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Apple (s AAPL) has always been in the innovation business, and the iPad is no exception. And the iPad, like the iPod before it, could fundamentally change the way we consume media — in this case, video.
The iPad might not be the first mass market portable media device to offer the ability to watch digital video on the fly, but it will probably be the most important one. Apple has been selling online video for viewing on the iPod and the iPhone for years. But those devices had some serious limitations — notably their screen size. With just a 3.5-inch screen, the iPhone was never an ideal video device, though it was “good enough” for watching video on the go. But with a 9.7-inch screen, the iPad is basically a portable TV screen, ideal for consuming video anytime, anywhere.
This is arguably why Apple is pushing content partners to lower the cost of their movies and TV shows, according to reports. It’s betting that the launch of the new device will drive more demand for those files, and that a price decrease will only accelerate that demand, making up for any revenue losses due to halving the price by an increase in volume. By integrating iTunes into the device, Apple is betting that consumers will finally have a platform with which to embrace online video.
And why wouldn’t they? There’s already a huge number of consumers that use their laptops for “bedroom viewing,” tuning to Hulu, YouTube, and other sites before turning off the lights and going to bed. Commuters have turned to watching video on their iPods or iPhones instead of reading a book. And now, Apple has presented those users with a devices that bridges the divide between those two use cases. A device that is big enough to comfortably watch a full-length TV show or movie, but not so bulky as lugging around a laptop. Apple has, in short, created a whole new market opportunity by introducing a device that solves a problem most didn’t even think existed: how to make it easy for users to watch video on the go.
The iPad will cause ripples in multiple industries — including news, book publishing and gaming — but at the end of the day, I’m betting that what the iPad will be used for more than anything is watching video. Like the iPod, it’s only a matter of time before the iPad becomes the defining product with which to consume that type of media.