Apple Tablet Is No Magic Bullet

The much-hyped iPad was supposed to be one of several new devices that would save print publications (or at least slow their decline), as well as take the online video experience to the next level by offering a platform capable of transforming how people consume Web content.

But to some, the absence of print and Flash compatibility as shown at Steve Jobs’ iPad unveiling last week called into question just how well traditional media will function on the new device, which looks like a portable flat-screen TV.

“The iPad is DOA from a video perspective,” said Chris Allen, vp, director of video innovation, Starcom USA. That’s because Flash doesn’t work on the device. That means no Hulu, no video on major news sites and lots of Web ads that don’t get served; all serious hurdles for buyers.

But Lincoln Bjorkman, evp, executive creative director, Digitas, said Apple is sure to bend on this issue. “They’re going to get over themselves and make Flash work,” he said. “Apple likes to get to market fast. Then they catch up, partner [and] listen.”

As for print, “[Jobs’] goal was not to sell magazines; he was thinking about exciting the consumer,” said Audrey Siegel, co-founder, president and director of client services at TargetCast tcm.

“There are a lot of questions in terms of consumer acceptance,” noted Scott Kruse, managing partner, director of print, GroupM. “I think, initially, it’ll be small. And how many people download publications?”

Consultant Jim Spanfeller, past president, CEO of Forbes Digital, had doubts that publications would translate to the iPad. “It’s a big jump of faith to think users are going to give up Web surfing or augment it by paying several subscription fees,” he said.

Either way, there are plenty of questions awaiting publishers that plan to create digital versions of their titles for the iPad, including how should magazines be priced to the consumer? Pricing models will depend in part on whether iPad users want to be tied to the print publishing schedule or get that content on demand by surfing the Web. One worry: publishers, to encourage trialing, will price tablet editions low and cheapen the value, as happened with print subscriptions.

In preparation for future tablets, some publishers, including Condé Nast and Hearst, developed replicas of their titles for the iPhone. But toggling between the vertical and horizontal views will be much different on the iPad, said Sarah Chubb, president, Condé Nast Digital. “It’s not a little thing in your hand,” she said. “When you’re designing something like this, you really have to think about how people are going to use it.”

How ads are priced is another question. While publishers hope to charge a premium — based on the early adopter audience and ability to offer rich-media, customizable ads — they’ll likely face push back. “They’re going to have to prove the effectiveness merits it,” said Starcom’s Allen.

TargetCast’s Siegel said measurement is going to be key. “If you try to price gouge early on, you’re going to shut down the conversation,” she said. “I think [publishers] should be a little more burdened. I’m not saying free, but there should be measurement metrics that are experimented with.”

Michael Silberman, online gm for New York Media, said the use of early Web video suggests otherwise. “We saw lots of advertisers being interested in being on any video there was and paying very high rates,” said Silberman.

Another potential hurdle for buyers is the lack of standard ad sizes. As exciting as the new canvas should be for brands, no one wants to produce alternate versions of ad units for the iPad and other e-readers.