Publishers Need to Think Beyond iPad

Predicted iPad sales numbers* show that while sales are to remain strong through 2020, the tablet's market share will keep falling. And revenues will eventually decline even as unit sales keep growing.

These charts (which I created for a speech I'm giving Thursday to media execs at Columbia U.), based on the numbers, from Needham and Co. equity researchers and reported by AllThingsD, show what I mean:

Publishers, app-makers and anyone trying to get content in front of people in our "attention economy" should pay attention. How much longer can they (well, "we") concentrate so much of their tablet efforts on the dedicated iPad platform (based on the iOS operating system), knowing that many in their intended user community will be on other devices? (I've previously noted how iPads are already a fraction of a fraction of the intended universe of content consumption.)

Even as costs for developing an app on the iPad come down from levels well into six figures, does it make sense to develop for iPad, then again for the various flavors of Android, and Windows, Blackberry, Symbian and whatever other tablet systems come out?

Publishers also need to keep up on cross-platform solutions that allow them to develop once and (perhaps with tweaks) spread their content to many devices. The digital chief of one major New York-based magazine publisher told me the company is exploring cross-platform technologies, such as HTML5, which can be shown on any browser-enabled device.

Unfortunately, HTML5 is not yet a complete standard, nor can all devices gracefully handle even the open standards for languages such as HTML and Javascript that do exist. I discovered recently that the browser on the new HP Touchpad, for example, gracefully handles only some of the publications developed by my client, Treesaver.

But the standards will solidify and get better. And vendors, some of whom already exist for smartphones, will move into the tablet arena to bridge the gap. The iPad will continue to hold sway. But publishers need to be on every screen

* The numbers Needham states are far from a sure thing. Who even knows if something Apple or someone else creates will supplant the iPad? Ideally, we'll have a device as powerful and open as a next-generation MacBook Pro in the form factor of an iPad. The iPad has, after all, spurred an entire new category and the same thing could happen again with a new device. (Intel has reportedly predicted that people by 2020 will want chips implanted rather than having to deal with pesky keyboards.)

Who, too, can really say that revenues from the devices will decline? Apple is brilliant at maintaining pricing for its machines year-over-year, adding new features, making them more sleek, giving them more speed and functionality. Yes, market pressures should force the prices down a bit. But Apple is not like other makers, whose devices tend to become commoditized over time as competitors come in. Maybe they will become more so in a post-Steve Jobs era. Plain-spoken Jobs "coach" Bill Campbell said at the recent Silicon Valley Innovation Summit that he thinks the company will go on just fine without him.

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