Why iDidn’t want an iPad but iHad to get one anyway

Sue Zoldak Contributor
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I marked April 3, 2010, as the day I was finally able to catch the first idiot walking around with a device that seemed, on the surface, to be everything you’ve ever wanted but was nothing you actually needed. It was like seeing Brainy Smurf with an iPod Touch, reading the New York Times. Back then, I didn’t grasp the point of the iPad’s entry into the gadget world. Fast forward four months. I caved last week and ordered one. It’s on its way from its birthplace in China right now.

But why? There are several things I didn’t get about the iPad when it launched. First, it wasn’t clear that all the popular apps would indeed be redesigned for the larger screen. In fact, during the first month, most apps were just iPhone apps blown up to fill the screen, providing users large blurry images and pixilated font. But since then, many developers have made use of the increased screen size, both by recognizing that swiping across large areas of real estate would get tiring and making better use of its increased resolution.

Quickly adapting, the brand marketing world began releasing iPad specific apps that commendably made use of the iPad’s innovative technology. Walt Disney, for example, has been highly praised for apps such as its Alice in Wonderland storybook where you can manipulate the characters by tilting the iPad or touching the screen. By fully realizing the potential brand immersion experience that the iPad provides like no other device in existence, I was beginning to see what a game changer this could be.

But I was still unsure that the iPad was practical for any serious use and I certainly wasn’t buying one just to play with apps. For example, Apple claims the iPad is the best way to read and send email ever known to man. I’ve watched the demo video several times and I can’t figure how the iPad is mysteriously stuck to the man’s jeans when he lets go to type with both hands. Does it come with Velcro strips and felt pants? What it should come with is a grippable rubber back, a kick stand and a keyboard – of course, all that costs extra. Maybe if we can all prove the iPad doesn’t get good reception without a cover, we can get free ones. But I digress.

Next, there was the idea that the iPad would kill the Amazon Kindle as the eBook reader of choice. However, there was something that bothered me on principal. Last year, Apple placed its heavy hand on the publishing industry and used its market power to drive the price of eBooks up. Yes, that’s right, Apple has achieved what few other corporations have done with the power of competition – raised prices for all consumers.

As a tactical move against Amazon and the Kindle Store, Steve Jobs shared the dirty little secret in a Wall Street Journal interview that publishers were dissatisfied with Amazon’s pricing model of a $9.99 price ceiling and offered to sell iBooks at up to $14.99.

While this might leave those who understand basic economics scratching their heads, Apple’s move actually worked. Macmillan, a major publisher, went to Amazon and demanded the same higher pricing model. While Amazon will actually get to keep a higher percentage of the raised prices, Amazon had been using the lower prices as a way to sell the Kindle and build its customer base.

Needless to say, Amazon was furious and so was I. I’ve been unhappy to find that many books I want on my Kindle are now more than $9.99. Ironically, Amazon’s loss leader strategy was the same one Apple had used to build its iPod fan base with the 99-cent song on iTunes. But while the latter revolutionized music consumption, I am not so sure higher eBook prices will bring more converts from the pulp version and reintroduce literature to the masses. Amazon and Sony have been forced to lower the prices of their readers to combat the higher eBook pricing model.

As time went by, however, Amazon might have gotten its revenge when reviews widely noted that you can’t read an iPad in direct sunlight. Perhaps in the best marketing campaign of the year, Amazon released a television ad showing two happy Kindle readers at the beach.

So, is the iPad revolutionary and another step in Apple’s quest for world domination or another time waster? As an advertising executive, I am anticipating the growth of the iAds platform. Creating interactive ads that appear upon launch of an app, mimicking a microsite experience without a browser, would be intriguing for my line of work.

In the meantime, I had seen enough. I had to see what the iPad experience was all about. So the iPad will be joining my gadget library. Stay tuned to see if it lives up to the hype.

Sue Zoldak is a Vice President at Goddard Claussen Public Affairs and an expert in leveraging digital and social media platforms for issue advocacy and branding campaigns. Follow her on twitter @SueZoldak.