Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Apple iPad: Communications & Publication

Okay, this is not a technology blog, but I am going to talk about the new Apple iPad. Why? Because we live in a technologically advanced society where each new toy--shiny as they may be--affects the way we live, and even the way we read. This is not a technology blog, but it is a blog that looks at literature, publishing, and communications, and the iPad, and Steve Job's unveiling of it, encompasses all of those.

Communications - Audience, Rhetoric & Presentation
What I like about Steve Jobs is that he is not the corporate CEO archetype. When Jobs showed up on stage earlier this morning to present the new Apple gadget, he was wearing jeans and tennis shoes. Not exactly what you would expect from the head of a leading technology company on the day of its big presentation. In doing this he presents himself to the people as one of the people, as someone just like them. Now, this is a great strategy for gathering attention, reaching out to those who are not the technology-following geeks, and essentially it helps them identify with Jobs. What they see is an average man sitting on his couch using the new iPad. Jobs is showing the community at large that they too can easily use and apply this new technology to their everyday lives, they don't need to be technology wizzes in order to understand it. In fact, for many people who already have the iPhone or the iPod Touch, the technology may not be that much different. That's two (or arguably three) audiences that Jobs is already appealing to in his presentation, without having to say anything yet, and then you add in the technophiles of all sorts and you have a ready-made fanbase. And, he's also adding one more audience: those who have trouble viewing small screens. Now, I'm not saying that the elderly are going to pick up the new iPad or anything like that, but they might. Why? Because the larger screen, with the ability to magnify and resize text easily, would be appealing to them, especially in conjunction with the new iBooks app. They would be able to use an eReader on a larger scale that would be backlit and easy to read. The same applies to any webpage, now that the older generation are also becoming a part of the new technological world. The topic of iBooks & the iPad as an eReader is something I'll come back to in a moment, but first I want to look at the rhetoric and presentation of this new device, from a communications standpoint.

I don't want to spend too much time on this, but I believe that it is important to examine the syntax that Jobs uses. Sure he may have overused hyperboles* like "magical" and "awesome," but they work well for him. Through his use of hyperbole Jobs has built up this product in the consumer's mind--which could help or hurt him in the future, only the sales will show. Will some consumers look into getting an iPad based on the colourful and ambitious dialogue? Maybe. Will some others criticize Apple for not living up to it? Probably, in fact, I would argue, definitely. How this plays out in sales though, remains to be seen.

Another effective strategy for the Apple team is the way they have used communication and social medias as a business tool. What's the best way to get the word out quickly these days? Social medias like twitter, where rumours of the new Apple "tablet**" have been circulating for weeks. There have been talk about the new features the iPad might employ, as well as what it will look like, and what the cost will be. What I find brilliant, when looking at this strategy from a marketing standpoint, is that Apple "accidentally slipped" a few price ranges that one should expect from the new toy, generally centering around $1000 a pop. Why does this matter? Because everyone went in expecting that sort of price, and were then shocked to find that it was only going to cost $499 (with additional data packages at $14.99 & $29.99 a month). This may seem expensive, but in comparison to the $1k we were expecting? It's a steal. Now, I will admit that this may have also hurt them in a way. By releasing a higher price, they made the public expect a larger product, like a tablet computer, which is not what this is. So now the public's attention might be shifted (as my friend Mike pointed out again just now) more towards what the iPad isn't, based on rumours and early projections, and less on what it actually is. But make no mistake, it's still a great way to market and make the product seem as if it has more value. Not to mention that the web has been craving for any solid data for months, creating all sort of buzz. By keeping most things under wraps, this works in the same way that GoogleWave did in that people want to know more, simply to be in the know. We're a very nosy society that way, and Apple is great at using that in their favour. They keep it a secret and therefore we want to know. And as soon as any hard data gets out, it's everywhere. Even now, hours later, 7 out of the top 10 topics trending worldwide on twitter are related to Apple, the iPad, and the release this morning (also how it will compare/compete with Amazon's kindle). Social media is a great thing for this, creating all sorts of hype.

Possible Effects for Publishing & the eReader Market
This new device is probably going to be used primarily as a multimedia device, and I don't see anyone writing anything long form such as novels on it, at least not without the aid of the keyboard dock***, but I do see people using it to watch movies and listen to music. The new larger screen even makes it somewhat superior over the iPhone in that it allows high definition videos to play on YouTube. More and more I am finding that I--as well as many others--cannot view a video on YouTube in regular dimensions because it has been recorded to be viewed in high def. And really, if you have the option, high def is the way to go, so it's great to see that in a device such as this (I'm still unsure of what to describe it as). But one thing I think the iPad is going to be great for is that it can be used as an eReader with the new application, iBooks. What is iBooks? Think kindle, only Apple. In the presentation today Apple even said that they would be using the same kind of idea--as well as interface--as Amazon's highly-acclaimed Kindle. And with the ebook market growing so rapidly****, it's no shock that Apple would want to get in on the action. Like I mentioned previously, this ebook is something that others are not: it's big. That may sound silly and obvious, but it's true, and that's going to appeal to a lot of readers out there. It is all the convenience of an eReader, on a bigger format, and one you can easily maneuver thanks to the touchscreen technology. Something else that you can do with the new iPad is you can buy books right from the iTunes store without having to connect with a computer to do so. Plus, there are already so many free ebooks online free that you can read! But the great thing? A lot of large publishing houses have teamed up with Apple to make iBooks work. Some may even be releasing books earlier on iBooks than they will for the Kindle, Sony, & Nooks--spelling trouble for companies who previously held the market and now may have bigger competition than they expected.

So what will this do to publishing? Well, I predict that we will see an increase in ebook sales, or rather, a continuation of a trend that is already in place. Though this might also speed that up. Another thing is that prices may go down as these companies compete with each other, and that could be a huge problem for hard copy books, a market that is already taking a hit from ebooks. Who wants to spend $20 or more on a hardcover book, or even $10 on a paperback, if soon you will be able to buy many books online for far less--or even free? How this, and also other digital readers like the Kindle, will affect the publishing market remains to be seen, but you can be sure that the market is there for an eReader and that it's not about to go away. Another thing this may do for publishing is, again, an extension of a trend that is already there, but some publishers may choose to release a book only in ebook format, possibly only on iBooks. This could be good or bad for marketing, but it saves on publishing costs (especially those of overprinting a book, which could also be disastrous for a novelist), and it creates a kind of exclusivity for that book, making readers value a digital reader, and possibly one eReader over another.

These are all very early predictions for something that was just released today, but certainly things to think about. I would be very interested in what others have to say, so please, let's get a discussion going in the comments. Again, this is not a technology blog and I am focusing on this new iPad from a communicative, rhetorical, and publishing standpoint, so I am looking for things primarily related to those subjects.

And thank you for reading this far, that was a lot to take in, I know.

*Is an overuse of hyperbole redundant in and of itself?
**I would argue now that this is not a tablet computer, nor is it the new version of the iPhone rumoured to come out sometime this quarter, but it is somewhere in between and therefore we cannot truly call it a tablet any longer.
***Which, I must say, looks really shiny. And is a great idea, because it then makes the iPad into a touchscreen desktop computer. I think that's a huge selling point, at least for me. I don't mention this because again, this is not a blog to look at the technological aspects, you can find those anywhere else.
****I refer you to this very interesting article on ebooks & advertising that features Maureen Johnson!

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