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The iPad Touch

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I bought an iPad and it's totally awesome. It's a great, big iPhone without the phone and it will be a big success not only for Apple, but everyone that imitates it afterwards.

This tablet closes the circle on mobile computing: we finally have a "big screen" mobile platform. The newness of the experience makes me think about the minisites of the past, where you could attract users just by creating new ways of interacting with your audience, e.g., immersive, environmental and non-traditional interactions. The iPad might be our new frontier for large-screen experimental interactions.

After I downloaded a ton of apps, I immediately began thinking about what the iPad could mean for our industry.

If you think about this tablet as your primary device, the thing you'll notice right away is that, like the iPhone, it's a task-, not window-based device. Unlike Mac OS or Windows, you work on it one app at a time. On your computer, the windowing of applications means you're naturally more likely to be focused on multiple things at once. But the iPad is a more focused environment. This has good and bad implications for marketing.

For one thing, it feels way more invasive to see a normal display ad on the iPad given that you're immersed in a content application rather than, say, a banner on a Web site. Yes, it's a bit psychological: on a Web site you're a "visitor," but on the iPad most of your experiences are with apps you intentionally download -- they feel more "yours" because you choose the experience in advance, usually based on reviews. It's a much more considered experience than simply "surfing the Web."

The best apps and experiences are going to have an elegant flow to them, and if you're the one interrupting, then it's going to be ugly. I'm curious if Apple's iAd platform is going to enforce some design/UI constraints for iPad advertising. The ideal situation would be if the advertising within applications used some of the same iPad functionality the apps were allowed to tap into (sensors, data, etc.) to make the advertising more app-like.

When advertising on the iPad, marketers should consider tailoring basic elements such as their calls to action. I ran across an in-app ad that was obviously a Web banner repurposed for The New York Times iPad app. It had the same photo and "click here" call to action they made for a Web page, only with the iPad, there's no mouse with which to click! You touch and slide with your finger, so banner concepts need to read "touch me," not "click me."

With the iPad, the notion of branded utility becomes not just a potential category, but the only category. Or, at least, it made me think that what is put on the iPad damn well better be "usable," even if it isn't especially useful. It's a task-based computer, so if your brand was a task, what would it be?  

But the thing that jumped out at me above all else was how the iPad is the best catalog reading device there is. There's not much to see yet, but check out the Gilt app and the few new iPad-specific features and you'll see the visceral satisfaction of leafing through a print catalog has finally been combined with the digital shopping experience.

I was talking to someone recently about how the overwhelming majority of people who receive a major clothing catalog in the mail will browse the paper catalog and then go on the Web site to shop. If your brand has any kind of online retail component, there's an opportunity for amazing word of mouth by focusing on making the final part of the sales cycle the most amazing experience anyone has seen. 

The reality, of course, is that Apple will sell an awful lot of these devices, but probably not enough this year that we'll get massive scale. But the iPad is a very real look at what the next few years will be like.

Benjamin Palmer is co-founder and CEO of The Barbarian Group. He can be reached at Benjamin@barbariangroup.com.


See also: "It's the iPad, Not the iPanacea"