I Don’t Like The iPad Because…

…it's driven by the same old media love affair with distribution lock in. I've been on about this ever since I studied Google in 2001: Media traditionally has gained its profits by owning distribution. Cable carriage, network airwaves, newsstand distribution and printing presses: all very expensive, so once you employ…

Screen shot 2010-02-27 at 6.34.59 PM.png…it’s driven by the same old media love affair with distribution lock in. I’ve been on about this ever since I studied Google in 2001: Media traditionally has gained its profits by owning distribution. Cable carriage, network airwaves, newsstand distribution and printing presses: all very expensive, so once you employ enough capital to gain them, it’s damn hard to get knocked out.  

The web changed all that and promised that economics in the media business would be driven by content and intent: the best content will win, driven by the declared intent of consumers who find it and share it. Search+Social was the biggest wave to hit media since the printing press. And the open technology to make better and better experiences has been on a ten year tear: blogging software, Flash, Ajax, HTML 5, Android, and more and more coming.

But the iPad, just like the iPhone, is designed for vertical integration and distribution lock in. Apple is building its own distribution channel, just as it did with iTunes, and media companies are falling over themselves to make an app for that. Why? Well sure, for once, it’s sexy and cool and hip. That’s why everyone loved the Wired demo.

But the real reason media companies love the iPad is the same reason I don’t: It’s an old school, locked in distribution channel that doesn’t want to play by the new rules of search+social. Sure, you can watch a movie on it. Sure, you can read a book on it. And sure, you can read a publication on it. But if you want to use the web natively, with all the promise that the web brings to media? Not so much. Apple will include a browser, of course. But will media you find through that browser be able to interact with the iPad platform so as to bring full value to you, the consumer? Nope. Not unless that same media is approved by Apple and makes it into the iPad app store.

And that’s why I don’t like the iPad. Don’t tell me, as a media maker, what I can make and how I can leverage the technology in my audience’s hands. And don’t tell me, as a media consumer, what’s OK for me to interact with, and how.

Yep, I really don’t like what the iPad augurs. And I hope, in the end, it’s consigned to what it should be: A sexy version of a portable DVD player-cum-Kindle. Nice to have. Not a game changer. Certainly not revolutionary. Unless you’re longing for yesteryear, when owning distribution meant owning audiences. Oh, and by the way, Traditional Media Folk: This time Apple owns that distribution channel, not you.

Harumph.

Author: John Battelle

A founder of NewCo (current CEO), sovrn (Chair), Federated Media, Web 2 Summit, The Industry Standard, Wired. Author, investor, board member (Acxiom, Sovrn, NewCo), bike rider, yoga practitioner.

75 thoughts on “I Don’t Like The iPad Because…”

  1. while i share your thoughts around why media companies are salivating over the iPad, it’s not just the distribution lock in (which btw is not under the media company’s control but Apple’s) but the new type of experience where media companies believe people will start paying for content again. it reminds me a bit of what AOL was years ago during its period of growth – it brought something that was too techie to the mass market. that is what the iPad will probably do for the tablet space.

    however, i do believe in continuous innovation and that, eventually, open will win over the iPad’s closed system. we have seen it happen time and again. it’s just that we are at the cycle where a very well designed closed system happens to hit the mark with a significant amount of consumers. longer term though, the “Android/Windows” approach may yet prove to be more resilient. in my opinion, Apple does not have as much of a lock into the online distribution ecosystem as you attribute in your post. not yet at least.

    furthermore, rather than directly owning distribution, old media is playing its hand through copyright extensions and IP legal action that effectively control content distribution (through any player for that matter) without having to own the device or pipes. in my opinion, the current legal framework protects old media more than emerging ‘closed’ device ecosystems. that arose, in part, from this ancient relic of a copyright system that we have. it’s probably partly why Comcast bought NBC

  2. Actually, a most native iPlatform capabilities are available via javascript. In fact, websites can be built that are, except for how they load, indistinguishable from apps.

    The valuable tradeoff in opting for app-etizing your content is the mobile DNA that somehow makes it acceptable to pay for content. This is the potential game-changer, advancing beyond a marketplace fuly dependent upon advertising and dubious freemium services. And it’s why there will be a rush to the platform by both publishers and buyers.

  3. Single channel is precisely why I like the iPad and iTunes. I know exactly where to go if I have problems with the devise. Also, as a single channel, Apple must keep the quality high. I also like Apple as a single channel because the Apple forums are superb.

  4. I’m not sure what’s more pathetic about this post. The fact that it took you a full month to get this written or that it’s such a curmudgeonly rant with barely an argument behind it.

  5. Distribution models aside…

    As long as web developers are in love with Flash, and Steve Jobs hamstrings it’s integration into both iPhone and iPad, Apple will continue to deliver broken content.

    Combined with Apple censorship and arrogance the iPad is neither sufficiently appealing to me nor a strong enough game changer to purchase or recommend.

    I’m inclined to either wait a few months to a couple of years for competitive offerings that provide open source app development and full and uncensored access to content, or, wait until the first iPad is jailbroken before acquiring one.

  6. Just about spot on, but I think the biggest threat is not in controlling the media, but in controlling the apps that enable the media.

    I should be able to program, compile, and load my own apps, and download any useful apps I might find, anywhere on the web… not just from Apple.

    The iPad is seriously condescending to the consumer, and Apple hand holding at it’s worst.

  7. Actually, iPad is like an over-sized iPhone for me. The media just made the ipad a big issue so the sales would be a little amplified. i think the iPad should be revised some more for further development and much more sales.

  8. I think you’re right, from the point of view of the control of distribution; that is, old school vs. new school. I’m a musician, and I’ve thought about this a lot.

    There are a few points to follow from your article, but here’s one. Your arguments matter most to creators and distributors of content. They do not matter at all to the consumer, the end user. Yeah, I’m locked into a distribution channel, but so what? It looks the same to me. I pay money, I get something. To the end user, there’s no difference.

    Here’s another. The brilliance of Apple’s iTunes is that you get a variation of a vertically integrated distribution channel, but it’s better in two ways:
    1. I (consumer) don’t have to buy the whole album to get the one or two tunes I want.
    2. It’s convenient enough and cheap enough for me to avoid using a P2P app to steal, I mean, acquire it.

  9. There are no rules. There is a law of cash flow but no new rules or old rules.

    Old media folks like it because it’s a channel through which their businesses might be able to thrive. What’s the problem with that.

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  11. Think you have misunderstood the transformative potential of apps on the ipad/phone

    ……….

    Media on the iPad will be much more enactive, much more intentional (to use one of Battelle’s key categories) than traditional media consumption. Media consumption on the iPad will be much more social, more shared and more communicative than traditional media devices.

  12. John. You say it’s

    “A sexy version of a portable DVD player-cum-Kindle.”

    Perhaps you should stick to thinking. Don’t worry, lack of a brain shouldn’t set you back any further than the lack of a DVD slot would set the iPad back as a DVD player.

  13. You mean if I get music on the iPad the musician who created it will get paid for their work!!!! Outrageous!!! They should give it to me for free because I’m so cool.

    What authors are going to get paid?

    This is really restrictive! I think I’ll make a podcast about this and put it on iTunes – which I can do for FREE! Or maybe post a movie on YouTube which will play on the iPad. Oh crap dude – your blog totally doesn’t make any sense now.

    Oh I know! I’ll write a great little “Punch the Monkey to Lower Your Mortgage” Flash game to show how limited the iPad is. That’ll show Jobs.

  14. It’s basically a big iPod Touch… which is exactly what a lot of people want. Not to say that I will get one unless somebody pays me to write a app for it or something.

  15. Exactly what does the iPad do that I can’t do on my G4 PowerBook or even my 10 y/o tablet PC running Win2000?

    Well, the iPad does try to get you locked into buying content only from Apple so you really don’t own it, can have it remotely deleted, and cannot transfer it to another device.

    On my laptop and tablet, I have mt almost 900 ebooks, all d/l for free, movies, games, and my own pictures and videos. Both can have actual keyboards, USB ports and more. I own everything on them and nothing can be deleted or otherwise controlled by Apple, Amazon or anyone else.

    iPad? I think that Apple has a huge worm in it.

  16. All he means is that, you can’t download files through the browser.

    Say you go to a music blog on your iPad or iPhone, and a band is giving their album away for free as a free download on the website But you aren’t able to download it.

    He’s not talking about the inability to use flash, the app approval process, the lack of real bluetooth, access to the storage within the device.

    The iPad is a computer, as Steve Jobs said “Everything is a computer”. The iPhone is a computer as well.

    But to achieve the simplicity, to make the product so successful and accessible, higher functionality is stricken from the device, and delegated to third party apps that or may not be approved.

    If you like your iPad or want an iPad then that is sweet. There is no problem with that. But this blogger still makes a fair point. The natural ebb and flow of the internet doesn’t exist on the iPad. Share and Share alike.

  17. A sexy DVD player/kindle alone would make it worth the money.

    Have you ever traveled on a plane with a toddler?

    Portable DVD player batteries hardly last more than three hours. Carrying a DVD player plus all of my son’s DVDs is super annoying.

    Plus it carries my books as well as my toddler’s INTERACTIVE books.

    Plus it has tons of apps for my Toddler. The kindle cannot compare.

    Yes, some content would be free online, but guess what? You can’t always be online. Instead of relying on spotty 3G or what about planes where there is no Internet? I can download everything I need before we leave.

    The ipad can actually withstand a toddler’s prying fingers. It fits in my diaper bag.

    I agree apple should not be the only middleman, and that will eventually change. But don’t hate Apple. Be disappointed in the competitor’s who have obviously not kept competitive.

  18. With iOS 4.2 on the horizon with AirPrint, multitasking and more the iPad is in a better position than when you wrote the article… I hope you have come around because the Apple iPod, in its various versions, is here to stay.

  19. It is amazing to sit here months later and realize how off base most of the people disliking the iPad actually are. I would think it is much better to comment after the product has been out for awhile. Not make baseless assumptions of your automatic dislikes.

    Now excuse me while I have to captcha to leave a comment on this post because the proprietors/ writer of this website so opposed to anonymous posting and wants me to drm my comments. Hypocritical and laughable all in one.

  20. I bought an iPad 3 last month. It’s faulty and I hate iOS. I can’t believe I fell for the hype. I feel conned. My iPad is going back to the store tomorrow and I’m getting a full refund.

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