IPad: Content will be king

January 24, 2010

With only a few days left before Apple’s unveiling of their new tablet computer, and media speculation rampant, I thought I’d reluctantly add to the frenzy. During the first dot-com boom (was there a second?) the expression Content is king was often used, often by ‘nu meja’ types when discussing a brief, concept or proposal with designers, or when there was some difficulty articulating exactly what was required. To be fair, it was also used by designers to obfuscate weak design concepts (“hey, the design doesn’t matter too much, the content is king!”). There is however much truth and virtue in this phrase.

Essentially, the expression calls upon the content, words, pics, audio, video, advertising, editorial content, sponsorship etc. to be given due prominence, the extent of which is determined and governed by the context and application, or the purpose of design. That’s not to diminish the design itself, but rather to focus, support and contextualize it.

Across design disciplines, it’s often all about the presentation, and interaction design is all about presentation, irrespective of the value of the content. Often, even mediocre content can be transformed by great presentation. Consider how a skilled DJ can take a number of mixed-quality tracks and assemble and mix them into a great, continuous musical program – a sublime experience that utilises weak content to great effect, building up to even greater highs. The design and presentation of content is what it’s all about with the iPad. I expect to see the iPad do exactly this, by taking ‘standard’ content, repackaging and integrating it, and presenting the media in clear coherent, cohesive and above all slick package. As I pointed out back in November last year (Death of the e-Reader, birth of the E-eBook) expect to see the iPad utterly trounce eBook readers, as a must-have device, offering enhanced interaction and rich media content in highly accessible, usable form. Unlike eBook readers, you won’t have to wonder what a button does before tentatively pressing it, and still wonder having done so, followed by the suddent realisation that it wasn’t what you wanted, or what might reasonably have been expected. Bad interaction sucks…absolutely, and the tactile, highly responsive iPhone/iPod Touch has shifted users’ expectations to new levels. Do not underestimate the power of the iPad as an emergent model and standard. At a time when global recession has devastated advertising revenues and forced new business models onto established heavyweights, the ability to target and embed dynamic advertising offers great potential. Expect to see leading publications embracing this technology on the basis of revitalised advertising and marketing models, moving from high-end to mid market over time and gaining pace as other device manufactures look to share in the success. The web has radicalised users’ perceptions and expectations around the availability and entitlement to free content, but packaged into slick, compelling, convenient form, punters will pay once again for the privilege and prestige of content on this device.

I’ve always considered the iPhone to be above all, a PCD; that is, a Personal Communications Device, because all other functions not withstanding, it’s the ability to talk, email, SMS and IM with ease that’s paramount, and marks the technology out as uniquely useful, and uniquely usable. Accordingly, I would expect to see the iPad emerge as a PPD; that is, a Personal Presentation Device. Why? Because it primarily what I want. And if I want it, chances are the market is ready for a small(ish) thin, light robust slice of tech that easily carried around, that enables me to read, view and access a variety of media quickly and easily. My laptop is too heavy, the clamshell’s a drudge and keyboards are old hat. Steve Jobs famously said that nobody reads anymore, which updated for this decade probably translates into nobody wants to type or risk RSI with a mouse anymore. As everything’s going ‘cloud’ and attention spans diminish, and we’re increasingly ready to gesture, expect literary content to take centre stage with personal videos and lengthier content pulled down over WiFi and 3G from the cloud as needed. Apple look likely to establish a triumvirate for digital content e-commerce, with audio, video and now literature. Sceptics argue that rich media doesn’t necessarily enhance narratives, which is of course true. But consider he educational markets, which are particularly appealing, and imagine how useful it will be to embed updatable dynamic content directly into text books and instruction manuals. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m really excited about the potential of interactive literary media and what Apple are positioned and enabled to deliver.

If I had to sum up the iPhone in a word, just one word, it would be usability. Without seeing the iPad, I would venture to submit that word will be presentation. The device will be a marvel of design and engineering, but it will be the presentation of media that makes this a must-have new standard in personal computing. The content really is king, but it’s the retractable stand I’m having difficulty envisaging, and how Jonathan Ive will enable this.

Image by PhotoGiddy


One comment

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