Get Ready for the iPad to Change the Way You Watch Video

Apple has always been in the innovation business, and the iPad is no exception. And the iPad, like the iPod before it, could fundamentally change the way we consume media — in this case, video.

The iPad might not be the first mass market portable media device to offer the ability to watch digital video on the fly, but it will probably be the most important one. Apple has been selling online video for viewing on the iPod and the iPhone for years. But those devices had some serious limitations — notably their screen size. With just a 3.5-inch screen, the iPhone was never an ideal video device, though it was “good enough” for watching video on the go. But with a 9.7-inch screen, the iPad is basically a portable TV screen, ideal for consuming video anytime, anywhere.

This is arguably why Apple is pushing content partners to lower the cost of their movies and TV shows, according to reports. It’s betting that the launch of the new device will drive more demand for those files, and that a price decrease will only accelerate that demand, making up for any revenue losses due to halving the price by an increase in volume. By integrating iTunes into the device, Apple is betting that consumers will finally have a platform with which to embrace online video.

And why wouldn’t they? There’s already a huge number of consumers that use their laptops for “bedroom viewing,” tuning to Hulu, YouTube, and other sites before turning off the lights and going to bed. Commuters have turned to watching video on their iPods or iPhones instead of reading a book. And now, Apple has presented those users with a devices that bridges the divide between those two use cases. A device that is big enough to comfortably watch a full-length TV show or movie, but not so bulky as lugging around a laptop. Apple has, in short, created a whole new market opportunity by introducing a device that solves a problem most didn’t even think existed: how to make it easy for users to watch video on the go.

The iPad will cause ripples in multiple industries — including news, book publishing and gaming — but at the end of the day, I’m betting that what the iPad will be used for more than anything is watching video. Like the iPod, it’s only a matter of time before the iPad becomes the defining product with which to consume that type of media.

The iPad Is a Multimedia Device. So Where Are the Media? Be Patient.

As predicted, Steve Jobs showed off a new multimedia device today. One thing he didn’t show off, though: Much in the way of new media.

Jobs and company clearly plan on incorporating new products from newspapers, magazine publishers, TV networks and Hollywood movie studios as the iPad rolls out. But there wasn’t much talk about any of those media products during the launch event.

The only mention of TV, music and movies, for instance, came as Jobs showed off the device’s multimedia features. But the implication, at least for now, is that consumers will get that stuff into their machines the same way they get it now, from iTunes, and at the same price–or via Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, which Jobs did take time to demo. That is, no talk of subscription products or of other changes in the media consumption/distribution model.

The same goes for magazine and newspaper products. As predicted, Apple (AAPL) highlighted an iPad app designed by the New York Times (NYT), but there was no mention of how much the thing will cost or whether the paper will charge anything at all.

“This was a demonstration product. It’s too soon to discuss any details such as pricing,” Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty tells me via email.

Apple also highlighted games, bringing out demos from Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Gameloft. But both companies showed off versions of games you can already get for the iPhone and iPod touch.

Jobs did unveil one major media change: Apple is getting into the e-book world and competing with Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle head on. Jobs made a point of highlighting agreements with five big publishers: Pearson’s Penguin Group, News Corp.’s (NWS) HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, CBS’s (CBS) Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill (MHP). And, as reported, he showed off a higher price point for books than Amazon’s $9.99.

But even that seems fairly preliminary. While Jobs’s demo showed off splashes of color and a more “paper-like” presentation of the books’ pages, it didn’t feature much of the stuff you’d expect in an “enhanced e-book,” like video, audio, etc. So it will be interesting to see how the books, and their prices, evolve.

And that’s the key to all of this: It’s going to take some time. Keep in mind that Apple kept just about all the big media companies at arm’s length before the announcement and didn’t even acknowledge that there was a device until very recently.

Apple expects that like the iPod and iPhone, the iPad will be a big enough hit that media companies will adapt to the new hardware. Some of the media executives I spoke to in advance of today’s announcements were fine with that, but noted that many of them didn’t roll out new products for the earlier devices for a long time following their launch. We may be looking at a repeat here.

Video on the iPad: HD, But No Flash

We all pretty much knew it was happening, and Steve Jobs didn’t let us down: Apple introduced a tablet device called the iPad at today’s event in San Francisco. You can read a play-by-play of the unveiling on TheAppleBlog’s Twitter feed and check this post for links to the complete GigaOM network coverage. Of course, the aspect that we we’re most interested in is: How good of a newteevee device is the iPad?

Video actually played a big role during the announcement, with Jobs saying that a new device only made sense if it was better at watching video, among other tasks, than current laptops and smartphones. Jobs also demoed watching YouTube in HD and playing movies and TV shows from the iTunes store. However, a small detail during the presentation revealed that the iPad won’t satisfy all your online video needs.

First, a few word about the specs: The iPad features a 9.7-inch IPS display. This type of LCD display technology features better viewing angles than your average desktop screen, which should help to make the iPad an in-your-lap kind of device. IPS is generally known to use a little more power than regular LCDs, but Jobs said that the iPad will still offer around 10 hours of video viewing on one charge. Apple will sell the tablet with 16-64 GB of Flash storage. That’s not that much for HD video, but it should suffice for the average user, especially given the fact that you’d only watch an iTunes rental once before deleting it. The iPad will have a 1Ghz processor that Apple developed in-house and presumably some powerful GPU working under the hood to make HD video work.

Now, what will be available in terms of video content? Obviously iTunes downloads, but also YouTube, and live video delivered through apps. One example for this was a demo by MLB.com, which combined full-screen live streams from games with advanced features like instant replay, information about the trajectory of every pitch and a choice of announcers.

One interesting aspect of the device was briefly shown during the presentation of the New York Times iPad app. The application seemed to have a similar look and feel as its iPhone counterpart, judging from photos available on various gadget blogs. However, videos were playable directly on the page, much like you would expect from a video embed on a web site. That’s not really so revolutionary for an online news offering, but it opens up a whole range of possibilities for adding video content to apps for magazines or even dictionaries.

Speaking of books: iPad owners will have access to the iBook app, which is essentially a Kindle-like e-book experience, but for a color display. Apple is using the ePub format for this. ePub is an open standard based on XML which theoretically would allow publishers to include multimedia files as well. However, no such capabilities were demoed on stage, and it’s unclear whether the iPad will actually support video integration in its e-books, because the iPad doesn’t support Flash.

Yes, no Flash on the iPad. There, I said it. Unlike Jobs, who tried really hard to avoid the subject on stage. Of course, maybe he shouldn’t have gone to the New York Times web site, where an embedded ad produced a “missing plug-in” error early on during the presentation. That means you won’t be able to watch any content from Hulu on the iPad and many embedded videos on blogs and other sites won’t play, either. Of course, some content will be available through dedicated apps, since many platforms have tried to get their video on the iPhone, which also doesn’t have Flash.

Finally, there’s no video camera integrated into the iPad, and Jobs didn’t announce any video accessories. However, I could see third-party companies jumping onto this, provided that Apple doesn’t somehow lock the dock interface. One possible application: a teleprompter for podcasters, complete with an attached camera. But enough with the speculation, let’s hear your thoughts: Do you think the iPad will make a good online video device? What are you going to use it for — or what’s gonna stop you from buying it?

For more on the iPad’s impact on online video, check Get Ready for the iPad to Change the Way You Watch Video.

More Stuff You Won’t See on Tablet Day: Condé Nast Magazines

I got a great glimpse of the future of magazines last week. It’s the March issue of Wired, transformed into a digital edition that takes full advantage of the Apple tablet we’re going to see Wednesday.

I’d show you a video demo, but Wired publisher Condé Nast is keeping it under wraps for now. But not because the company plans to show it off at the Apple event.

It doesn’t.

Like just about everyone else in the media world, Condé Nast executives think they know what Steve Jobs is going to unveil, but they’re in the dark when it comes to details. The demo they showed off at an industry dinner was much more advanced than the one they showed off in November. But as beautiful and engaging as it is, the demo is still just a demo.

I should note here that the Condé guys–along with the Adobe (ADBE) team helping them–are appropriately proud of their demo. They point out that it is built on live code, as opposed to Flash movies they and other publishers have shown off in the past.

But as Adobe design manager Jeremy Clark told me last week, Condé Nast can’t build a digital magazine for an Apple tablet–or a Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) tablet, for that matter–until it gets its hands on one, and it hasn’t done so yet.

Which is why when you do see the first Condé Nast products on the tablet later this spring, they are likely to be supersized editions of the GQ app it is already selling for the iPhone and iPod touch and not the more ambitious stuff Wired is working on.

Condé executives have talked to Apple (AAPL) about their intentions to build tablet-ready magazines–as have executives from Time Warner’s (TWX) Time Inc.–but those conversations are pretty much one-way affairs, sources tell me: The magazine guys tell the Apple guys what they’d like to do, hoping for some kind of guidance from the Apple guys. And the Apple guys listen politely, but don’t say much.

This applies to both technical stuff–the Condé guys don’t know if Adobe’s AIR platform, which they used for their demo, will work on the tablet–as well as big-picture business questions. For instance, Condé would like to sell tablet magazine subscriptions directly to consumers, without having to work through Apple’s iTunes store. And through an Apple proxy, the publisher has communicated that desire to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, I’m told. No word back, though.

Again, you can extrapolate this scenario for all but a select few media companies. Even for some that you’d expect to be on board for an Apple launch. Disney’s (DIS) ESPN unit, for instance, is sending representatives to the Wednesday event, but won’t be participating, sources tell me.

The good news for Apple’s would-be media partners: All of this should become much clearer by Wednesday afternoon.

With an Eye on the iPad, Condé Nast Declares Its $39,000 iPhone Magazine a “Success”

January GQSome early numbers from Condé Nast’s first attempt to create a digital version of one of its magazines: The publisher says it sold 6,614 copies of the December issue of GQ via iTunes, and some 12,000 copies of the January issue.

At $2.99 a pop, and after subtracting Apple’s 30 percent fee, that’s about $39,000 in revenue for the publisher, which isn’t even enough to rehire anyone the company let go during last fall’s layoffs.

And those sales numbers are puny compared with the title’s analog reach: GQ reports average newsstand sales of more than 200,000 per issue, plus more than 600,000 paid subscribers.

But they’re enough for Condé to declare the digital magazines, designed to be consumed on iPhones and iPods, a “success out of the gate.” For now, that seems plausible for two reasons.

For starters, this is a Big Media digital product that doesn’t cut into the existing analog offering. The company isn’t exactly sure whether digital buyers cannibalized print numbers, but its hunch is that they did not, and that seems right to me.

Second, it doesn’t matter from a financial perspective. That’s because Condé has convinced advertisers to credit both sales equally. And selling digital copies via iTunes is much more lucrative than spending money to print and distribute paper copies.

Just as important: While Condé won’t say so out loud, sales of the first few GQ iPhone issues have given the company confidence that it will be able to port the app to the iPad, or whatever Apple (APPL) calls the tablet it plans to unveil next week.

The ported app won’t be as flashy as the digital demos of tabletized magazines Condé and other publishers have shown off–it’s pretty much a literal translation of the magazine into digital form–but it’s a start.

The eye-popping stuff, meanwhile, will take some time to build.