“Oh, come on. We’re not going to talk about this later,” my wife laments, as I promise we will pick up her chronicle of a bad day once we finish dinner. “You will just have you nose stuck in that thing as usual.”
Part of my wife’s fetching technological know-nothingism is a firm refusal to speak the name of the gadgets she has learned to loathe. Except when she curses at her iPhone when it misbehaves. The iPad has become a new marital nemesis. As recent research shows, prime time is tablet time, and so a fair amount of the evening movie viewing or news catch-up gets divided across screens. Not for her, of course. She multitasks the old fashioned way –- with a magazine.
“You are lost when you start with that thing,” she claims. And there is no doubt that the staggering levels of engagement on the iPad are easy to understand. Much like a simple, casual digital game, the basic acts of tapping and swiping have a rhythmic, even therapeutic effect on the user. There was no precedent for this really. I spent many years as the primary Tablet PC reviewer for a tech magazines, and I sent many hours trying to acclimate myself to the stylus-based approach to interfaces that Bill Gates promised would revolutionize interacting with computers. To Gates’ credit, he was half right. Some variety of touch interface would initiate a new era of intimacy between person and device. It just wasn’t going to be his touch interface.
It is interesting to step back from individual apps and one’s own nightly tap session and call out some of the ways in which both media and marketing are evolving on the platform.
To wit, I am heartened to see some advertisers use content as their best argument. In the new Daily Show app from Comedy Central, for instance, I have already run across two banner ads that caught my eye because of their specificity. A New York Times banner didn’t push the NYT app at all, but actually included a current news headline and image from the story. It drove me to NYT content, not a pitch. This struck me as enormously effective within the context of an iPad session -- which is, after all, about media consumption.
The idea that the ad should be content is not entirely new. But making the banner creative and an interesting story -- in this case prominently involving "Mad Men" actor Jon Hamm, another piece of content to consume -- made tapping into it was a no-brainer. All of which underscores the common but often lost point that advertising works best when it gives consumers more of what they want -- or an opportunity to let them do more of what they are already doing. On an iPad, content is the best advertising.
Has anyone been watching how Google’s iPad apps are improving? The main Google search app is now structured much more like an operating system on top of iOS itself. A wall of your Google functions -- from Maps to Mail to Google+ to Calendar -- are all in one spot, and the very good integrated browser pretty much keeps you inside the app until you need to click into another Google app like YouTube. And that app, too, has become a wall of thumbnails that has a cool zoom effect when you choose one.
Each tapped video has “Related” “More from” and “Comments” tabs that make the experience so much more usable than the Web’s YouTube that you wish Google would just port the interface over to the Web. There are times when apps make me wish the Web browser had never been invented.
Everyone gushes over how the iPad makes images pop. And just about every publisher now knows that slide shows are pretty much crack for users. Too often overlooked is the beauty of illustration and especially sequential art. I have already rhapsodized over how graphic narrative, comics, and line art of all kinds work brilliantly on this platform. The major engine driving a number of comics publishers, Comixology, recently started updating its content for the Retina display with hi-res images. Just stunning in the way it highlights the line work and inking!
But even better, the narrative progression of this work is enhanced when each panel is highlighted and fills the screen. A tremendous example of this is a special work that Chis Ware prepared for the McSweeney’s app called appropriately “Touch Sensitive.” Ware -- arguably the smartest and most powerful graphic novelist we have -- crafts a haunting tone piece that uses touch itself as a subject and leverages the wide screen, panel structures and animation to create something new.
Marvel also just issued an Avengers: Iron Man VII app that uses spoken narrative, touch interactive and comics styling to craft a narrative. The effect is much cheesier and unconvincing, however. But using the touchscreen to reimagine what visual narrative can do is very compelling. Why aren’t marketers using some of these techniques to engage us in ads that recruit us to tell the story?
Whether it is content-driven advertising, Google’s self-contained universe in an app, or the evolution of graphic narrative here, the smartest providers are conforming their iPad strategies to its unique new mode of use. We spent much of last year talking up the idea of “use cases” and “mobile moments,” identifying the situations that mobile now made accessible to the brand in order to provide a valuable solution to users.
The iPad raises the other piece of this, which is “user mode.” There is space that “tablet time” occupies. So much of it is in the evening, in tandem with another medium, and using an interface that has a rhythm and kinetic engagement all its own. We already know that the interface, time of day, place and mode seem to map well against how people want to browse and buy goods. That is just a piece of this puzzle.
Tossing a Web-like intrusive ad into this experience seems frowsy and clueless. Merely reiterating the page and narrative structure of a Web site accesses only a fraction of the platform’s potential. And marketers should be paying closer attention to the other types of tablet content that absorb users. On devices, you will have to start thinking not only in terms of targeting time, place, person or even use case -- but also the iPadder’s likely mode and the mood.
My wife, by the way, already knows this about the iPad -- and she is unconnected and unconcerned with tablets, marketing or media.
"Okay, we're done talking, I guess," she says when I reach for the tablet.
"We can still talk," I counter.
"Well, I can talk. I don't know where the hell you go when you are in there."
"Research shows that there is an incredible kind of engagement when using these things," I try to explain.
"They call it 'engagement?'" she blasts back. "'Engagement' with everything but me! I think they got it backwards. 'Disengagement' seems closer."