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DENVER — It’s fair to say that the iPad tablet computer will not be the mobile music business game-changer that previous Apple offerings were, like the iPhone and the App Store. That’s not to say it will have no impact; it will have more of an incremental, trickle-down effect on existing business models rather than enabling new ones.
For now, Apple is positioning the iPad as several different things: an e-book reader, a digital periodical for newspapers and magazines, a digital household organizer and a gaming device. Where music fits in requires a little reading between the lines.
Yes, iTunes is built into the device in a slick and expanded way. But its impact on digital music sales will depend on how these other services integrate music discovery into their approach rather than having any direct impact on its own.
For instance, should the iPad become a de-facto device for newspaper and magazine delivery, publishers could find reason to start embedding links to full songs and artist info where music and artists are mentioned more than they are currently doing today with existing Web sites accessed from standard computers. Or app developers could find a way to synch the device’s calendar with an iTunes collection so that tour dates automatically appear alongside user-entered updates.
Sure, all these things are possible today on existing desktop and laptop computers. But by introducing a new category of device, Apple is hoping to get content producers and application developers to think differently about how they do things. Apple is giving them a software development kit and App Store environment to let them dream up new innovations around interactive content.
For this strategy to work, people need to actually buy the iPad and use it as their primary book or newspaper reader and default organizer. Should it succeed in changing that behavior, it’s likely users will also rely on the iPad for most other computing functions as well. It’s not clear how big a market that will be (and it will have to be big on the scale of the iPhone to truly get the attention of the most innovative developers), but Apple has surprised us before.
What Apple showed off at its event in San Francisco was mostly just hardware. It’s hard to imagine the company believes its primary use will be for the rather pedestrian applications displayed. Apple probably didn’t want to make the details known to too many partners for fear of losing control over the leaked information.
Now that it’s out there, expect Apple to announce new features designed specifically for the iPad over the next few years — such as an expanded iTunes LP program, or perhaps more details on the expected cloud-based music streaming service it’s working on with the newly-acquired Lala team.
By focusing for an hour and a half solely on the tablet (no side announcements or “one more thing” surprises) Apple is signaling that it is serious about making this a winning product category and will likely start evangelizing it to developers over the coming months. There’s no guarantee it will succeed. Apple’s flopped before, such as with the still-struggling Apple TV.
(Also, let’s hope Apple is saving for another day the upgrades longed for at this event: such as an iPhone software update that allows for multitasking and background applications, or the extension of the iPhone to the Verizon network.)
But this is all speculation. There’s nothing specific about Apple’s latest unveiling that directly impacts the music industry. In fact, the last real game-changer to blow away our crowd was the iPhone. That’s a tough act to beat.
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