Eight Days A Week

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Texas Hold 'em on the Microsoft Surface

Only 8 more shopping days to be completely wrong about the iPad. By this time a week from tomorrow, those of us who are confident that the iPad will be the same sort of enormous disruptive event will be busy enjoying the birth of a new millennium. Everybody else will just have to buy a clue.

Is this about whether the tablet is a viable form factor? No, it’s about the percentage of time that the iPad and its brethren in waiting will suck away from existing media. Right now, that means the iPhone, laptops, desktops, TV, paper, and fireplaces (real or synthetic logs or gas.) In percentages diverted, that’s 25%, 45%, 75%, 20%, 60%, and 4%. That’s in Month 1.

Month 2 will see an all-out running of the bulls, as publishers stampede into the marketplace with 2nd generation refactoring of their core data. The multimedia scaffolds of Month 1 will have done nothing other than establish an incumbents list, with little additional value attached to inline video from newspapers or analyst content being thrown over the wall in violation of the core value proposition. The cable news channels are already in turmoil because the cable and satellite big boys are reluctant (read: completely against as in Republicans and health care reform) to allow destabilization of their basic cable rationale for existence. If Comcast won’t let Netflix a la carte them to death, neither will CNN or CNBC.

Once Month 2 shows up with the beginnings of the real new wave, the majors will switch from value add to value transfer. The pole position won by the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, and selected social pubs (Vanity Fairish hybrids like Rolling Stone meets Wired) will translate from a fashion show to a metadata farm, where the iPad’s ability to capture the gesture stream in association with the social networks creates a pool of data with which to train the content developers into the new model. That is, not interactive but socially aware swarming and its signatures. Once there are enough unique cross-over streams of related data, the bidding can commence.

This realtime market of social pooling metadata will produce a form of virtual value exchange, where the most attuned members of the audience (those with particularly acute sensitivity to social graph authority and a kind of viral leapfrogging talent) will achieve a new form of rank and the ability to shower their clouds with whuffie dust. In the absence of these metric collectors, these signals are disconnected from an economic return; the iPad releases the pent up energy in 8 days.

By the middle of Month 2, we will already see the first appearance of a major class of winners. The often-cited salvation of the various media industries will in fact already be discounted, as incumbents rush to clone and stave off the weakest of the clueful. Things will look relatively the same on the surface, but those embedded in the iPad stream will develop ways of communicating with the new leaders. Today we see them as names like Foursquare and gestures like checking in; 40 days from now the rain will lift and we’ll depart from the Ark with a virgin lexicon that will be Greek to those not fluent in the speed of this disruption.

For now, listen carefully to those who dissect the iPad as in competition with anything that came before. We’re in a rapid period of evolution, where the iPhone has spawned clones that are already easier to use than the original. The Nexus One may be buggier and more random in terms of touch responsiveness, but its resizing of text and real estate makes these aging eyes gravitate to it for absorbing extended texts. The iPad will pull cycles from the laptop and the phone factor with equal weight, and the resultant Month 2 apps and content will accelerate that seepage.

Once text has developed enough impressions and gestures to suggest what works better than the other, we will reach the point where choices will need to be made as the window of opportunity closes. The winnowing process will be quicker and more brutal than expected, as those with more staying power and strategies for consistent value will survive and build barriers difficult to erode. The analogy of the record business will play itself out on the iPad shelf: with enough discretionary buying power for 6 albums a month, it will really only be 2 slots left once GaGa and Fergie and whoever grab the center of the market. And the new artists who come up through the lower slots will eventually take over the top of the charts. Eventually as in Month 3 and 4.

To our children, the iPad is how they expect this to work. My 9 year old plays Avril Levigne and Beethoven on the keyboard as though they are contemporaries, and they sound like it. This is so not about saving the newspapers, because they’re in no danger of anything other than hubris and arrogance. The iPad doesn’t care how you got there, it only cares about what’s coming next. No matter what today’s paper says, tomorrow’s will get better because it can’t get no worse.

It’s understandable that perfectly intelligent people question the power of the iPad. After all, the iPhone was nowhere’s near as disruptive… oh wait. What if we look back in a few months and realize that the iPad is not a big iPhone but that the iPhone was a little iPad? Oh wait. That the newspaper was the daily version of the realtime one. That you pay for the liner notes and get the music for free. Oh wait. For 8 days.

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