Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday morning briefs: media readies iPad products

Finally, the end of the hype cycle is in view. Depending on the reliability of FedEx, those that pre-ordered their iPads, or those willing to storm their local Apple Store or Best Buy, will finally get their hands on the tablet devices. The reviews will come in and the device will stop being either the savior of print media, or an overgrown iPod, and will simply become another product out in the marketplace.

• Apple confirmed they are set for their launch, sending out a press release this morning. “iPad connects users with their apps and content in a far more intimate and fun way than ever before,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO in the release. “We can’t wait for users to get their hands and fingers on it this weekend.”

Apple retail stores will offer a free Personal Setup service to every customer who buys an iPad at the store, helping them customize their new iPad by setting up their email, loading their favorite apps from the App Store, and more. Also beginning Saturday morning, all US Apple retail stores will host special iPad workshops to help customers learn more about this magical new product.
The Times today has a story about iPad hype quoting a series of analysts. One word of advice: discount any story containing quotes by analysts. Each quote sounds like a press release: well said drivel.
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NYT on the iPad's Safari browser.  

• Rumors of apps that will be available have begun to pick up steam. But the media world has been pretty much silent. One expects that the New York Times and WSJ will both have their apps available from day one.

One assumption I have is that media companies will employ one of three models: free app, free content; free app, paid subscription; paid app, free content. The first option -- free, free -- is what the Times uses for its iPhone app now. They may decide to go this route if their iPad app is simply a blown-up version of their iPhone app. But if their developers have come up with a more interactive product they may decide to charge a subscription price.
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Many media companies may go this route: free app, with an in-app subscription charge. The Financial Times does this now on the iPhone. this morning reports that The Spectator, a British news magazine will be using their Exact Editions flip books as their app content.  This gets the magazine onto the iPad, but does not demonstrate a serious commitment to the format. Nonetheless, I expect that the vast majority of publications will use this method to make their content available rather than building development and production teams to create new versions of their publications specifically for the tablet. The Spectator will reportedly not charge for its iPad app, then will use Apple's in-app purchasing capability to charge the reader for access to the content itself.

I have always disliked flip books because I do not believe the web is the place to replicate the print experience. Tablets, however, may prove the right place for flip books. Frankly, any flip book vendor that is not claiming it will be offer an iPad solution, now or very soon, should be looked at with suspicion.

The third model would be to charge up front for the media app. I suspect few magazine or newspaper publishers would employ this method except for special editions.  In fact, it is a wonderful way to go if you produce annual issues like buyers guides, handbooks, special focus issues, etc. Book publishers like Penguin look to be going in this direction, though I wonder if they might not decide to put their books into the iBookstore, as well -- exact copies without additional interactive material go into iBookstore, special editions with added content get their own app.

• Panelfly, an early adopter of the iPhone platform, quickly announced that it would be bringing its digital comic books to the iPad, as well. But Panelfly chief Wade Slitkin told the NYT that they will miss the launch date. “As much as we’d love to be there on Day 1, a misstep could kill the train before it even gets out of the station,“ Slitkin told the Times. The reason for this is concern that most developers are currently forced to use the iPad simulator to test their apps. Only a select group of developers, including the NYT, WSJ and MLB, have been given actual iPads to use while developing their apps. As some, like Slitkin, it is better to wait than launch an app that might be buggy.
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Many iPhone developers have launched apps then quickly submitted updates when they discovered problems with their app, or needed to add features to attract buyers. This method of using the app store to beta test their apps live has worked out well for many -- especially those releasing free apps. But buyers of the iPad may have higher expectations now and companies like Panelfly seem to believe they can afford to wait a few weeks before submitting their final apps. I think they are right, especially since they are already well along with their development.

• Developers have apparently decided Apple is serious about their Flash ban and are beginning to make adjustments. Brightcove has decided to begin encoding their video to HTML5 to compensate. Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire said “HTML5 is great. It is an open standard, and firmly entrenched in the Apple device platform. Flash can’t reach those platforms for political and business reasons.”

Brightcove will encode its video as HTML5 allowing viewing in web browsers. Brightcove videos will detect that it is delivering video to an iPad, for instance, and then play back the video in a simplified HTML5 player -- one without the audience measurement capabilities of a Flash player. Brightcove hopes to add these important features soon.

Time Inc. and the New York Times are companies committed to Brightcove's HTML5 solution according to the company.

It was reported last week that CBS is also testing HTML5. First discovered by The Other Mac Blog, CBS began listing iPad test links on some of its videos. MacRumors investigated further and found that by visiting the web site using the iPad SDK simulator one could see proof of CBS's HTML5 efforts.

• Apple's mobile ad efforts, see below, have gained the attention of the media and the ad world. Most, if not all, of the talk has centered around how any "iAd" platform would be direct competition for Google.

With Apple's acquisition of Quatto Wireless earlier this year, Apple watchers have been wondering when the company would unveil its plans. Most expect that the mobile ad platform will incorporate dynamic targeting, furthering the location-based-advertising movement.

I appear to be alone in thinking that this is also an important part of the whole iPad development scheme: that is, that in order to push the tablet platform forward Apple feels it needs to provide a complete programming solution, and that includes advertising. By bringing innovative ad solutions to their devices, they will encourage developers to embrace the platform. Apple, after all, has success at luring developers to their devices and witnessed by the rush of work done for the iPhone once Apple opened up the device to third party apps back in June 2008.

We'll see where this goes, but my bets are still that this is more than simply Apple's efforts to take some mobile ad business away from Google.