I was skeptical when I first heard about Apple releasing a tablet device — excited, but skeptical. I thought the name “iPad” was pretty lame and I, like many, assumed the device would serve as a giant iPhone that couldn’t make calls. I didn’t save up for months nor line up overnight to get one of these newest Apple toys, but I did enjoy playing with it whenever I could get my hands on one.

As the iPad’s first birthday came and went this past January, and rumors now grow louder about plans for the unveiling of the new iPad to occur in early March, my excited-but-skeptical attitude has faded and given way to a much more favorable and eager take on the iPad’s place in the cyber world.

Numbers back up this change of heart: Analysts had predicted 3.3 million iPads would be sold last year; the actual number was almost five times that forecast, coming in at about 14.8 million. Looking forward, experts predict 15.1 million tablet devices will be sold in 2011 and 115 million in 2014, marking a 66.5 percent annual growth for the tablet industry. If the current trend of nine out of every 10 of those tablets being iPads continues, Apple history will be repeated, reminiscent of the iPod monopoly of the MP3 player market.

So this begs the question: How can Apple maintain its edge in such a competitive, fast-paced market? The Android tablet is a tough opponent in many respects, and cheaper options coming from India and China may force Apple to succumb to pressure for a lower price point. Then again, Microsoft’s Zune is a pretty cool alternative to the iPod, but the only product that seemed to incite any significant downturn in iPod sales was the iPhone.

The answer lies in aesthetics. The appearance of the products themselves, ease of interface use and attractive marketing campaigns continue to position Apple as the leader in the race for coolest tech company. They have shown that aesthetics and brand loyalty will continue to weigh heavily in technology consumers’ decisions — perhaps more than it should. While HP and Dell laptop sales may argue for the power of the price point over brand glamour, the dominance of aesthetics is especially the case in markets for truly revolutionary products that go past innovation and shake up the core of an industry.

Take, for contrast, the case of smart phones. Yes, we all love our Droids, CrackBerries and iPhones and will argue to the death about which is better, but when it comes down to it, none of these products have fundamentally changed the way in which we talk to each other over the phone. iPods, on the other hand, did in fact fundamentally change the way we consume music. EReaders, although not yet as widespread as iPods, have begun to take on this role for the book industry (the few remaining Borders stores can live to tell that story). I contend that tablets will be this catalyst for deep-seated change in the media industry, and the iPad will be the brand leading the way, just as the iPod is the signature MP3 player.

The media industry has been suffering from a sharp decline in advertising revenue and the downfall of the print publication world. But the iPad has swooped in as an alternate platform for content, where breaking news articles are not cheapened by competition from amateur blogs and strong, old-fashioned journalism headlines are not discredited by search engine optimized attention-grabbers.

The prioritization of news is still somewhat determined by that ever-democratic system of user hits, for better or for worse, but at the end of the day, the front-page priorities of a newspaper or the cover story of a magazine has always been similarly influenced by reader interests. “What will get this paper off the newsstands?” has simply shed its print feathers and “What will get people to turn on our channel?” has shed its television and radio feathers to become “What will get online readers to click on this story?” ¬

Tablets are able to strike a balance between the sometimes denigrated online outlets and the original format of an aging news organization, whether that be print, television or radio. The aesthetics of the iPad may be what ultimately resurrects the media industry by giving it the gift of a new, multimedia news platform at the tip of its fingers — literally.

Marissa Amendolia is a senior in the College and a former editor-in-chief of The Hoya. She can be reached at [email protected]. BYTE THE BULLET appears every other Friday.

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