Media Forum: Are clients excited by iPad?

Will the iPad transform advertising opportunites, Alasdair Reid asks.

A strange and rather worrying mood has overcome the bleeding edge of the technology community. It's neatly encapsulated by the headline above a review in a blog that was once utterly dependable and sound.

"Apple iPad without the hype is iPod on steroids," it read. Astonishing. How very...

critical. If this is symptomatic of a backlash (of a rather modest sort), it's perhaps prompted by the fact that the mainstream media, before the iPad's US launch on 3 April, had been running stories predicting iPad hysteria and evoking images of queues of enthusiasts stretching round the block overnight, waiting for the stores to open.

In the event, the most common reaction among members of Apple's target market of early adopters seemed to be a sense of weariness. Some reviews pointed out that, as with the iPhone (which features a questionable ability to fulfil its most basic functionality as a phone), the iPad's manifest weaknesses will probably prove irrelevant. In a few months, whatever you think now, you'll inevitably want one. Even if the basic iPad will cost around £500 when it's released in the UK at the end of this month.

Equally, it's not hard to find members of the digerati willing to tell you that the iPad is an advertising "game changer". Filling, as it does, a gap between the laptop and the smartphone, the iPad is a sumptuous mobile video (and still image) platform that advertisers can access directly, via home-grown apps or embedded in content distributed by media owners.

And last week we also saw Apple announce the launch of iAd, an advertising system designed to help iPhone app developers create in-app advertising. Currently, when users click on an ad in a downloadable app, they're sent to the advertiser's site - and Apple believes this puts people off.

Now, iAd will allow full-screen video and interactive advertising content to be served within an application. Apple will sell and serve the ads, and developers will receive 60 per cent of revenue. And clearly, what makes sense in an iPhone environment will also be a potent option on the iPad platform.

So surely it's all systems go for iPad as an advertising medium? Perhaps, Robert Horler, the managing director of Carat, says. But he numbers himself among the sceptics. "From my perspective, no-one is really hailing the iPad as transformational. Whether it will have the same impact as the iPod or iPhone is up for debate," he says.

And Andy Wasef, the emerging platforms director at Mediaedge:cia, says Apple let the pre-launch hype and speculation run so far ahead of itself that by the time the shops opened their doors on launch day, there was an almost inevitable sense of anticlimax.

Yet he adds: "On the other hand, sales over the first couple of days of more than half a million, apparently, were impressive. Even if you're sceptical, you're aware of the buzz. It will be interesting to see what sort of ecosystem builds up around the iPad - as ecosystems built up around the iPod and the iPhone. That was what gave them the edge against the competition. I think there's potential for games, ebooks and magazines integrated with video interactivity. But I'd argue that the usage occasions are niche. You still need a smartphone and a laptop, so when are you going to use the iPad? On a long journey, perhaps. Are you going to pay $850 for a non-essential device?"

However, there are no such reservations from Stephen Farquhar, the head of strategy at ZenithOptimedia. He states: "This is definitely an area of interest. And, yes, it definitely has a huge ad potential. Something like Albion's election 'slapometer', where you can watch the Brown-Cameron-Clegg debates on telly and have a right good slap of the most offensive candidate at the same time online, looks like the kind of thing that would be perfect fodder for the iPad."

Jean-Paul Edwards, the executive director, futures at Manning Gottlieb OMD, agrees; but he inclines towards caution. He concludes: "My view is there is a lot of value in touchand gesture-based interactions - for example, financial services brands finding ways to explain and interact with their products by spinning, squeezing and rotating the variables in their propositions or FMCG brands creating super-casual gaming type experiences for families. If they can do that, we will soon discover if consumers have an appetite for transmedia link-ups as they watch the big screens in their living room. Many advertisers are intrigued by the possibilities but it's still too early to give any firm empirical answers."

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NO - ROBERT HORLER, managing director, Carat

"I think its impact will be minimal, at least in the short term - and I certainly don't think it offers a particularly new or different advertising experience for its users. I don't think it's transformational."

MAYBE - ANDY WASEF, emerging platforms director, Mediaedge:cia

"Some clients are interested in anything involving Apple as the brand is strong and people want to be associated with that. Long term, it's dependent on user numbers, so it's worth keeping an eye on."

YES - STEPHEN FARQUHAR, head of strategy, ZenithOptimedia

"It'll normalise a behaviour that we've all been aware of for ages, yet haven't exploited - watching telly while browsing online. Advertisers can give added depth to TV work or find a way to enliven the TV experience."

MAYBE - JEAN-PAUL EDWARDS, executive director, futures, MG OMD

"Until we get our hands on the device and similar devices arrive too, all we can do is speculate. New technology only allows for new behaviours - it doesn't drive them. The initial activity will be an extension of what is going on with the iPhone."