They're called anchors, and Apple is very, very good at making them.
Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational, introduced me to the concept of anchors. It's a very handy one to have floating around (arf).
Basically: an anchor is the item you compare everything else with. For example, Volkswagen has been running a campaign based on the idea that everyone uses the Golf as an anchor to judge hatchbacks in the UK.
The iPad became an anchor at launch. Immediately, everything in the digital reading market and the tablet market was judged against the Apple product. It's what they do at Apple. They come along and they make something which is so well-judged and so pretty that suddenly everyone else has to try to make a product to outdo it on its own terms and of course they can't. iPhone-killer. iPad-killer. Blah blah.
Interestingly, the question was also asked whether the iPad was a Kindle-killer. To which the answer, it would seem, is a resounding 'no'. (And actually, of course, it was never going to be - because the real battle is not between the two gadgets, which are nicely differentiated by function and price, but between the Kindle Store and the iBook/iTunes store, which are in many ways exactly the same thing with different corporate jumpers on).
Amazon are rising to the iPad challenge all the same, with a sexy new graphite skin, a better screen and battery life, a cheaper option, and so on. Eventually, the iPad and the Kindle may be destined to drift together. I'm told that E-Ink touchscreens capable of displaying colour motion images are not so far off, at which point you're talking some pretty serious technological convergence.
But all that aside, why do I say Steve has done Jeff a favour?
Well, back to anchors. The thing about them is that people don't necessarily buy the anchor product, it's just the yardstick they use. So anyone looking at the ebook reader market is going to make a mental list. They're going to put the glossy, sexy, lifestyle-ish iPad at the top, but acknowledge that it's the most expensive of the bunch. Immediately below it will go the Kindle, with all that brand recognition, wireless delivery, assorted apps for your other devices so you need never be without your books. And then comes everyone else, in a bewildering array of colours and uncertainties.
Think of it like a restaurant menu. You probably won't order the caviar and kobe beef combo at fifty four pounds, but after you've seen the eyewatering price for that, a mere twenty quid for a tuna steak seems reasonable. Amazon is going to sell a lot of tuna to people who aren't really looking for high-grade surf-and-turf and can't be bothered to wonder whether they want the calamari or the porkbelly. (Before you say 'yeah, but', consider the title of Ariely's book. His point is that a lot of our buying decisions are mad. They're just mad in a very predictable way. And yes, again: I'm grossly simplifying his argument for the sake of... er... simplicity.)
And while you're thinking about that, get your noggin around this little gem:
“Our best estimate is that Kindle books will outsell paperbacks sometime in the next nine to 12 months.” — Jeff Bezos
Ladies and gents, we have ourselves a ballgame.
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