The Apple iPad may not be a game-changer for mobile marketing, but the new device will give advertisers and agencies a larger canvas for creating messaging and content for consumers on the go. That's the early takeaway from digital advertising executives and analysts following the long-awaited launch of Apple's tablet computer Wednesday.
A consensus was that the iPad is essentially a bigger iPod touch -- with all the advantages that implies, as well as the drawbacks -- chiefly, the lack of Flash support for powering rich media ads, video and games.
But marketing experts agreed that size matters, and with its 9.7-inch screen, the iPad opens up the mobile landscape to more visually compelling advertising and potentially new types of media interaction.
"We're incredibly excited about the increased surface size we get to play with for a multi-touch device," said Domenic Venuto, managing director, media and entertainment at Razorfish. "Whether it's an advertising or publishing client we're building new experiences for, this breathes new life into the category."
Razorfish has built applications for Microsoft's Surface table computer, including a program for Audi that lets multiple users configure a virtual 3-D car model, as well as a computer version of the old Table Toss game.
But where the 30-inch Surface is geared to commercial use, Venuto said the iPad brings similar functionality to a smaller, consumer-focused device. "The possibility for apps that allow interaction by multiple users has been brought into a much more accessible product," he said.
Apple said the iPad will run almost all of the 140,000 apps already in the App Store, including ones already purchased. Apps can be viewed in a small "iPhone"-sized box, or expanded to full screen.
Apple is also releasing a new software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone for the creation of new apps tailored to the iPad.
To help developers and advertisers monetize and distribute apps on Apple's tablet, Jumptap Wednesday said it was introducing a new ad platform that will support almost any mobile device, including the iPad. "We expect the Apple tablet to be a catalyst for a new generation of innovative applications, and we play a key role in accelerating the adoption of such services," said Paran Johar, the mobile ad network's chief marketing officer.
Other mobile ad networks are likely to make similar moves allowing marketers to extend mobile campaigns to the iPad.
Because the device's larger screen is more like the desktop Web experience, it may be easier to extend digital campaigns to mobile. "From an execution standpoint, what we could do is start a campaign online but move it to these portable-type devices," said Phuc Truong of Mobext, the mobile marketing arm of Havas Digital.
The biggest hitch for advertisers and developers is that the iPad, like other Apple devices, doesn't allow them to run Flash-based ads or content. "That doesn't necessarily limit us, but it takes away a popular option for development," said Venuto. He added that bypassing Flash also increases production costs, since existing Flash-powered assets can't simply be extended to the new platform.
Venuto said he was also disappointed that the iPad launch in San Francisco didn't including the unveiling of any new magazine editions built for the iPad. Conde Nast Digital President Sarah Chubb toldThe New York Times the publisher planned to have tablet-ready versions of some magazines when the iPad ships by the end of March. Time Inc. is also preparing tablet editions of its U.S. titles.
When it comes to broadening the mobile media audience, few were sure exactly what the iPad's impact would be. With an entry price of $500 for the 16GB model, the device is certainly less expensive than the expected $700 to $1,000 range. Because of the lower price tag, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster increased his 12-month sales forecast for the device from 1.9 million to between 3 and 4 million.
"This [iPad] goes well beyond early adopters," noted Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis. "But if all you want to do is surf the Web and check email, there are cheaper ways to do that." Those options include getting a less expensive netbook or an iPod touch.
If Apple does succeed in establishing a "third category" of products between smartphones and laptops with the iPad, one sign might be recognition by the Nielsen Company. "We're dealing with a brand new form of device and a new form of media consumption," said Jon Gibs, vice president for online integrated analysis at Nielsen, in reference to tablets, netbooks and e-book readers.
Does that mean Nielsen is going to add a new category to its Three Screen Report covering media consumption on TV, the Internet and mobile phones? "My sense is that we're going to approach it initially from a mobile perspective, but as the market continues to develop we're going to have to decide what to do with this category of devices," he said.