Although it was released into the wild only about a month ago, it hasn't taken long for the iPad to generate a conference focused on explaining its impact and ultimate meaning. "Tabula Rasa: A Tablet Computing Throwdown," organized by WeMedia, a network/community of digital entrepreneurs and visionaries based in lower Manhattan, is one of the first and provided an impressive lineup of digital professionals offering very early reactions about what the iPad might mean to business, popular culture, and social interaction in general.
In the words of one presenter, the iPad offers great potential to generate "optimistic questions" about device portability, multitasking, storytelling, and play. Throughout the all-day event, panelists offered a series of presentations highlighting the iPad's impact on layout, information design and content flow—hopefully without mimicking the conventions of print layouts—and its ability to display high quality and often visually inventive advertising presentations. And while book publishing was hardly the focus of this conference, early data on iPad use shows that the most popular activities on the device so far are playing games, searching for news, and reading books. Greg Yardley, v-p at Flurry, a mobile computing analytics firm, said that the average iPad user was reading books for a bit more than half an hour per session, way up from the iPhone users' rate of about 10 minutes reading books per session.
Moderated by WeMedia's Dale Peskin and Andrew Nachison, Tabula Rasa's theme—essentially the iPad is a cultural blank slate with the potential to "change everything"—was addressed by the likes of Web and graphic designer Roger Black; media and technology critic Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?; digital media pioneer Roger Fidler of the Reynolds Journalism Institute; and a host of other very smart, digital media professionals throughout the day. And while the organizers said the conference was focused on the impact of tablet and mobile device computing in general, make no mistake, this conference was totally focused on Apple and the iPad.
Indeed the most striking thing about the Tabula Rasa presentations is the way that major media interests are falling over themselves to make sure their content is on the iPad. Mark Jannot, editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine, showed off an innovative design layout for the Popular Science iPad app that replaces the classic magazine two-page visual spread with a visual "flow" or the ability to scroll horizontally for visual information and vertically in the same article to get more text detail. Jannot also acknowledged that Popular Science had done no market research on pricing or business models in its rush to have an iPad app ready. And Thomson Reuter's v-p Alisa Brown gave a great explanation for just why there's a mad rush by media interests to the iPad platform—125 million credit card–ready consumers available through iTunes and mobile devices: "business executives are using iPhones, Blackberries and iPods way more than laptops," she said. "It's a real business."
Indeed virtually every magazine and news presentation offered an iPad app—usually also offered for a higher fee than their iPhone app—that is supported by advertising. Indeed, advertisers seem to be impressed with the iPad's ability to present a slick visual platform for advertisements—the commercials used in Popular Science looked great and even allow users to remove the ad copy. Every few years book publishers take a look at ways to include advertising in books, and the iPad may generate a new discussion on the topic.
While one presenter discussed the way kids and teens are often mesmerized by the device, the iPad also had its critics. The always entertaining Jeff Jarvis—who has posted a video in which he reboxes his brand-new iPad to return it to the Apple Store—declared, "I sent it back to the store. I was watching TV shows on it and realized that I have a bigger and better TV. " To Jarvis the iPad is "not a game changer" but an example of "people moving to ubiquitous connectivity."
"I have not heard the word 'reading' very much. I'm interested in that far more than all the flashy stuff," designer Roger Black said at one point. Black noted that the Kindle, a device that generally does not impress the digital elite, "was worse than paper for reading, but you don't care if you're reading a great book." Roger Fidler, who showed off an iPad app for Newsy, an online video news site, agreed and pointed out that the Kindle "makes us buy more books. It's easy to use and convenient. It's not just about the technology."
"The iPad is really just the starting line, not the finish line," said Black.