The debut of the iPad could spawn a huge new marketplace for entrepreneurs to develop tablet-ready products. Want to cash in? Here are some ways to start.
Sure, it's been mocked as a super-sized iPod or a laptop sans keyboard, but Apple's forthcoming iPad is also a brand new tablet platform with a diverse audience and few rivals. That means that programmers, merchants, designers, and just about anybody with an existing business is probably asking themselves, Is there a way my business can make money on the iPad? Nobody knows for sure—but if you dive in right away with a fresh idea, the launch of the iPad could be lucrative for you.
Making Money on the iPad: The Low-Hanging Fruit
When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in January, it was clear that it would be a cool tool for playing games, reading e-books, and video viewing, but also a portable web browser and work tool. With upgraded iWork productivity apps, crisp 9.7-inch screen, fast processor, WiFi, and portability, the iPad could act as a workstation, a magazine, a handheld TV, a digital communications device – and plenty more.
The super-sized touch screen makes all the difference, says Trip Hawkins, a former Apple marketing director turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded Electronic Arts and now runs Digital Chocolate. "You can see how there's a lot of people, including some businesses, and some students, who don't need a full PC. I see the tablet as being the ultimate browser experience. The big screen makes it better for viewing than a mobile phone, and opens up a lot of possibilities."
The iPad is a mash-up of everything that little iPod Touch in your pocket does combined with a streamlined version of a laptop's functionality. And there's a low barrier to entry for consumers: the tablet's starting price is $499. If that sounds like the future of computing to you, perhaps it is. We've assembled a guide to navigating the new market it has the potential to open.
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Making Money on the iPad: Timing the Market
Remember back to the first iPhones, and the advent of the iTunes App Store in 2007? An array of apps was available from the start, and those that provided either a useful function or simple fun, soared – and stayed popular once they appeared on top-10 or Apple's featured apps lists.
Of course, that market got saturated, and fast. And the same will likely occur with iPad tools and apps – and even faster, because the existing ocean of apps is already available for the iPad. Developing and designing iPad-honed apps is perhaps the most obvious way to make money in the new platform – already developers and software companies are salivating at the Apple customers' consistent willingness to pony up a few bucks to add value to their device by downloading a new app. to get apps. If you're diving in to that demand, experts recommend getting a quick start.
Retronyms, a San Francisco-based software-design company that scored big by creating and offering their voice-capture app, Recorder, in time for the iPhone's debut, is working hard to have a product ready in time for the iPad's launch. Founder Zach Saul's advice to designers goes beyond thinking fast: Think, in a word, different. "We believe that music is one of the best uses for iPad, so that's different, and can be exciting," he says. "The ones that will have a GPS will have a cellular network, so you can imagine making some really big, beautiful, location-aware games for them, too."
Early on in the game, of course, Apple's secrecy is an issue for large and small designers alike. Even though Apple hassaid it is starting to accept submissions from iPad developers who want to get into the App Store before the iPad's release, almost none of those developers will get their paws on an actual iPad before its launch, which means no real beta testing will be possible. Even media retail giants Amazon and Barnes & Noble, each with sizeable developer teams working on iPad products, haven't been given an iPad to test on, the New York Times reports.
With more than 200,000 app designers already registered with Apple, and 150,000 apps already out in the marketplace (some firms estimate there will be 300,000 out by the end of 2010), you'll not only have to be out in front, but stay visible.
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Making Money on the iPad: Upgrading Your Existing Products
If you're already in the field of creating apps, you're in luck. Most existing iPhone apps will run on the iPad – either in a smaller window (1x) or stretched to fit the bigger screen (at least 2x). But upgrading to make your existing app function in a fresh way that better fits a larger display can mean lots of different things to different developers.
Hawkins, the head of game design studio Digital Choolate, suggests that designers should think big – and think interactive. "To really make that the best use of the iPad, you're going to want to update your color palate depth and frame rate and graphic capabilities," he says. Digital Chocolate is working on optimizing Roller-Coaster Rush, one of its best-selling iPhone products, for the iPad. That's because it is an immersive, 3D experience – and with sharper graphics, Digital Chocolate is banking on it being a big seller for the bigger screen.
Games with a simpler premise, but great game mechanics might not need tweaking for iPad use. If it's already addictive, the screen size won't change anything, Hawkins says. Companies with a strong Web presence might also think about freshening up graphics, because one of the iPad's best consumer features is swift and smooth browsing, thanks to the new Apple chip: "It's called the A4, and it screams," Jobs said.
Whatever sector your business is in, think both near and far about how adding features that are iPod ready can engage consumers. The iPad has great potential to be a coffee-table family device, while at the same time it will be used as a highly portable business tool. Customers could take it on a road trip, or just on a walk around the neighborhood, so consider both sit-down fun and location-aware services that expand on your existing business.
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Making Money on the iPad: Flaunting What You've Got
If you're designing new apps for the iPad - whether they're iPhone compatible or not - you'll want to make sure they get the visibility they need to sell, because visibility is vital to profitability. Getting into the App Store's top 100 – much less top 10 – list is of course the best way to see sales soar. If that's just not happening for you, start small. Build an audience from the ground-up.
"It's not necessarily the day that comes out that it needs to have blockbuster sales," says Greg Trefry, a gaming expert and iPhone app creator who is considering modifications that would work with the iPad, says. "Think about what audience you're going after, and how that person interacts with their device." Some key tips:
• Generate pre-release buzz. Have a website up and running before your app even launches. Make sure information is available for any interested parties. Existing social networking you or your company use can be beneficial in generating buzz, too.
• Do your own marketing, or enlist help. Craft a press release, or have all relevant information, including your contact info, available online. Create a list of blogs and websites that might be interested in reviewing your app, and ping them to spark interest. Be casual but informative – confident but never pushy. If being your own PR person sounds like a drag, enlist a tech PR firm that specializes in product releases on a contract basis.
• Plan for tie-ins or cross-app promotion. If you have existing apps, building in promotions for a new product is a simple way to get its name out to customers who already like your work. In-game advertising isn't a quick-fix to boost sales, though; it's more of a way to create a longer tail for your product's sales. Separately, think about other companies who aren't direct competitors you could form a mutually beneficial relationship with once you launch.
• Create an infrastructure that will support momentum and future growth. Consider what will keep customers coming back as well as what will attract new ones. Are there promotional tie-ins or giveaways that can help attract new interest on your website and in the App Store? What level of connectivity with buyers are you expecting and can you maintain? Trefry stays in touch with his app's fans on Twitter and Facebook, and since hearing input from them modified Gigaputt for use on the iPod Touch. "From social games on Facebook to iPhone games, there's no longer the old-school concept of putting it out there and then it's done," he says. "Now it's all about interacting with your fans, and making appropriate updates based on feedback."
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Making Money on the iPad: Thinking Portable, and B2B
If your business is more main-street than virtual world, finding a way to profit off of Apple's latest innovation isn't impossible, though it might just be indirect.
Customer transactions. The tablet device has a crisp display that could transform transactions in casual retail settings. Imagine instead of cranking a monitor around to show a customer a transaction, just handing them a device smaller than a notebook to check out. Just use existing software – or create your own app that runs your business's customer interface.
Show and tell. If you're giving a presentation – or even just participating in a meeting – and need graphics or artwork or a website to take center stage for a moment, but lack a projector, what could be more handy? Or, if you need to show a quick video to more than one co-worker, let's just say a tiny phone screen is going to look unprofessional pretty soon. It's also ideal for displaying photos – so, if you're a wedding photographer meeting with a client, for example, showing off your work using the iPad as a portable portfolio screen can add another level of clarity and credibility.
Alterna-laptop. Cheaper than most laptops, an iPad could be an option for on-the-go employees for whom you need to supply hardware. For documents, spreadsheets and presentations, iWorks for the iPad will be less than $10.
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Making Money on the iPad: Setting a Media Standard
It might not save the publishing business, but the iPad is already providing a littlebit of a lift to the troubled industry. Some of the biggest news that came before Apple's announcement of the iPad was that the New York Times was negotiating a platform deal with Apple and, like a handful of other companies, was given a two-week window to prep a display for Jobs' iPad presentation. And now it's common knowledge that both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble are creating apps to streamline purchasing and reading of electronic books even though both companies sell e-reading devices of their own.
'We have actually developed a tablet-based interface that redesigns the core screen and the reading experience,' Ian Freed, vice president for Kindle at Amazon, told the New York Times. 'Our team had some fun with it.'
The advent of this new platform, doesn't just mean the big dogs get to have all the fun. There's plenty of room for innovation, nowhere more so than in the realm of media. Say you run a photography journal. The gray Kindle would be a mismatch for your publication. But with the help of an app or subscription service created by a clever web developer, your publication could find a whole new audience on the iPad. And don't forget to think multimedia: Just as your website needn't be just courier font text with hyperlinks, your book needn't just be flip-pages anymore.
Or, if you host a cooking video blog, think about taking it to the next level – and don't forget to identify a revenue stream, either in a subscription charge, app fee or advertising down the road.
Also, don't forget about the power of content creation. Instead of adding your voice to the online cacophony, why not be an enabler? Existing blogging software might not be ideal on the iPad – but what about a new system that allows streamlined posting? And with the Brushes app getting so much buzz, if you're interested in art media, why not think along those creative lines?
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Making Money on the iPad: Getting in on Gaming
When you go to the iTunes App Store, you'll notice that in the top-seller chart of paid apps, at least 50 percent of the top-10 titles are games. Games are a thriving niche of iPhone apps, and with the iPad's larger screen and tough-and-tilt navigation, it's going to be an even brighter market for game designers. Again, some game companies are already altering their graphics and game designs for the larger screen, but for others, simplicity is still key, Hawkins of Digital Chocolate says.
"A game with good quality game mechanics doesn't really benefit that much from throwing a lot of great graphics at it," Hawkins says.
The downside: Forget about Flash. In demos, the iPad didn't seem to include Flash viewing capability. Jobs seemed to indicate he was holding out on Flash in order to maintain the integrity of the user's experience due to its buggy nature, but it also will have the effect of steering game design through Apple's App Store. For game designers, that means designing games that pass Apple's standards and testing.
Despite a lot of developers bemoaning the approval process, Saul says of his Retronyms apps: "We haven't had any trouble getting apps approved and included, but our work is very non-controversial, entertaining and fun. The approval process seems like a confrontational thing, but every time we've had an app rejected, there's been something wrong with it and they've given us a bit of free testing and helped us solve a problem, so it's very helpful."
And despite that heavy load of thousands of new apps submitted weekly, app creators tell Inc.com it's not usually a lengthy wait to get a thumbs-up.
"It actually wasn't that bad a process," Trefry says of submitting his game Gigaputt for approval. It was approved in three days. "You just have to do your contract with them, and it's pretty clear."
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Making Money on the iPad: Additional Resources
iPhone and iPad Game Development For Dummies, by Neal Goldstein, Jon Manning, and Paris Buttfield-Addison. 2010.