Today is the third anniversary of the official launch of the iPad and I see no reason why I should let the date go by without a look back. This site's existence, I must admit, is tied to the hip with the iPad. Although TNM was launched a few weeks before the Apple event where Steve Jobs unveiled the tablet, the genesis for this site goes back to the months before that event when rumors swirled of 'iSlates' and such.
TalkingNewMedia was launched mainly as a way for me, as a print and web publisher, to educate myself about the new digital platforms of mobile and tablets. TNM talked early on about tablets not because of enthusiasm for any soon-to-be-released device, but because since the launch of the iPhone it seemed obvious to me that any discussion of digital media would have to include discussions about the tablet platform.
After the late January event that introduced the iPad, pre-orders were taken for delivery on Saturday, April 3. I hesitated to order my own iPad at first, not only because of the cost of the new device, but because it seemed like a major commitment by me to this website and covering the topic. This site had just launched and, frankly, no one was reading any of my posts.
In fact, when the UPS truck finally pulled up to my door, and the iPad was delivered, I rushed to post "the obligatory unboxing photos" post. To this day, that post has been read by exactly 11 people. It is a good thing that I didn't look at my traffic numbers every day back then or I would have shuttered TNM right there and then. As it was, TNM was shuttered twice since that day because of moments of clarity and reason that I fleetingly have experienced.
"Apple’s most devoted fans congregated on Saturday morning at stores around the country to pick up their latest object of desire: the eagerly anticipated iPad," read the report in the NYT the day after the iPad was launched. By the end of that day, the iPad app store already had over 3,000 apps available.
And the reviews were coming in...
"The Apple iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch," David Pogue said in his NYT review, echoing a common theme found in early reviews. Pogue's piece opens with the wildly varied comments being written online about the new device.
“This device is laughably absurd,” goes a typical remark on a tech blog’s comments board. “How can they expect anyone to get serious computer work done without a mouse?”Engadget tried to describe the person who would want an iPad: "This is also a person who can afford what amounts to a luxury item. "
TechCrunch: My official opinion is to wait. The device, as it stands, is so close to the original iPhone that you get a sense of Deja Vu when you open the box and are exposed to the empty canvas bare of apps. Out of the box it is, at best, a large iPod Touch.
Walt Mossberg, WSJ: Only time will tell if it’s a real challenger to the laptop and netbook.
The Telegraph's Claudine Beaumont:
But in several crucial areas, the iPad falls short of the functionality that would have made this more than just a large iPod touch. The lack of Flash support is a major issue; the iPad's big screen is designed to make the best of multimedia content and the full-screen browsing experience, but the sight of little blue squares dotted around web pages where embedded video should have been just makes you feel like you're being short-changed.Most reviews, I think, intentionally held back praise for the device. It must be remembered that by April of 2010 Apple had reached a point where fans of the company's devices were a bit extreme in their enthusiasm.
Even before the iPad was introduced John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote: If you’re thinking The Tablet is just a big iPhone, or just Apple’s take on the e-reader, or just a media player, or just anything, I say you’re thinking too small — the equivalent of thinking that the iPhone was going to be just a click wheel iPod that made phone calls. I think The Tablet is nothing short of Apple’s reconception of personal computing.
It was probably posts like that one that got my attention. So it was probably natural that early reviews of the iPad tried to find flaws in the device – and there were (and are) flaws in the device. The original iPad was awfully slow, it didn't, and still doesn't, offer enough storage for the price, it makes it hard to attach third party devices, etc.
But the one thing I noticed, immediately, was that the digital media community was being split by the introduction of the iPad. Advocates for the new medium, I thought, were cautious and reasoned, maybe because I was in their camp. While I found critics to be conservative, and seemingly trying to protect their turf. Over the months that followed many online reports would say things like "while many believe the iPad will be the savior of (fill in the blank) evidence so far reveals..." What inevitably followed would be a report that such-and-such magazine only had a few downloads, despite that fact that the iPad had been around less than a year.
This Engadget report was typical:
Uh oh. Since its debut, the iPad has been variously hailed as the final nail in the coffin of all physical media and the savior of the magazine and newspaper industries. A few magazines, such as Wired, had truly impressive digital launches, with over 100,000 downloads of its first issue in June. It doesn't seem, however, that the stellar start was in any way sustainable.But much worse was what was coming out from the media industry itself. From the beginning there was a sharp divide among media people about the device, working with Apple, any digital platform other than the web, etc.
But today, three years later, I don't think any of that matters. The Apple Newsstand, along with Google Play and Amazon.com, are filled with publications. And while some still probably won't still admit it, the debate is over. The issue today isn't whether publishers should be developing media products for tablets, but how they should be developing them, how they should be pricing and marketing them.
I doubt some of those with vested interests in a world with only one viable digital media platform will ever come around – they continue to get gigs at industry events and are taken seriously by people who really ought to know better. But that's the way it's always going to be. (A great example of this was when PixelMags, a replica edition vendor, was featured on stage at a BlackBerry event. Surely if publishers were to use a replica solution they wouldn't be developing native apps, so why would BlackBerry do this?)
It's been three years now, I think we can move on from talking about whether tablets are a viable platform, to what we have learned in the past three years, and how we can begin to profit from the platform.