“Look up in the sky – it’s a bird, it’s a plane. No it’s an iPad.”

I was listening to my 14 year old son discuss the relative merits of an iPad versus his iTouch with a buddy of his. Now my kid is Apple’d out – MAC, iPod, iTouch. No wonder he was intrigued by the iPad as all things Apple is inherently good in his world view.

“It makes no sense”, I hear my son saying”, “why would Apple want people to think of iPad as a computer – it would kill their other business”. He then declared; “To me, this is a bigger and better iTouch that I would use at home.”

His friend thought for a minute and replied simply; “Yeah, but Steve Jobs thinks this is the new way people will use computers. Maybe, Apple wants to be the Microsoft, Dell, AT&T and Google all wrapped up in one.”

At first I was surprised at the thoughtful way these kids were getting right to the business heart of the matter. What is an iPad anyway? More interestingly though, as a marketer, I was eager to ponder what implications the iPad’s “position” might have on its astonishing 1MM sell through.

Clearly, the physical sleekness of the device drove a big part of the sell through. Surprisingly though, the huge gap in how “Junior Consumer”  was interpreting iPad’s main function, a.k.a. hyper cool entertainment device versus Jobs’ declaration that this is “the most important thing he has ever worked on” usually spells D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R, but that seemed not to matter in this case.

This disconnect is amplified when one realizes that the iPad may well be the computing version of a wolf in sheep’s clothing because it becomes the gate/ portal and police of what services or apps or content comes out of that portal. I kinda hope my son’s friend was wrong and Apple is not interested in displacing other devices and services providers from Judy Consumer’s world. Uh – no – that’s not likely. So it seems to me that the shiny iPad Apple carries a time delayed poison within that will, ultimately, bind Judy Consumer to the Apple franchise with little hope of escape.

OK – I admit – I am playing drama queen here. But it seems in maybe 5 years, our digital world will be defined by a few major players – maybe a handful – who will deliver all information, content, communications and commerce to us.

The “so what” of all this mega aggregation of services is that Judy Consumer will have fewer choices and higher prices. In the future world of information services wars, over time, Judy Consumer will lose out just like she ultimately did in the telecom wars of the past (I am battle hardened veteran of those wars). The final result being that, in fact, when choices go down, pricing goes up.

If iPad is meant to be the point of entry for a new way of computing that inextricably ties hardware to services – I worry (yes – I am a Jewish Mother and we worry.) I worry that it will be harder for competition to evolve and over time we know without competition, Judy Consumer pays more for less.

So I wonder – do you think the iPad is a merely step up from an iTouch as a hyper cool content consumption device or is the iPad Steve Jobs’ attempt at creating a new computing paradigm (hence explaining his sentiment that this is the most important thing he has ever done)?

I fear my son’s opinion on this matter is borne of youthful naïveté. I think I’ll go read Snow White again … at least that has a happy ending.

Judy Shapiro

Congratulations CES for becoming the hottest, consumer advertising buy on the planet

CES has descended upon the psyche of the tech world so that it dominates most reports and tweets and attention.

We all wait with bated breath for the declared best new product, most innovative game, most outrageous consumer electronic gadget. We are, in effect, like kids with our noses up against the window pane of the biggest toy store in the world.

I should say that the hyper cool nature of CES is a fairly recent phenomenon. Back when I worked at AT&T, CES was an annual ritual that, frankly, rather inconveniently put a crimp on holiday festivities since many of us had to go the Las Vegas a week before to setup. There went New Year’s plans *sigh*. Sure it was fun to see what ingenious gadget was coming into the market, but make no mistake about it; CES was a serious B2C trade show where manufacturers worked hard to woo retailers into carrying their stuff. While there was some consumer coverage, mostly it was confined to the B2B press.

Then, somewhere in the last 4 years, I think driven by the gaming industry, Google, Apple and social media, it took on the glamour of the Oscars for tech set. If a product was even mentioned in a “from CES” report, that was cause for celebration (“I am so honored even to be nominated” kind of thing). CES went from being a B2B event to the event that plays itself out directly to consumers. That shift, in effect, caused CES to become the biggest consumer trade event of all time – even if every consumer is attending by proxy via social media.

But there’s more to it than that because at the current level of consumer exposure to the show, CES has transcended the trade show segment and was elevated to become a premier consumer media buy, kinda like SuperBowl. Think about with me. A media buy in SuperBowl was a strategy companies used to catapult themselves – think GoDaddy. This media buy cost a few million bucks, but if played right – you were made. I think CES has taken on that same level of media potential if you account for all the primary, secondary and tertiary coverage that live streaming and social media provide. And instead of a few thirty second spots, you get three days to strut your stuff. Make no mistake about – doing CES right is a multi-million affair. But the pay-off could be huge. In fact, it would not shock me if I learned that CES exceeded SuperBowl in the number of impressions delivered.

That’s awe inspiring. Never before has a trade show had that kind of reach and coverage. It seems cosmically fitting that new technology, e.g. social media, would elevate the very essence of CES itself.

Welcome to the year of living intelligently with technology.

Judy Shapiro

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