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4 Things We Know About iPad Usage (So Far)

Ever since Apple released the first iPad in April 2010, critics and consumers have been buzzing. It’s a whole new type of device for consuming media, thought some. It’s just a large iPod Touch, lamented others. There were those who loved the novelty, and those who just couldn’t find a good reason to keep the thing around. The entire hullabaloo combined with record sales and market domination makes the iPad the latest, coolest, most intriguing gadget around.

But how did consumers really use the device in the past year? And how will it affect journalism? Some statistics could really put these questions into context.

1) The iPad Won’t ‘Save’ Print

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For all the talk about the iPad saving the print industry, these usage stats show a different story. But the numbers are unsurprising because any new medium imitates the old. For the iPad, the old is relatively new: laptops and smartphones. But where is the trend going? Will the iPad remain stuck between laptop and smartphone? Or will it emerge with its own specialty?

That is a question that both Apple and consumers are trying to figure out. Steve Jobs is a firm believer in a “post-PC” world and thinks the transformation has already begun. At the D8 conference a year ago, he compared PCs to trucks, saying, “They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they are going to be used by one out of X people.”

A recent report by the Online Publishers Association supports that view: Tablet users preferred using a tablet over a computer for all types of activities.

Unsurprisingly, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, disagreed with Jobs at the same conference, saying, “Nothing people do on a PC today is going to get less relevant tomorrow.” But after further elaboration, Ballmer concludes that the tablet is a PC, simply in a “different form factor.” This is indeed the case if we look at the usage stats: iPad use looks a lot like PC use. But the iPad can be considered a new medium in that it fundamentally changes user interaction. Publishers have been eager to capitalize on this, but stats show that this has been more prosperous for the gaming industry than for publishing.

2) The iPad Is Not Preferred For eBooks

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A recent report by Pew Internet shows that eReaders are becoming more popular than the tablet. The market for eBooks has grown enormously in recent years, with sales in the US tripling from 2009 to 2010. As people read more eBooks, how will they choose to consume?

Devices like Amazon’s Kindle can be enjoyed on the sunny beach, while the iPad’s LCD screen will obfuscate anything under the sun. But an important factor in this comparison is that eBook sales are at record highs. Sales were up 160% this year (compared to the same period last year). Digital magazine sales are encountering the opposite trend: all the magazines that report digital sales to the Audit Bureau of Circulations have seen drops in sales for iPad editions. Wired, which sold 100,000 with its June debut issue, only managed to sell 23,000 five months later. Traditional publishers have yet to make their digital products worth their readers’ time and money.

3) The iPad Is Preferred For Newspapers & Magazines

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While the iPad may be particularly conducive to reading newspapers and magazines, readers do not want to pay a premium for a magazine that is essentially just transferred to the new device. If traditional publishers do not capitalize on the iPad’s potential for interactivity, someone else will come along and fill their place.

4) The iPad Makes Advertising More Interesting

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The other pressing challenge for journalism is to find a viable business model, since advertising online hasn’t proved as lucrative. A Nielsen report shows that advertising works better on an iPad compared to all other devices.

As more information on advertising effectiveness trickles in, advertisers will become more keen on using the new medium (not that they weren’t before). Not only do publishers need to make their products worthwhile to consumers, but exploring alternative ways to generate ad revenue will help them adapt to the digital environment. Conde Nast recently did just that when it signed an ad deal with Flipboard.

So, Where Does This Leave Journalism?
Since users have been browsing the Web and emailing with their new gadgets, the iPad hasn’t been the savior of anything (except perhaps the tablet market). But could it significantly help newspapers and magazines in the future? Trends point to yes. Increase in advertising effectiveness could be the harbinger of a new business model.

And, although he’s no rescuer of print, Steve Jobs did say some nice words about it:

“One of my beliefs very strongly, is that any democracy depends on a free healthy press. Some of these newspapers, the news gathering and editorial organizations are really important. I don’t want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers myself. I think we need editorial more than ever right now. So, anything that we can do to help… news gathering organizations find new ways of expression so that they can afford to get paid… I’m all for.”

However, Jobs is also ‘all for’ finding new ways for Apple to get paid. The company has yet to work out a subscription model that pleases publishers as much as it does Apple.

But let’s be clear: print isn’t going anywhere. People have relied on dead trees to distribute information for centuries, and we “millenials” aren’t abandoning it despite what the headlines may say. Between three roommates, my apartment receives 11 magazine subscriptions. (We are all college-age and pay for print!) What would we do with an iPad? Placing one on the coffee table would clean up the clutter, but what if we felt like perusing a magazine at the same time, while watching TV?

As consumers, our interactions between an iPad and a physical magazine are fundamentally different. Print will always have its advantages. The iPad will introduce its own.

MONA ZHANG

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