Will the iPad Save Photography?

I admit to being a gearhead. I love tech toys, and that includes not only photography gear but also computers and mobile phones. So you can imagine how excited I was about Apple’s big announcement on Wednesday: the unveiling of the iPad.

I followed the Apple keynote on Engadget, where they pulled images from Steve Jobs’ presentation into their live feed. One image in particular caught my attention: Jobs was browsing the Web on his nifty new tablet, when the infamous blue cube appeared where you would normally see Flash display.

My first thought was “No! How could they leave out Flash support for the iPad?”

I realize that the iPhone doesn’t do Flash, either, but on that small screen it wasn’t an issue. With the iPad’s bigger screen, wouldn’t Flash support be a natural?

And then it hit me. It’s part of Jobs’ grand plan — one that, among its other virtues, just might save photography.

A Man with a Plan

All the tech blogs are complaining about the iPad’s lack of Flash. They complain about not being able to watch interactive content on Web sites. No video streams, no slideshows, no animations.

I don’t think this represents a hole in the product. I believe it’s a hole in our understanding of Jobs’ long-term vision.

Let’s go back a few years, to the introduction of the iPod. At the time, most music was being downloaded illegally — and free. It took time for the iTunes Store to heave Napster into the dustbin of Web history.

But it happened. Now, a rational model that requires people to pay to download music is in place. This model has more recently been extended to television shows, movies, and mobile phone apps.

Basically, Apple has made it so easy to buy content that consumers actually like doing it.

The Last Frontier

So, what is the last frontier for free content on the Web?


It’s no secret that free content is killing the newspaper business and devaluing the work of photographers. How much are your photos worth? How much does it cost to Google a photo, right click and save to desktop?

Now, here’s how Jobs is planning to be our savior:

Apple has a wonderful, intuitive platform for distributing paid content. In fact, the App Store already offers subscription-based payment if the content provider chooses that option — perfect for newspapers and magazines.

But how does Apple get you to pay for content that you’re currently getting for free? Among other things, by not supporting Flash.

This means that to browse interactive content on the Web, you’ll have to buy an app in the iTunes Store to get your daily dose of news. The New York Times has already announced support for the iPad, and you can be sure it will charge for its content.

I see more and more media outlets moving to Apple’s distribution model over time. If they know what’s good for them, they will do it quickly and with enthusiasm.

The transition to a paid model for editorial content won’t happen overnight. But when Napster was all the rage, the pundits said people would never pay for music again. Now they do.

So it may be with editorial content — including photography. We just have to make sure that, as photographers, we negotiate our fair share of the revenues that a new, paid model would generate.

16 Responses to “Will the iPad Save Photography?”

  1. It sure would be nice for newspapers' demand for paid photography work to increase. If I can get my local paper (Saint Petersburg Times) delivered to my door in paper form and digitally to my iPad, that would be something I'd be willing to pay a little extra for on top of my normal subscription rate.

    If I may, I put up a blog post (see link in name) theorizing how the iPad could help get wedding clients and even replace the printed photo album for digitally savvy newlweds.

    I'll be getting an iPad for sure just to have a better, very mobile means, of showing off my digital photography portfolio.

  2. "But how does Apple get you to pay for content that you’re currently getting for free? Among other things, by not supporting Flash."

    What???? Seriously? what am I missing?? how is the lack of flashing going to turn me into a paying customer? more then anything, it will make me NOT buy this thing...

  3. I am with Milos, what has paid content got to do with flash and apple not supporting it? In fact apple and adobe are working on getting flash onto the platform. As this hasn't been finalised, it won't be on the ipad yet. ipod, iphone and now ipad all use the same base operating system. So what you get with the phone you get the pad.

    Apples real gem is that they have a massive consumer base that eagerly awaits the ability to buy a product without really knowing what the product is, if you asked most mac fans to buy a new apple product before it's announced, they would!

    The ipad is a large format iphone. What is revolutionary about that! It is amusing to watch apple-nerds goes all weak at the knee approaching an apple announcement. It's borderline brainwashing. Apple make very good UI's it's what they have done since year dot. For that we salute them, oh and getting consumers to pay silly money for products they don't really understand or worry about not understanding.

    Apple gives apple fans 'a pill'!

  4. I have to disagree with your notion about Apple with holding flash as a means to help editorial content transition into paid apps.

    I am convinced that the reality is Apple does not want Flash on the iPhone because it is a proprietary format owned by Adobe. Everything inside the iPhone operating system is either owned by Apple or is an open source technology. If something doesn't work well then Apple can re-write it and optimize it. With Flash they are dependent on Adobe. Flash on a Mac has never ran well, and Adobe has never been in a hurry to optimize it. By refusing to put Flash on the iPhone Apple is essentially removing this problem of being dependent on an outside company.

    As far as the actual problem of not having Flash on the iPhone or the iPad. I don't believe it really represent a problem at this point. I think you can look to iPhone sales and customer satisfaction to confirm that. I think the Flash story is propped up by two things. The first thing is that Flash has a very lovely name, and people just assume they need it because it's not there. The second is that the computer industry since it's foundation has run forward playing the spec game. Our competitor has 2GB of RAM well we got 3GB of RAM. So it's becoming very convenient to point out the absence of Flash.

    The tide could turn in favor of Apple on this one, YouTube has allowed users to start playing videos through HTML5 if their browsers support it. So has Vimeo. I think a lot of other publications will quickly follow suit, especially if they are planning on making iPad apps. The good thing about displaying video in HTML5 is that like everything else on the web (except Flash) it can downgrade. If video is called up in HTML5 then it can play in h.264 under Quicktime if you are on a Mac, it can render in h.264 Flash if you are on a PC. There is more scalability there, and it's possible to serve the user based on what he has. Something Flash doesn't do, you either have the latest or you don't.

    That's my two cents on the Flash and the iPhone. Unless it becomes absolutely necessary then it won't happen. I think Google (via YouTube) and Vimeo actively testing HTML5 is a bad sign for Flash on the iPhone.

  5. I have to throw my hat in with Jool and Milos. I don't believe it's a method to get users to pay for content but rather a technology issue that hasn't been ironed out yet. You will see Flash across iPhone, iPad and other Apple products in the future.


    Paul Sveda

  6. Interesting take! If some HTML5 elements like canvas, video, and audio get implemented in mobile Safari, you can expect a big boost in the number of non-flash interactive experiences. It will be interesting to see if (1) HTML5 actually is a Flash killer and (2) if Apple helps prove your theory by also refusing to implement those HTML5 elements.

  7. Now, let me see if I understand this correctly. It is beneficial that I do not have Flash because now I can pay Apple (or content providers) for a program that in all likelihood inserts Flash into the iPad trojan-like in the guise of something functionally equivalent to Flex/AIR with specially encrypted, Jobs-approved, actual Flash content? Hmm. Yes, I see the logic. I just do not see how that benefits me, and I am a professional photographer who uses Flash to show low-res in order to sell super high res. Why again should I look upon this this is a good thing?


  8. You make a good case for the iPad and Jobs' long-term vision. However, it only works if the majority of people buy and use the product. While the iPhone and iPod were wildly successful - there aren't enough units out there to change the world. I think the iPad might help photographers and the photography industry - but not as much as you might think.

  9. can we change the topic and talk about something real? and not this promotional stuff?

  10. Chris, I do think it's fair to say that the iPod changed the way music is distributed and consumed ... so never underestimate Jobs 🙂

  11. Besides the fact that when not in use the iPad will make an excellent digital picture frame, there are four issues involved from Apple's viewpoint.

    1. Apple controls all programming APIs for their systems and allows no third party software that doesn't use Apple's system. Not only Flash but Java are excluded. That's why everything works together as well as it does on the iPhone/iPod Touch, and I expect, the iPad.

    2. That leads to the fact that Flash is the number one cause of crashes on OS X. That's of all causes. It's also been a source of viruses. Keep the system clean.

    3. Most the of "loss" of features people complain about simply shows their ignorance. Anything a photographer would want from a website is available through the use of Ajax or Quicktime now. Just find a more knowledgeable web designer.

    Also, Apple has led the way in HTML 5 browser compliance. Safari does h.264 embeds already and that's included with all Apple's devices. As others have already mentioned, YouTube and Vimeo are already supporting HTML 5 video.

    4. Then there's simply the rivalry over who controls the web. It's no secret that Adobe would love the entire web to run on Flash. Then Microsoft has a rival platform that's at least as good. Should iPad support Silverlight too? Apple is smart in going with open standards and not helping either of their rivals push a closed platform.

    Finally as a former web developer, I can say with certainty that Flash has been misused more often than not when building websites. Too often it is included gratuitously without regard to its real strengths. Flash hurts search engine placement, is much more difficult to make accessible for people with handicaps, slows download times, and does not scale well to different display sizes. In addition, any flashing content on a page reduces readability and retention of what is read.

    It's been possible to replace some of Flash's legitimate uses such slide shows for years. Now, movies can be watched without it in modern browsers. Its other use as a game platform isn't important on something like the iPad.

  12. Let's not forget that Adobe and Apple have always had very close ties. (After all, on what platform was Photoshop primarily used until recently?)

    And let's also not forget that while, yes, I have no doubt that Apple is making loads of money from iTunes and their other mobile ventures (Jobs just announced they are raking in $50 BILLION/year), how much of that money is going to the actual ARTISTS who create the music? This is the real question photographers should be asking themselves.

  13. No piece of hardware, no matter how elegant or well-integrated, will save newspapers. The only thing that consumers have ever wanted is compelling, useful and local content.

    Publishers have been squeezing editorial staffs in the name of cost cutting for decades. Those policies have driven readers to other media.

    Thr iPad will be a successful platform for those who can supy the best content. "Good enough" just won't cut it anymore.

  14. Agree with Mark completely. Local newspapers are surviving if they remember why they exist, and cover what matters to local people. Besides, the advertising component works for papers if they point out that buying local works for things you can't easily ship -- a fridge, a bed and mattress, groceries, that sort of thing -- but without advertising to offset the cost, most papers aren't value for money, no matter what they are printed on: people won't generally spend $3 on what they currently get for 50 cents, and $3 is about closer to the production cost

  15. Huh? What does flash have to do with editorial content? This is a complete red herring.

    You misunderstand the extent of illegal downloading. It's not like people suddenly stopped downloading due to the existence of iTunes. I'm sure some did, but others didn't notice and didn't care, or just found ways to rip off iTunes music or other media.

    I'm sure if you look into the history of illegal downloading of music, you'll see that iTunes had very little impact, if any, on it.

  16. Great discussion here! Apple has always been known to want to own and control everything it builds. No surprise there. And while they have built a successful platform that pushes us back toward paid content, they have also locked in a very high free for content producers to sell on that platform.

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