it looks like when the next generation of iPads and Apple TVs are iChat-enabled and armed with cameras -- a time when video chatting on those devices likely becomes standard.

Phone handsets may actually be better suited for private audio conversations than video because of the way we typically experience phone calls: mostly a one-to-one dialog between two people. Now imagine video chat/conferencing enabled in every living room and integrated with a consumer's everyday content consumption and shopping processes. It becomes a richer social experience with integrated video such as Facebook and the ability to immediately connect online commerce.

I believe that video conferencing alone could propel rapid adoption of the Apple systemic approach, but are there other indicators that the iPad will be successful in penetrating the masses? Take a look at the porn industry, that dubious yet almost infallible technological innovator. This industry has turned its steamy lens to the iPad, signaling what is likely an imminent increase in adoption of the device. You need only look at what the seemingly irresistible technical forces of pornography did to compress adoption curves for technologies such as the VCR, DVD, peer-to-peer file sharing, and others.

Earlier this month, RocketTube.com claimed in an article on tcmnet.com that it is the first pornographic "tube" site to be iPad compatible by delivering streaming video by a redirect to a site that leverages HTML5 instead of Flash. And if any group can maximize the use of the platform's features and functionality, it's the adult entertainment industry.

We can count on a flood of similarly viable technologies driven quickly through the early adoption adult industry vanguard. In fact, studios of big-budget films and other mainstream content may be in lock step, tapping into a new type of "impulse content purchase." Consumers will be trained by the iPad to purchase high production value content on demand from the iPad as a new type of primary viewing device. In other words, one purchases and consumes the content on the same primary device, but then also owns it in iTunes for secondary content consumption on a phone, computer, or TV.

What happens when the TV is no longer the primary silo for purchasing and consuming content? I'll tell you what: big change, just like the music industry experienced.

4. Is the iPad platform going to save advertising?
There has been no shortage of debate over how the iAd platform is going to change the world of advertising and promotions. Questions like: Will iAd units really allow for more engagement between advertisers and consumers than typical display units? Is Apple taking too much with its 40 percent fees? Can Apple even sustain its business in a closed environment?

While those are all interesting questions, they're all subordinate to one overarching change that could largely determine whether iAds are successful or not. We're moving beyond being simple stewards of interruption and promotion, because the canvas on which we do our work is morphing from media that are best for delivering promotions to those that enroll consumers in a deeper relationship with the brand.

Simply put, we'll market more and advertise less. As stated by Sean Corcoran at Forrester Research, "The days of the Chief Promotions Officer are dead -- long live the Chief Marketing Officer!" iAds are just a sign that this change will help save advertising by replacing it with marketing, a practice that will increasingly be focused on building sustainable relationships between brands and people.

So the short answer is, "no, the iPad won't save advertising". Rather, it will help transform advertising from a system built to influence and persuade to one that encourages something more meaningful and more effective by offering marketers access to more than one of the Four P's of marketing through more sophisticated channels. The iPad and its subsequent competitors will be part of the connective tissue strengthening and animating the consumer/brand relationship.

If you're in need of a huge ego boost or if you're just looking for a public spectacle, few comparable reactions come as cheap as the iPad. It has stopping power, like whipping out the American Express "black" card, dropping your kids off at school in a Lamborghini, or showing up at Disney World's Pirates of the Caribbean ride with Johnny Depp in tow.

Intoxicating, irresistible and a bit strange, but certainly a conversation starter and a way to bring people closer -- sometimes too close. Yes, I'm talking about you, creepy guy in the men's room at O'Hare. And the iPad's natural geography knows no borders. It's hot everywhere.

We're quick to throw the word "movement" around these days, but I think Apple may have proven that what began with a basic, and somewhat expensive, entertainment device (the iPod), has evolved into something profoundly more imaginative. It is a system capable of helping organize and connect a constantly changing world; a platform that unites content creators, end-users, and the millions of organizations and communities they represent in a sustainable balance of form, function and freedom.

The question is not whether the iPad is a game-changer, but where will it lead?

What do you get when an irresistible platform meets with unquenchable curiosity? Our future. 

Ian Wolfman, Chief Marketing Officer for imc², has an accomplished history in business development, management and marketing strategy. His first entrepreneurial venture dealing with online relationship marketing initiatives began in 1996,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Osman Bangura

2010, June 07

Interesting insights and opinion. Thanks for sharing. I persionally think that the hyped leading to the launch of the iPad really worked, it created a huge impact and a unique image about the iPad; irrespective of the controversies and cons of the iPad.