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SURF THIS: Steve Jobs' new pad keeps i on the prize

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Jim Cota

Before taking the stage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Jan. 27, Apple CEO Steve Jobs reportedly said that what he would announce was perhaps the “most important thing I’ve ever done.” As Michael Arrington of TechCrunch points out, “Coming from the man who has created so much, that’s saying something.”

The hype and speculation leading up to the launch of the iPad were unlike anything in recent memory, except perhaps legendary inventor Dean Kamen’s promise that the Segway “would change the way cities are designed.”

We all know how that turned out.

So exactly what is the iPad, how is it different from consumer electronics devices that are already out there, and—perhaps most important—what does it mean for business?

The iPad is a computer, sure, but I think the best summation of the difference between it and the one in your laptop bag is that, like its flagship iPod and iPhone, it’s meant to enable people to consume, not create. It’s always-on Internet access and video streaming comes wrapped safely in the arms of a delivery mechanism (the iTunes Store).

And it could be just what the publishing business needs.

The Holy Grail for publishers will be to find a way to monetize their content without alienating their readers. To do this, they need to actively demonstrate the superiority of their content and provide it in a way that truly makes the reader see the difference. The publishers have to be responsible for the first part; the new Apple iPad is aiming to take care of the second.

By way of example, consider the last time you read a printed magazine and noted a reference that directed you to the Web for additional resources. With the tablet, that notation is instantly delivered, adding texture and depth to the topic.

Then there’s advertising. Because of the always-on nature of the Internet connection and its ability to be location-aware, small businesses might have the opportunity to buy local ad space in national publications. For example, an independent shoe store in Fishers might find it affordable and effective to run an ad in Sports Illustrated, because the ad only shows up for readers who are near his store. 

For businesses of all types, a new content delivery mechanism might portend some interesting, yet-to-be-discovered advantages.

Remember that the Apple design acumen is often credited with breathing life into commonly overlooked devices. When the iPod was announced, people wondered why they would need to carry their music with them wherever they went. Now it’s hard to imagine leaving home without it.

The iPhone simply nailed the design of a good smartphone; partly by throwing out what was expected and starting with a clean slate.

The iPad, in many ways, follows a similar path: This isn’t the first tablet PC. There have been several other failed attempts to make this work. But by starting with what they do well—industrial design—Apple has been able to create something you don’t yet have but that you might soon wonder how you lived without.

Of course, I’ll have more to say once I actually try it.

For more information about the iPad, see http://www.apple.com/ipad/•

__________

Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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