It is less than two years since any of us laid hands on a functioning iPad (exception for a few Apple techies).

The iPad 2 was launched 11 months ago.

It seems very likely that a retina-display iPad 3 will be announced within three weeks. This will be a very desirable and seductive device.

Tim Cook (Apple’s impressive CEO) was interviewed yesterday by Goldman Sachs. He was asked about his belief that the tablet market will be bigger than the PC market:

We started using it (the iPad) at Apple well before it was launched. We had our shades pulled so no one could see us, but it quickly became that 80-90% of my consumption and work was done on the iPad. From the first day it shipped, we thought that the tablet market would become larger than the PC market and it was just a matter of the time it took for that to occur. I feel that stronger today than I did then. As I look out and I see all of these incredible usages for it, I see the incredible rate and pace of innovation, and the developers — If we had a meeting at this hotel, and we invited everyone doing cool stuff on PC, we wouldn’t have anyone here.

If you invited everyone working on iOS or on that other operating system, you wouldn’t be able to fit everyone! That’s where the innovation is! That doesn’t mean the PC is going to die. I love the Mac and it’s still growing and I believe it can still grow. But I believe that tablet market can replace the unit sales of the PC market, and it’s just a matter of the speed at which that happens. It’s too much of a profound change in things for that to not happen. That’s just my opinion. MacRumors: Tim Cook speaks at Goldman Sachs technology conference.

Tim Cook is not the only person who now thinks that tablet sales will surpass PC sales in the foreseeable future. In 2011 about 350 million PCs were sold, and perhaps 70 million tablets, most of them iPads. Apple sold 37 million iPhones last quarter. They sold 15 million iPads in the same period. They sold as many as they could make. The simple application of Moore’s law tells us that Apple with its unrivalled supply chain management will in a years time ‘s able to make as many iPads as it is currently making iPhones. If tablets are to become more numerous than PCs there is a reasonable chance that we will see Apple selling 100 million, and then 200 million iPad-type devices a year. This profusion of tablets, with a likely continuing preponderance of iPads, has some strategic implications for the magazine industry

It is clear that magazines work very well on the iPad. They will work even better, on the new iPad that is coming. Obviously the iPad is a big market for magazines in the next three or four years. It is quite possible (in my view quite likely) that the iPad will be the best magazine reading device and the predominantly popular media-consumption tablet for the plannable future. If that is so, every magazine company should now be making sure that its key employees actually own an iPad and take some trouble to see how good it is for reading magazines. If the equipment budget is a bit stretched, individual iPads should be bought in this order:

  1. As a top priority the Circulation Director needs an iPad. He needs to understand how the sales process works, how users ‘taste’ apps, how the money is collected and the importance of pricing. Low but renewable. Above all, a magazine where the Circulation Director is iPad-aware is a magazine company that is preparing to grow its digital circulation to the same scale as its print circulation.
  2. The Finance Director should be given the second iPad. Once he is aware of the ease with which magazines can be read on the iPad he will figure out how digital publishing which is subscription-oriented can be very good news for the bottom line.
  3. The Editor has the third iPad and she should be prepared to lend it to the Art Director. An intuitive grasp of the way text and illustrations will be read on tablet devices is a key consideration now in thinking about the content of the magazine.
  4. Skip the Advertising Sales Director, she does not need one yet. Advertising may become a significant source of revenue from iPad apps in two or three years time, there will be minimal contribution to budgets this year and next.
  5. Under no circumstances give an iPad to the magazine Design Director. Many big name magazines have  made the dreadful mistake of giving the iPad to the Design Director first. As though the job to be done was to redesign the magazine for the iPad, when really the job to be done is to design the app for the magazine. That is a completely different task and a rather limited brief for a user-interface expert and software genius, probably not the forte of the Design Director of a top quality magazine. The Design Director should be given the best available Android device, so that he can keep a weather eye on the best possible solution for the secondary market on Android tablets.

Am I being harsh on the Design Director? Not a bit of it, some of my best friends are magazine designers. Magazines are often wonderfully designed, and for the best magazines the best part is often the design. Magazine designers are frequently brilliant, but they know how to design magazines and that expertise should be cherished, not wasted. I save my deepest criticism for the magazine publishers (and yes the Finance Directors) who have not yet woken up to the fact that having a strong and growing subscription audience among iPad owners is really a no-brainer. If there are going to be 400 million tablet owners by the end of 2013 now is the time to be building the circulation that will be enriching those tablets with astonishing magazine apps. There is one thing every circulation director can tell you: it takes time to build a circulation. That is why he should get the first iPad.