STORY: Jonah Bayer
On Jan. 27, 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs officially revealed the iPad, a new device that would straddle the middle ground between laptops and smartphones. Some think it will revolutionize our entire approach to information the same way laptops and Apple’s iPod did, while others see it as an overgrown iPod Touch that doesn’t live up to the hype bestowed upon it by Apple fanboys. Now that this potentially revolutionary device is finally out, how will it affect our scene? The deeper we dug, it became increasingly apparent that the iPad itself is less important than what it signifies.
“The issue is not about the iPad,” explains David Lewis, who has a degree in new media from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently works with students on tech and career issues at McNally Smith College Of Music in St Paul, Minnesota. “I think it’s about adoption rates, the price point and utilization of the product rather than the actual product itself. There’s a need for netbooks in the marketplace; people, especially young people, want a computer that’s affordable.”
While there have been many complaints about the price of the iPad (which starts at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi and goes all the way up to $829 for the 64GB model with Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity out later this month), the base model is still half as expensive as Apple’s cheapest laptop and less expensive than buying an iPhone without a contract--and speaking of contracts, you don’t need one with the iPad since the service plans are set up on month-by-month basis. “It’s a little pricier than other netbooks but it does a lot more than other netbooks,” Lewis acknowledges. “The iPad is deeply focused on content, and if Apple accomplishes what they set out to do with this, which is massive adoption in a concentrated marketplace, they have a fixed audience and in that lies a real potency for the power of iTunes and the iPad.”
The biggest selling point for the iPad within the music industry is its ease of use. “What Apple is doing is transferring the same idea they had with iTunes so that they become both an aggregator and a filter for content,” says Lewis. “Then you make the product as easy to use as possible and wind up dominating the market.” What he means is that if an advertisement pops up on your browser for a new Bring Me The Horizon song and you can purchase it for, say, 25 cents, most people will do it if so inclined. While the goal of the iPad certainly isn’t to eradicate file sharing, BitTorrents won’t be a part of this new dialogue--and if it’s easier to obtain music legally without breaking the bank, then many people won’t mind paying for music the same way they’ll pay to stream a movie from their cable company instead of waiting two hours to illegally download a jerky, low-quality copy of The Hurt Locker.
However, many musicians are less confident about the device’s impact on their world. “I still see the [iPad] as a big iPhone,” says HELLOGOODBYE frontman Forrest Kline. “While I think it will proliferate the change brought on by those devices, I don't think it'll change the core of anything.” THURSDAY’s Steve Pedulla shares the sentiment and believes that no new device will change the underlying problem within the music industry. “People just seem to be buying less and less music,” he says. “I do think that the iPad might become a good vehicle for some new tools for musicians. There are already some great apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch that come in handy for writing and recording and I hope that continues with the iPad.”
Korg iElectribe app for iPad
While the iPad will ultimately offer plenty of tools to musicians (imagine playing a fully functioning synthesizer on your iPad via a program like GrooveMaker instead of plinking it out on your iPhone), it likely won’t replace anyone’s laptop. The iPad is more about content consumption than creation. The technical shortfalls of the device are well documented: In addition to having very limited hard drive space (by today’s standards), the iPad doesn’t have USB ports, can’t run Flash or multiple programs simultaneously, won’t be able to run complex media editing programs such as Final Cut Pro or Logic--and it doesn’t have a camera.
Rapper and DIY producer P.O.S. was hoping for more artistic tools--like the synthesizer emulators he’s experimented with on the iPhone. “If you were able to plug a USB into [an iPad] and run bigger applications like Ableton Live or Serato that are important to live performances, I would buy three of them today,” he says. “But I’m pretty sure you can’t. Honestly, I’ve been dreaming forever of a computer you could lay flat and run some of these live programs on. Everybody hates the way computers look onstage, but if you could lay it flat and still run the same programs, it’s less obvious and it also looks cooler. If [an iPad] landed in my lap, I would play with it all day long, but I’m not going to seek one out because I don’t care enough. I guess I just want [Apple] to prove it’s not just a huge iPod Touch... and then I want them to improve it.”
However, many industry experts insist that calling the iPad an oversized iPod Touch is missing the point--and even if you do view it that way, ironically, its size alone could be enough to change how we consume media. “I think the killer feature for the iPad is the size,” explains Eric Snowden, Atlantic Records’ senior director of creative and technology. “The ability to have a large multi-touch device that is portable is pretty revolutionary. If you have ever used a non-multi-touch touch screen, you immediately see how important those extra digits are. Just imagine what a multi-hand, multi-person concurrent experience could be like.”
While it may not be a game-changer for musicians, it does afford record labels exciting new ways of letting fans interact with their favorite bands and albums--something that could help bring back music back from the realm of strings of binary code. “I think the iPad has the potential to bring a new, more active music experience to fans,” explains Snowden, who helped develop Atlantic’s suite of Fanbase-connected applications. “Right now, you listen to music on your portable device while it's in your pocket or plugged into a stereo; or you listen to it on your computer while you’re really focusing on something else. The iPad has the potential to bring back a LP-like experience where you ‘hold’ the music in your hand and experience the artist's full vision while listening. It has the potential to encourage an engaged listening experience in a way that most devices can't.”
A major concern, however, is that the device is another step in furthering Apple’s “closed system.” If you buy an iPad, you’re forced into using the iTunes store to buy everything you run on it--music, movies, applications and more. If you want to stream Netflix on your iPad, you have to use Apple’s Netflix application, making it a gatekeeper of sorts. Popular Science’s Tom Conlon explains, “Once we replace the personal computer with a closed-platform device such as the iPad, we replace freedom, choice and the free market with oppression, censorship and monopoly. In an editorial Conlon wrote on the subject, he wrote, “Imagine what life would be like if your personal computer functioned like the iPhone. You’d have to buy all your programs through Apple, and if Apple didn’t want you using something like, say, Google Voice, Adobe Flash or Microsoft Word, then you’d be out of luck.”
While this may be a slightly paranoid view of Apple’s business model, Conlon does make legitimate points. However, many industry analysts prefer to focus on the positive potential of the iPad rather than worry about inducing a 1984-esque scenario on technology users. In a free-market system, someone can always come along and break all the rules anyway. Just look at the open-source web browser Firefox. A good clue into the future is the fact that Apple recently purchased Lala, a cloud-based storage system that gives streaming access to users for all of their content--and once that feature implemented into the device (current speculations are that this will happen in July), it will transform your external hard drive into an expensive paperweight overnight.
“If I can access Lala on my iPad, that means that I can take my 200 gb of music, upload it to a cloud or server farm and, through my iPad in my kitchen or in my car, I have access to whatever I own,” says Conlon. “At this point, it’s not about physical storage anymore; it’s just about licenses. That will drastically change how the music business deals with Lala and Apple.” In other words, instead of buying Bad Religion’s latest album on iTunes for $9.99, chances are you’ll soon be able to purchase the band’s entire catalog for a premium price of, say, $20. The consumer won’t have to worry about overloading his or her hard drive, the band, label and Apple will all get a cut, and you’ll be able to listen to “21st Century Digital Boy” anywhere you can get a Wi-Fi signal (which will probably soon be everywhere).
Admittedly, the iPad itself isn’t going to change the game as a physical product (tablet PCs and netbooks have been around for years), but it’s the perfect tool coming along at the cusp of a technological revolution. If Apple is able to figure out how to funnel that into something the average consumer feels comfortable using, there’s no limit to the amount of change it will eventually evoke. “There are going to be five billion cell phones by the end of 2010,” says Lewis. “That’s five billion potential opportunities to sell that many more songs--and if you can do that and make it affordable you’re going to see a lot more people who are more willing to spend the money. That’s not what’s happening this week, but that’s where this is going.”
“The success of the iPad isn’t going to be able to be judged tomorrow,” Snowden summarizes. “I think Apple’s taken a really unique stance with this device where the real promise of the product is what other people build on top of it,” he says. In other words, critiquing the iPad requires a different way of thinking about technology that not even Apple itself has full control over-so it’s impossible to know right now if the product will live up to its inherent potential. “Ultimately, the success of the iPad [will come from] the amazing apps that haven't been thought of and [will be] released six months from now.” So pay attention. The future won’t be televised, it’ll be streaming--and if all goes according to Steve Jobs’ plan, it’ll be streaming on your iPad. alt