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Apple’s Biggest Innovation – The Swipe?

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Years from now, will we look back and realize that Apple’s biggest innovation was not device, but rather a physical gesture?

The right-to-left swiping motion used with Apple devices to sort through photos or to navigate certain apps is quickly altering how we seek and absorb information.

David Payne, chief digital officer of Gannett & Co. Inc., parent company of USA Today, delivered this point eloquently at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit. In his opening speech, he pointed out that the digital world changed when Apple introduced “touch” with the iPod and iPhone.

Touch screens had been around for years, but Apple brought them into our daily lives, in particular with the iPhone. As a result, the way we engage and interact with devices has changed, as evidenced by the dramatic decline in sales of the BlackBerry. And now with the explosive growth of the iPad, it’s about to change again. This time, though, it will be even more dramatic.

Payne referred to the “swipe” as the game-changer, or as he called to it, “petting the cat.” This new right-to-left world has caused Gannett to rethink the traditional “top-to-bottom” experience of its websites, in particular how it organizes content. As evidence, Gannett has incorporated this new “petting the cat” thinking into its new USA Today app (it’s worth downloading).

Last week, Fast Company ran a story on a new technology MIT developed that enables users to drag files across devices with a swipe. Coincidentally, it’s called Swyp. Nathan Linder, a PhD student in the fluid interfaces group at the MIT Media Lab, said, “Our framework allows any number of touch-sensing and collocated devices to establish file-exchange and communications with no pairing other than a physical gesture.”

Apple’s impact on design has enjoyed much acclaim and is noticeable in almost any new technology designed. But what may be overlooked is the impact Apple has had on the user experience and how users interact with technologies. And that impact goes far beyond just Apple devices.

For example, one attendee mentioned that his 3-year-old went up to the television and tried to “swipe” it to change the channel. A colleague mentioned that she is  constantly cleaning her computer screen because her kids try to open photos on her desktop by touching them. Apple has, and continues to have, the ability to change consumer behaviors, requiring the rest of the world to catch up.

Marketers must now realize that we are a step behind. We recognize the importance of adapting digital assets to fit the device, but we haven’t thought through the ramifications of “petting the cat” behavior. The swipe is here to stay. It’s now time to reset our navigation point from North to South to East to West.

Could Advertising Pay for Your Child’s College Education?

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Years ago, a friend of mine sold his company to national telecommunication company.  With time on his hands, and being a serial entrepreneur he set out on his next project.

Watching his two children come home every night with overstuffed backpacks full of books, he decided his next venture would be to lighten their load. With a track record of technology innovations, he developed an e-reader years before the IPad and Kindle.  The reader had an interactive note pad on one side and the e-reader on the other side.  He provided much of the funding and line up production in South Korea and China.

Next, he would need the education system to play along.  And that’s where the story ends.  He preached of the value of democratizing education to school systems, locally and nationally.  The opportunity to generate new revenue streams by promoting college professors, courses and information beyond the classroom to the reach of every student with internet access.  But the old guard was too wedded to their legacy business models, and their traditional thinking of a “campus education” and as a result, they never got onboard.

That was until now.  Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs are changing the mindset of some of the most prestigious colleges in the US.  Leading universities like Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins are now putting some of their marque courses online, and many of them for free.

MOOC platform providers like Coursera, edX and Udacity believe higher education is a basic human right and, as a result, have seen a surge in interest.  Coursera now has more than 1.7 million registered students.   Brian Caffo, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, teaches what he calls a “math biostatistics boot camp” that usually draws a few dozen graduate students (found 15,000 students from around the world had signed up for the free online course).

Bringing higher education to the masses also comes paradigm-shifting challenges. It has the potential of redefining the value of a “campus education” and to disrupt the traditional business model.   Nick Anderson of Washington Post suggest that MOOC platforms pose a key question for universities “Are they undercutting time tested financial models that relies on students willing to pay a high price for a degree from a prestigious institution…or are they accelerating the onset of a democratized, globalized version of higher education?”

Burck Smith likens it to the challenge newspapers faced when they first launched web sites.  Smith, the CEO of StraightLine, which sells low cost online courses says, “Free content has never really been a successful business model.”

Perhaps Mr. Smith is wrong.  With two kids not far from college, I’d like to suggest that there could be a new business model built on free content – Advertising.

In this new world, Universities become, in a sense, content houses, similar to publishers.  By making the best universities, courses and professors available to the masses, the opportunity to draw huge audiences and to build brands worldwide is created.

For example, the eight courses made available by Johns Hopkins have drawn more than 170,000 students from around the world.  And where there are highly engaged and defined eyeballs, there are advertisers waiting, and wanting to gain access, especially given the fact that courses are available in multiple formats and devices.

Although this “revolution” is in its early stages, it has to the potential to redefine the college experience, education and business model.  And, as the story of my friend attests, the industry is slow to change, but with cost of an average public college education at $27,435, “free” sounds pretty good to me.