28 January 2010

It doesn't matter whether the iPad succeeds

My inbox this morning was full of marketing missives about the official announcement of Apple's iPad. There was Apple's own e-mail linking to the official propaganda. There was the story in the Self-Proclaimed Newspaper of Record. A couple of marketing news feeds (here and here). There are two important questions: Will it succeed like the iPhone? Why does it matter?

Will it succeed like the iPhone?

The blogosphere's commentary is mixed so far, mainly because this is a completely new kind of device and we can only talk about it in terms of known references. Thus you hear the iPad is "an iPhone on steroids", "a really big iPod Touch", "a Kindle killer", "an imitation Kindle", and even -- I am not making this up -- a feminine hygiene product.

The main thing for us all to keep in mind is that the iPad (snicker) is a mobile device. As my colleague Michael Fassnacht opined recently in a blog post about mobile marketing in 2010, "the definition of the mobile device will change dramatically." Regardless of whether Apple succeeds again, the iPad will definitely change our frame of reference about mobile devices.

The iPad is a big new product launch. One of the laws of Ye Olde Marketing that's likely to stay constant in modern marketing is the 90% failure rate of new product launches. Not even Apple can defy this law; see this list of the Top 10 Apple products which flopped.

One of Apple's secrets is to learn from failure. The road to the iPhone is littered with Newtons and Lisas that flunked with consumers. In the end, though, they changed how and when we communicate with others, receive entertainment, take pictures, shop and many other routines. (Along the way they transformed themselves from a computer hardware company into a consumer electronics company -- another harbinger of convergence.) It doesn't matter if iPad succeeds because they will have set the stage for a future success, either their own or someone else's.

What matters is whether the iPad permits engagement with consumers

What matters to marketers is whether the iPad permits engagement with consumers. There was a bit of a dust-up in the comments of an AdAge.com article this morning over whether the iPad will support typical online advertising technology. It seems the answer at this moment is "no" or "in some ways" but those are merely the answers of the moment. Everything in marketing changes so fast that it's a safe bet we will all find ways to engage consumers on the iPad. (For more on this, read Josh Bernoff's piece on the "Splinternet".)

If the iPad fails, you can count on three things. 1. Apple will learn from failure and invent something better and more successful. 2. We will all gain more experience with mobile marketing. 3. Mobile will continue to be an important place to engage consumers.


  1. Couldn't agree more. And, assuming it succeeds, I'm confident there will be ways to engage consumers who consume media using it.

    Wouldn't you think that this is the key issue: The way to the consumer will continue to be through the media they consume? Some opportunity with apps exists. But I can't imagine those resulting in mass value.

    So that leads back to "will the iPad succeed"? I expect so. I was uniquely involved in the late 1990's with Netpliance and their iOpener. (My company created a half hour infomercial for it.)

    There were some great people at Netpliance. And, the product was good, but not quite good enough. It was about 90% of the way to what it needed to be.

    The problems came from two sources. The executive team was lacking the focus on "human" sophistication to make the product as productive as, say, an iPhone is. (Apple is the best company in technology for the human.)

    Also, it appeared at Nepliance board level that the investment strategy was really all about succeeding with an IPO as a Dotcom and if there was a useful product invented along the way, that would be nice, too. (Breakthrough's don't happen that way very often.)

    But out of all that work, I learned was that there was a great human value for an iOpener like product. Our half hour showed that value and, despite miniscule spending on 1/2 hour media time, was a massive part of the sales they'd driven - despite national distribution in Circuit City.

    The iPad is far beyond the iOpener. And the human need is there. I think it will succeed.

  2. What a great piece of history, Doug -- thanks for sharing it with us.

    Is this the product you worked on? If so, is the Wikipedia entry accurate as far as you know?


  3. Everyone is talking about it.. the iPad launch. That in itself is a success. I have yet to hear anyone really savage Apple for this launch, very early days and the proof will be in the take-up.

    As you Steve, one thing Apple does really well is learn, which means that they listen to what people have to say - two fantastic traits for a successful company.

    I guess when is a failure actually a failure. If iPad is a springboard to new and more convergent horizons that add value to our collective lives - bringing us closer together with faster and more mobile connections then this has got to be a good thing right.

    Generating content/messages to fit the 'environment' is not a new challenge, it's been with us since the beginning of 'advertising'. However, the speed and magnitude of both getting something absolutely right or horrible wrong can mean rapid uptake or massive rubbishing on global scales within seconds.

    Maybe it's finally time for agencies to listen to consumers, what they'll accept and how they'll use so that we can build to suite.

    Whatever, technology advances and improvements continue to challenge the way we think, act and connect. This is a good thing, it keeps things interesting.