Apple iPad Doesn't Raise the Bar. It Becomes the New Floor.

By RJI on March 26, 2010 3 Comments

Sean Reily, 2009-2010 FellowSean Reily, 2009-2010 Fellow

Putting Kleig lights, storefront campouts and possible marching bands of tech geeks aside, with the long anticipated consumer launch of the Apple iPad on April 3 will come a landmark moment for the presentation of journalism on mobile devices.  Landmark not in that this newest and sleekest entry into the burgeoning world of E reading / tablet devices will save newspapers and thus save journalism.  It won’t.

It turns out that for all the limitless speculation and now reality of what the iPad can do, it doesn’t assign, report or write stories.  More critically to the future of electronically distributed journalism, the iPad doesn’t curate the right content packages to engage readers in this new digital world.  Nor does it even figure how to sell the advertising so sorely needed to underwrite the cost of content creation.

In fact, from the tech sector both inside and outside of newspapers, it wasn’t hours from the unveiling that lists began posting of all that the iPad doesn’t do, from not having a USB port or ability to support Adobe Flash, from having no removable battery, to being housed within the very proprietary world of Apple programs.

So where’s the landmark part for the presentation of journalism?

For a couple decades longer than there’s been speculation on the iPad, there’s been the belief that “one day” a mass number of readers would be doing their long-form reading on portable, electronic, tablet-shaped devices.

It was the Amazon Kindle that first proved the premise directionally correct.  But the Kindle is designed for book reading, and though the text blocks of some newspapers sold there in numbers that got publisher attention, it’s an incapable solution for newspapers because of the device’s functional limitations.

With the iPad as an E Reader solution, most all the Kindle hardware and programming limitations are lifted as it comes with a very rich color display, leading touch screen navigation, web connectivity, video capability, the cool feel of an Apple product and access to the 140,000+ applications in the Apple store.

Though it’s designed for more than E reading, the iPad is the first device to give readers all they’ve come to expect from an electronic world.  For newspapers, it’s the first tablet to give designers and developers the toolkit to build content for the 2010 world and beyond.

So here’s where the landmark part for journalism comes in.

Because of the iPad, if Amazon with Kindle wants to stay a leader, they now have to counter and compete with a color, touch screen, next generation answer of their own, as does Barnes & Noble and all others who’ve entered the E Reader manufacturing market.

For the E Reading capability of the tablet computers either in place or rumored to be coming from Hewlett Packard, Sony, Samsung and too many others, by being the first to make the mass awareness splash, the iPad now becomes the defacto device not only for competitors to replicate, but to beat.

Just as the Apple iPhone revolutionized mobile phones, it also caused every competitor to try to identify a weakness and within six to twelve months launch Droid and smart phone features of every conceivable alternative.  All while driving the consumer price down.

It also brought smart phones into mainstream across many important age groups and demographics.

For E reading on tablet sized screens and devices, that’s exactly what will happen now.  The E reading flood gates will open.

For newspapers and journalism, the iPad is a real chance at the beginning of a potentially vibrant distribution channel to quickly and fully explore a possible migration or substitute for readership that’s being lost in print.

It means that with some sense of urgency, because the opportunity will form and harden into consumer patterns quickly, newspapers have to push on the critical work they have to solve anyway:  Is each piece of content created relevant enough to draw a unique readership in an ever competitive E world?  Are there content packages to engage the mass numbers of readers needed to support the continuing cost of content creation?  Are there business models that work for newspapers on E reader and tablets, as no one is offering newspapers a hand in finding these?

For newspaper’s efforts to redefine themselves in this speed-of-light changing world, they can use all that the iPad and soon-to-counter E Reader competitors will bring.  Newspapers must now strive, work and hope to become as innovate and intuitive in their content creation business as Apple is within the business of mobile devices.

The Apple iPad doesn’t just raise the E Reading bar.  It becomes the new E Reader floor.

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