Like most industry pundits, I have always maintained a healthy scepticism when it comes to ‘game-changing’ technologies. A strong believer in function and purpose over format and fads, until recently I chose keypads over touchscreens, LinkedIn over Facebook, and SMS over Twitter.

That’s not to say that I don’t recognise the immense value in social media, its seismic impact on consumer’ consumption patterns, and the fundamental step-change being driven by manufacturers and software developers delivering exceptional end-user experiences. Maybe it’s a case of what you have learned to feel comfortable with.

But, having got to grips with the features of the iPhone 4, and toyed with the iPad, I humbly confess that I am finally conceding to the power of Apple’s ‘reality distortion field’ and am considering trading-in my BlackBerry.

Still the apple of the consumer’s eye

The iPhone 4 caused queues of thousands at launch, was berated for reception issues, and even survived an incident in a bar as a young prototype. Yet it looks set to buck the rule that good things only come in threes, with more than three million units sold within the first three weeks of the fourth-generation device hitting stores in June. And for Q3 2010, analysts at Strategy Analytics report that Apple was ‘the star performer’ in the smartphone sector, overtaking RIM in terms of market share, whilst closing the gap on Nokia to the smallest level since first entering the mobile market in 2007.

By comparison, it seems reality might be beginning to bite as far as adoption of the iPad is concerned. According to an analyst at brokerage firm Sterne Agee in the US, the fact that it now only takes 24 hours between ordering an iPad and receiving one, is cause for concern. Is this just a momentary blip, or the beginning of a drop in demand longer term?

A digital conundrum

The fact is, the digital media revolution commenced some years ago with the proliferation of low-cost and increasingly powerful devices, new means of distribution (namely mobile networks, social media/Web, and the Internet), and evolving end-user behaviour. And it is Apple that now appears to have captured, commercialised and controlled the essence of this paradigm – commanding revenue from developers, publishers, and mobile network operators alike.

Nevertheless, a recent survey conducted by research firm Oliver Wyman on behalf of Next Issue Media (the digital publishing consortium of Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corporation, and Time Inc.) suggests that the growth of e-readers and tablets such as the Kindle and the iPad could deliver incremental industry revenues of $1.3bn in 2014 in the US alone. So the benefits are two-way.

Meanwhile, a report by Outsell Inc., concurs that the surging popularity of ‘untethered’ devices will help breathe new life into the publishing and information industries, but cautions that the revenue models to take hold will depend on the device. Adoption of smartphones will remain an order of magnitude ahead of tablets and e-readers, says Outsell, who concludes that the opportunity for publishers across each device type depends on two fundamentals: demand for a new content experience; and the feasibility to deliver it on that device.

What is evident is that whilst there is some way to go before the many business models underpinning new media are either proven or disproven, it is becoming increasingly essential that manufacturers such as Cisco, Nokia, and RIM, and open platform providers such as Google’s Android, up their game with true innovations to challenge Apple’s dominance.

Hold this space…

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