IPad and the era of the digital magazine?

The reactions to the recent iPad launch have been fascinating to watch. My personal reaction is kind of mixed. For the last month or so I have been looking at ebook readers and am tempted to get the Kindle. The reader itself is a means to an end for me: its the Amazon library that is really tempting. I have been using the Kindle application on the iPhone and its surprisingly functional, even on the small screen. Given that, its tempting to consider the iPad instead of the Kindle (I would probably never use the Apple Book Store). I am not sure how Amazon’s business model is set up, i.e, is it like the Video Games industry where they make minimum profit on the device itself and more on the content (games for XBox/PS3s and books in Amazon’s case). If its not, Amazon should re-evaluate keeping the Kindle App in the AppStore. From what I read, the iPad’s is probably is.

What I am a little excited about is that the iPad could potentially have a significant impact on the way people consume online content, or at least on how they feel they should be able to consume content. I have seen some great examples of digital magazines that have started emerging and a lot of these rely on touch interfaces. In my mind, this is the main use case for the iPad.

The print media seems to be excited, though note that the Time Inc magazine (video #1) is actually done in Adobe AIR and Flash, something we wont get on the iPad.

That said, the iPad’s usage pattern would be interesting to watch. I dont think it would work for more than a few minutes of browsing at a stretch. It would be a good device to quickly glance over the day’s news and watch a few minutes of video but thats it (I kind of imagine it sitting on my coffee table like any other magazine). iLife for the iPad seems a waste. The iPad is not geared for content creation, heck even typing in emails would be a chore. I do like using more than my index finger when typing anything more than a google search or a url. In terms of content consumption, the device would be awkward to hold for longer than a few minutes. I cannot really imagine using it to consume long form video content at all, though people seem to insist they will love to use it on airplanes etc, I like being able to place the laptop/netbook on the seat table and not stress my arms (or throw your neck out bent over a iPad sitting flat on the table).

The lack of Flash on the device is tragic though. Coupling a rich web technology to the iPad could have raised its utility manifold. Flash has traditionally been used to create richer experiences on the web fairly cheaply. The only option to creating such experiences for the iPad is a fairly expensive native application, which brings its own headaches around things like application updates. For example, as Doug McCune points out, sites that use Flash for data visualization will completely not work on this device. HTML5 may allow for some of that but experiences like embedded video (like the video based navigation in the Sports Illustrated application) are completely ruled out.

This also means a big hole in iPad’s armor. I think I will probably end up waiting for a similar device powered by Android, as long as I can still access the Kindle books there.

In the end, I feel the iPad is specifically geared for one kind of content, and if you get one, will end up using for really short periods of time before going for ur laptop again. Its position in the market isn’t as strong as the iPhone and while lack of certain features like multitasking and Flash were acceptable on a phone, they will get really annoying on this device really fast. In the end, a lot of its success depends on optimized experiences developed by content creators. In any case, I hope it raises the bar for such content as the iPhone did for the phone.

[Update]
Wired’s new IPad application is pretty interesting and done with Adobe AIR that they plan to compile down to an IPad application: