Why Apple iPad Could Be a Game Changer

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The Apple iPad is a small sliver of screen that's filled with potential. It's been described as an e-reader extraordinaire, the perfect entertainment hub, and the missing link between smartphones and laptops. I thought it looked pretty sweet. But I still had questions.

Who is supposed to buy the iPad, anyway? What will it offer customers that our smartphones and Kindles can't? And what lucrative opportunities does it offer advertisers and media companies like magazines, newspapers and other websites? To find answers, I spoke with Lincoln Bjorkman, executive vice president and executive creative director of the New York region of Publicis' Digitas, a digital marketing agency. Here is our exchange:

1) The iPad looks awesome, but I doubt I'll buy one. Who will?

Affluentials. Affluent kids who just can't get enough social communication or media interaction and content, and affluent kids who to mix their educational needs and requirements with the aforementioned fun stuff. Also, affluent travelers. Business people who want connectivity and ease of use and portability. Anybody who has been stuck on a plane or in an airport in the last 2 years. Anybody who has a Mac or iPhone or iTouch because they instinctively understand how to use it and what it will unlock.

I think Kindle and Nook early adopters and those who have considered it are going to run to this device. The price point says, why not upgrade and get more that just an ugly book reader thingy? I think the celebrity chic set will be all over it too--it's a great way to consume what they create and interact with their peeps and their fans. If it's out, wouldn't you expect to see it in an Oscar goodie bag?

2) We know what the iPad looks like. It looks like a big iPhone. The iPhone is amazing, but it's not been hailed as a savior of media advertising. What makes the iPad different?

The iPad itself isn't the big news (though it's very cool and very worthy of some attention).  What's different is the signal that technology companies like Apple (and Google) continue to send when they create extremely compelling devices, applications, browsers and experiences such as the iPad (especially if it's successful) that give advertisers and agencies and agency creatives more and more compelling places to play. This is yet another harbinger of opportunities that are not yet to come but that are here, now, for brands and agencies willing to fluidly collaborate.

3) At a very broad level, what are all the different ways you can see the iPad giving publishers and content producers an advantage in advertising?

It's only one device -- though a very high-profile one to be sure. One advantage the iPad gives publishers and content producers is the sheer size of the iPad audience and those who cover and market to that audience. There is tremendous opportunity to partner and show they are highly motivated to serve up their wares -- however and wherever the audience wants it.
 
Moreover, this is a HUGE learning opportunity. We can track, test and measure response, behaviors and trends through the iPad and learn what customers want -- both in the form of the technology and in the content they acquire there. I, for one, can't wait to see how many iPads end up in the hands of affluent business travelers in lounges and airplanes. Is it really fast enough and powerful enough for the fat middle of the gaming marketplace? Will this be, as I suspect, the beginning of the "it" thing that students really need and want to carry in their backpacks all the way through to college? Will device proliferation speed up cloud computing, so I can get my stuff and my programs on any device I carry, cheaper and faster?

4) I spoke to one publisher who thinks the future of advertising is going to be more interactive. Ads will look more like mini-sites that we WANT to visit rather than click away from. Do you agree, and where does the iPad fit in here?

I agree. Sites are where the action will be -- more so than apps. It's not the ads, it's the brands that people will want to engage with (or click away from). The question then is, how must a brand make its presence felt on any device or better yet across all them, seamlessly, so the audience allows them "in" to their world: why should I let you in or care that you are already there? I own the delete button, pal. Prove yourself. The iPad is another door to me.

5) Sports Illustrated magazine famously debuted its iPad-compatible living magazine in a YouTube clip I saw. Does Apple get a cut of the advertisement associated with that special SI magazine? If so, does that violate net neutrality?

Though I'm not sure about the specifics but we must accept that there must be some kind of exchange of commerce if we want meaningful content on our various screens or in our ear buds. Net Neutrality to me is a myth. We pay one way or another for access (whether via the device, the carriers, cable, etc. or via advertising revenue or both) and content is going to cost something, unless we move into a world of user-generated content and nothing else. Personally, I want and expect more and am willing to pay. The market should and will adjust to demand.

6) Let's talk books for a second. How could the iPad and similar products change or revitalize the book industry in a way the Kindle hasn't?

I'll buy the new Twilight book and watch a preview for the next film. I will Facebook the trailer to my friends and swoon. I will post exclusive photos I got from the book purchase to my TUMBLR blog. I will listen to the soundtrack endlessly while I read. My friends will tell me that SohoDolls just released a new track for the next film on their MySpace page and I will jump to get it before they take it down. I will buy two more books based on the recommendation of "friends" I've never met but who wrote about the book I'm reading in a way that I understand, in a voice that resonates with me. I will recommend all my favorite books to friends who can instantly take me up on the advice and who will write to me "as they are reading it" telling me what they think. All of this will happen in so fast it hurts. It's not just about the book anymore.

7) What are you most excited about for the next iPad?

Let me have my phone there too, but one number so I can pick which one is on. Faster chips and more memory. It still lacks a number of features that would let me dump my laptop altogether - using multiple features at the same time, Flash capabilities for better games. What about medical information to and from my doctor on the tablets? Imagine going to the doctor and leaving with all my info and CAT scans and prescriptions and directions and follow up info on the device. SKYPE. A front facing camera and SKYPE. That will change the world.

8) Could the iPad fail? Is it possible that Apple has smelled a space in the market between smartphones and laptops that simply doesn't exist -- that smartphones are better for mobile browsers and laptops are better for workers and the iPad will make something that fails to compete with both?

I don't think you fail if you continue to innovate and listen and learn and activate the knowledge gained fast. Newton and AppleTV didn't kill 'em. The iPad won't either. And it's all leading to the Apple iChip they imbed in my arm! This is just a baby step toward that.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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