Friday, March 05, 2010

Why John Battelle really should Like the iPad

John Battelle wrote one of the best, first, books about Google and I usually read his stuff. But he is underestimating and mireading the iPad over at his Searchblog

....the iPad, just like the iPhone, is designed for vertical integration and distribution lock in. Apple is building its own distribution channel, just as it did with iTunes, and media companies are falling over themselves to make an app for that. Why? Well sure, for once, it's sexy and cool and hip. That's why everyone loved the Wired demo. But the real reason media companies love the iPad is the same reason I don't: It's an old school, locked in distribution channel that doesn't want to play by the new rules of search+social. Sure, you can watch a movie on it. Sure, you can read a book on it. And sure, you can read a publication on it. But if you want to use the web natively, with all the promise that the web brings to media? Not so much. I dont like the iPad because....

About some of this John is right. Apple is trying to build its own distribution channel for books, magazines and movies. As it has already succeeded with music. Of course they are. Furthermore the iPhone does work well for users by both facilitating the web, and standing back from it. The iPhone/iPad has convenient and clever way of cushioning or separating our media experience from the amazing, distracting, open-ness of the web. One of the key points of the app framework which a book or magazine has on the iPhone: it is easier to read the magazine as a seamless and integrated publication. The web may be only a click away, but a properly designed app feels more branded, more integrated, more immersive and more secure for the reader than a set of web pages (tables of contents, archives, page-navigation, credits, layouts, supplements, search etc are supplied within the app cocoon). And I suspect that Battelle is right in that Apple and the big media companies are hoping that the iPad is going to be a relatively tame, safe and biddable media platform: "A sexy version of a portable DVD player-cum-Kindle".

The idea that the app store is destined to be a vast media repository into which old media can simply pour their old wine (and from which Apple draw a fat 30% commission) whilst new consumers charge up flash memory on their iPads, is wrong in one important particular. Apps are different. Books and magazines, at least, are not like tunes. Apps will be much more dynamic and much more transformative of the media landscape than this reassuring picture of the tablet allows. The publishers who get this will make a new vintage for these new bottles.

To see why this is so, we need to focus on two points. Book (or magazine) apps will use the internet in essential ways, even if they are 'self-contained' apps. As we noted in the last post, a local newspaper, is full of valencies to local business and context. A new millenium newspaper should not merely tell you a phone number, the phone number should itself be click-to-call. That is why you need a touch interface on a newspaper now. You do, nobody wants to cut and paste a phone number. Most worthwhile publication apps will be cloud-served, for obvious reasons (currency, communication, search and reference). Book apps will not be like tunes that once synced one simply listens to, or not. They will reference and be referenced. They will engage and they will have to offer services which integrate them with the web. Even if Apple wants to isolate media from the web, no carrier can now do that. You cannot get away from search. No publisher will want to avoid Facebook or Twitter. The web is fundamental. Second, Battelle's picture of the iPad as merely a device for consuming media is fundamentally wrong in ways that he understands. Media on the iPad will be much more enactive, much more intentional (to use one of Battelle's key categories) than traditional media consumption. Media consumption on the iPad will be much more social, more shared and more communicative than traditional media devices. Do you remember the surprise that you had when you first saw youngsters sharing an iPod with two kids each having one bud from the same device? There will be a lot more of that with the iPad -- mostly virtual, mostly over social networks. The intra-device buzz amongst millions of rich media consumer tablets is going to be truly deafening. A book on the iPad will not be merely a book, when it is easy to find out where is the nearest person who is also reading your book, when it is easy to find out what your 'friends' and 'followers' are reading and when it is easy for the book to tell you where you are in relation to where the book is....

No comments: