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.