Is the iPad the beginning of a second class Web?

So, the iPad is here. No more speculation. The gushing – and the bashing – has commenced as was totally expected. The news organizations are claiming that their salvation has arrived courtesy of Steve Jobs having a vision. It has already been broken, blended and other wise abused as everyone and their brother is flooding the blogosphere and mainstream press with stories about the revolutionary and magical device.

Is it really though or is it really nothing more than a further siloing of the Web?

I have been reading a lot of the news coming out about the iPad, both the gushingly positive and the pageview grabbing negative but all the things things that everyone is lauding as groundbreaking and game changing strike me as the beginnings of a type of segregation of the Web. It is a segregation that has the free and open Web on one side and the controlled silos of access and increasing cost on the other.

The singular view

One of the more hotly debated points of the iPhone and now the iPad is the lack of multi-tasking (the ability to view or do more than one thing at a time). The defenders of this discrepancy say that it really isn’t needed and besides if it is then Apple will add it in at some future point, which is really a nice way to say we’re so in love with our shiny bauble that we’ll suffer through not having it.

But the lack of a multi-tasking ability in this day and age is curious because it returns us to a time in computers when everything was full screen and single program at a time. Doing anything else meant trying to use all kinds of hacks – DesqVIEW or NovellDOS anyone?

So the idea that returning to some sort of singular view when using even a web-enabled <computing> platform doesn’t strike me as any real leap forward. If anything it is more about locking in one’s attention to one thing at a time and reducing options. This is neither magical nor revolutionary.

Same old media greed, just a new platform

If there is one industry that is trumpeting their salvation all because of the iPad it would have to be the print media. Regardless of whether or not their vapid drooling over is reminiscent of the similar proclamations made when the CD-ROM came on the scene I find it rather humorous that this so-called resurrection of their dying business model was available to all on Easter Weekend.

Hopefully that will be enough to instill some humor in people because the obvious cash grab being made by newspapers and magazines is nothing short of obscene. Indicative of this highway robbery attitude is TIME magazine where not only do you have to pay $4.99 each week but you have to download a whole new app to be able to read their content.

How is that greedy you ask?

Well answer this simple question: how much does it cost any one of these newspapers or magazines to create one copy of an issue?

As I pointed out in another post when talking about e-books there is an inherent cost when publishing a physical newspaper or magazine. Beyond the costs that can also be associated with a digital version, such as digital typesetting, you have the incurred costs of the paper, wages to people manning the presses, wages for delivery people and any number of other costs.

Those all disappear when you are selling a digital version. Sure your costs for design and typesetting might be slightly higher given the supposed interactivity the new medium brings with it but in the end you are only paying for the creation of one item that can be forever copied. So how many of those digital copies do you need to sell before you actually start making a profit – a 1,000 … 5,000 … 10,000?

Then you have those media companies that figure that since the rubes were silly enough to buy the iPad in the first place chances are they won’t be smart enough to see that we’re charging more for the digital version than for the hold in your hand newsprint version. Much like the Wall Street journal is with wanting to charge you $17.99 a month when in fact you can subscribe to the WSJ site for $1.99 a week.

If this isn’t being greedy then I don’t know what is but perhaps the words of some-one like Paul Kedrosky, venture capitalist and private equity investor, will carry a little more weight than mine. As he said on Twitter about WSJ’s move

Paying $17.29/mo for WSJ iPad app should disqualify you for something important, like being allowed to use money.

Yup we’re seeing a lot of revolutionary change there.

It might be a silo but damn it’s a pretty one.

The thing about the non-iPad Web is that you can easily go wherever you want, read whatever you want and for the most part it won’t cost you a cent beyond what your broadband provider is reaming your for. When it comes to the iPad Web though things have changed and the old media companies are betting the farm on the fact that we won’t care that we now have to increasingly pay for what we want to read or watch as well as creating an ecosphere where you are like a the very captive audience we decried as we fled to the web in the first place.

This iPad Web is nothing about changing the world or making it easier for grandma to surf the web and everything to do with locking us in one more to a monetized experience. As Kevin Anderson said on Strange Attractor

Looking at the iPad app rollout, you can easily separate the digital wheat from the chaff in the content industries, and you can see those who are developing digital businesses and those who are trying to protect print margins and who see the iPad as a vertical, closed model to control and monetise content.

There are those who believe that they sell content and that they should be compensated for it. Just as with the music industry, they couch this in terms of repaying content creators, when it really is more about wistfulness for the days of double-digit profit margins.

Those who view their primary business as selling content believe that not only can they charge for it but that they can actually charge the same or more for it, just because it is on the iPad.

However it is not only the old media companies that are salivating at the mouth over the hope that the iPad Web is the next hot territory. I would imagine that companies like Facebook and Twitter are just as busy frothing at the mouth at the potential of having a platform where they can get our undivided attention and occupy even more of our dwindling free time. After all just think of all the advertising they will be able to serve up to such a captive audience.

Gee .. sounds like some sort of next generation television eh.

Will any of this common sense change anything?

Not likely.

Look, the iPad is going to be a success no matter how you slice or dice it. Jobs will have another feather in his cap and Apple will make billions of more dollars.

People will love it and people will hate it but the reality is that Apple isn’t targeting the geek – or even semi-geek crowd with this. Just as with the iPod Apple is going for the general consumer jugular and on that basis alone the iPad will be the answer for a lot of people.

Regardless of the hype and all the frothing the iPad isn’t transformative neither is it game changing or magical. It is however the next ATM machine for old media and trust me they are going to pump it for all it is worth and that in itself could be the biggest stumbling block to a wider success and adoption.