This is sort of an anniversary article: I wrote about the iPad about a year ago for the first time. A the time, nobody new what it would be called: iTablet, iSlate… No tech specs available, just rumors. I immediately said – then – that this would change world as we know it. We, the journalists.
IPad got launched in January 2010, first examples delivered later in the spring. Now, beginning of November 2010, it is available in Europe – but not in Finland yet.
New Years Eve I wrote that 2010 would be remembered as the “year of the tablet”.
Don’t you just love this tone of ” I told you so…”?
IPad (or tablet computers in general) clearly represents the future: this is the door to the journalism in the future (and many other things…) as we will get to know it in the years to come. This is definitely a no-brainer, you gotta be blind not to see it. However, I have repeatedly said that it will not be the savior of our daily print.
And this statement is an apparent paradox. Let me try to clarify my views.
The Present Situation
I talk about iPad, but lots of the things I say apply to Android and others as well (if not, I try to point it out). However, presently iPad has over 95% market share, so just to keep it simple, I talk about the iPad.
Plusses: The Promise it holds
It is simply an amazing piece of machinery. Extremely simple UI (User Interface), very little if guidance (if any) required to get familiar with the toy. If you are used to using an iPhone then that’s it, same machine. Except that it is not a phone.
Comparison to the iPhone is a good one. They are totally similar, except that for one thing: the iPad is based on the visual where as iPhone is inherently based on the audio. Yes, you can watch video and read the news if you want to on an iPhone – but in the long run, it is no joy.
IPad has an amazing display. Videos, multimedia, photos all look totally out of this world on the screen. Much better than your average person has ever been used to seeing – that is, if they are used to the wild west of un-calibrated worn-out PC laptop screens. This “amazing visual quality” has important consequences.
I won’t get into the UI more – suffice it to say that if you are not used Apple simplicity, it just blows you away.
One thing which is very forgotten when talking about the properties of the iPad is the instant-on feature and it’s energy consumption. Your average laptop takes anything from couple of dozens of seconds to several minutes to switch on and has a battery life of couple of hours typically. Ipad is 8-10 hours active use and 30 days of stand-by – and it flips on and off in a second. It’s flat whereas a laptop is L-shape when open. Easy to just push a button, check something then switch it off. Car, plane, sofa, bed – anywhere basically.
I’ve been testing it now for a month and – as a consumer – I have only positive things to say about it. How does the saying go in English: “Won’t leave home without it…”? I read the news in the morning from it, I use it in my work as photographer (see my previous posts), I read the email on the road and surf the net. I use it for studying. Loads of routines I do (and have done) with the laptop I have moved into the iPad.
Minuses: The Problems it presents
IPad does come with problems – problems that most people in the consumer end can either ignore or be totally indifferent to.
As a content creator, I’d love to see flash running in it, for instance. I understand Steve Jobs’ argument: Flash stands behind majority of computer crashes as an extra layer in computer programming – and thus, iPad will not have it. The situation with flash seems to fluctuate a lot: when I wrote about the iPad for the first time, it seemed that Apple and Adobe had just reached an understanding amongst themselves… then came “the total ban”: NO FLASH. Period. … and now, we are somewhere in between, I don’t even now what situation today is… except that flash content do not play in my iPad.
It is true that HTML5-coding can solve lots of issues. Video in h.264-format is clearly a better solution than FLV in these devices, slide shows can be done in HTML5… But then again, any of the multimedia I have been constructing using FPP/FFC-framework or anything similar cannot. In general, e.g. all the more sophisticated panorama programs are out. Yes, Pano2VR does output HTML5 and ViPro360 is a new iDevice specific solution – but the moment you want to add little bit more interactive content, you are in trouble. Anything more complicated in terms of interaction with images is a no, no.
One can argue, that it is a question of transition time before the software developpers catch up. True – but it can be substantial amount of time. (Note: this is Apple specific problem. Android etc. do not limit the use of flash in their devices).
Second problem: the content has to be packaged into something called “the app” – which has to be approved by Apple. If they don’t like what you are doing – technically or contentwise – you are basically done. Mark Fiori won a Pulizer, but he could not get his app for displaying his artwork published, as Apple considered somebody might be offended by his art (Mark is a cartoonist). And there have been other cases as well.
Yes, you can always make a webpage and then bookmark that one, make that interactive. True, but the users are getting so used to loading their apps that it seems hardly likely they would spend lots of time searching for new webpages (which might not display properly, as they are not natively done for the iPad…) and bookmark them and use them as their primary sources. “The App” as a wrapper has become a norm.
But – all in all – very little minuses. Yes, software will develop (it’ll take time, but it will….) and if you are at ease with having one company in Cupertino, California setting the rules as to what content is appropriate and what not – then that’s about it. No worries.
These tablet based computers are clearly the future – I don’t even bother to argue it further, it is so plain obvious. Issues such as exclusion of flash will be solved – one way or another. See eg. what Adobe is doing with their new EDGE-technology – still in the prototype phase. A friend of mine commented when she saw it:” WYSIWYG editing in Photoshop/Flash interface. Yum!” And it is true, it holds lot of promise.
“App store as the only option” -problem? Well, couple of weeks ago Adobe launched their workflow based on InDesign, Interactive Overlay Creator and Interactive Content Bundler (both available in the Adobe Labs) – workflow, which enables you to view your content thru a free app called Adobe Digital Content Preview (Available in the iTunes App Store). For instance for magazine publishers, it is very promising – although the “interactive” capabilities are somewhat limited at this stage. But again, I am sure time will fix that.
Price and availability of these devices will be an issue. I paid something like 800€ for my iPad. Yes, there are cheaper models and yes, the prices will go down (presumably). But it is still a lot of money if you don’t really need it for work or something. Being photographer and playing with “gadgets” every day for a living makes one blind very easily on this. 800€ is a lot of money – after you’ve paid the taxes, fed the family, etc…
Availability is a huge issue. When Apple launched (in March?) they were producing c. 1 mill. iPads a month. In the third quarter of this year, they were selling 4.2 million pieces (i.e. average 1.4 million a month). Now, considering this rate in the next four years they will produce 67 million iPads (yes, math is simplified, as they production is very likely to increase). But using that number (67 mill.) and comparing it to the estimated number of computers in personal use 2015 which is c. 2 bill.; gives us a (market) share percentage of 3,35%.
In plain English: all other things staying constant, iPad will represent 3,3 percent of our computers in 2015. Transpose that to Finland and suppose we have e.g. 2 million computers in personal use by that date. That is 67 thousand iPads in the country by the end of 2015. So on the other hand , iPad is huge – on the other, it’s peanuts…
And yes, do cut me some slack in the math, it is very simplified, I know. But, it gives you a ballpark.
The Print and Daily Journalism
And this, this is the big question. IPad holds all the promise – will the print be able to live up to it? Yes – and no.
First the “yes” part. Magazines – weekly and monthly publications just have choice to adapt – or then not. But they’d be stupid not to. It is really a simple process in the end. The Wired Magazine is often used as an example. In June when they launched, they sold more copies on the IPad than in the traditional form – i.e. they over doubled their circulation levels (- and consequently their advertizing revenue I am sure). But, three factors: 1) it’s The Wired (i.e. about as hip an audience as you can get) 2)there is the novelty factor (first time in iPad) and 3)it is in English (i.e. no language boundaries for readership).
That does not scale at all to your average general interest magazine in Finland, such as Suomen Kuvalehti. Unfortunately I can not provide their stats on their iPad circulation – has to be very small and consisting of curious people taking a peek – as no iPads are available in this country yet.
Using afore-mentioned SK as an example (which BTW looks very nice on the iPad), I do have a bit of hard time seeing your average reader paying c. 6€ for an iPad issue, when they can get 52 issues for a year for much less (per issue price) – the best offer I heard was of the order of 100€ per year. On the other hand, maybe the iPad version is not targeted to your average reader, but readers on the move for whom the 6€ is nothing.
Investmentwise, iPad versioning is cheap and relatively easy – and a smart move. You don’t try to force your existing readers to switch – but you might gain some new ones paying a pretty salty price – but if you can afford an iPad, what’s 6 euros, right?
Yes, you give a big chunk of your income to the platform supplier (in this case Apple), but then again you have no logistics, printing or paper costs. You can reach out to readers outside Finland easily. Heavily simplifying: an easy way of reaching out for more potential readers with minimal investment with a possibility of even making some profit in the process.
At the same time, I have hard time seeing our daily print adapting to this new era. They would love to, but … we’ll see. Not that it would be inherently impossible, but just knowing the way The Print works. The daily print has some issues – and I am afraid they have hard time resolving these.
First prerequisite would be to see the iPad as primary platform. Not yet, but in the future and much sooner than anybody thinks. This is not limited only to the news in the daily print – documentary movies, TV and others are facing the same challenge. Seeing it as a first platform means fundamental rethinking: what kind of properties does the tablet computer have that differ from plain white paper and ink? Seriously, nobody seems to be thinking about this.
Second area of confusion: the present crises in the media is typically viewed as a technical transition of publishing medium/platform. For us, the journalists, that is just so totally beside the point. It is a transition in terms of content – ways how we produce content, display it, interact with it… What are the skills needed? Do we have them? How do we develop them?
Technology will sort itself out, we are just wasting our time if we focus on that.
Third: most of the thinking – and action – I have encountered so far in this country is focused on versioning: “how do we display our paper on the iPad or how do we present our content on the iPad?” Again, for us as journalists, both of these are totally BS questions. What we should be asking now is: “How do we train ourselves as fast and as efficiently as possible to these challenges this new medium poses us?” And: “What are the workflows associated with this medium and how do we master them?” Or: “How does the content look at its most attractive, powerful, influential and engaging form on a platform like this?”
These are the questions we should be asking.
Frankly, nobody wants to see 500 digits of text and photograph to illustrate the story in the future – all presented in a classic page format. If you change the photograph into a slide show, you are a bit ahead of the curve… but you are still versioning! You have to think bigger than that, outside that frame. The fact that when you tilt your iPad and the display accommodates, should not get any WOW-effect . And it sure as hell does not classify as multimedia (I’ve heard both the “wow” and “nice multimedia” comments myself…)
I won’t bad mouth any of daily print publications and their (mostly) iPhone apps. I know many of them are busy designing iPad apps while all we see now in the app store is a buggy iPhone app which looks totally disgusting on a iPad screen. But I am afraid that they are all falling into the same trap: versioning an iPad edition of their existing product – maybe adding some bells and whistles – and leaving it at that. And that is a huge, huge – I’d dare say fatal mistake.
I said when I compared iPhone and iPad that iPad is inherently visual. This is very important. How many of the publishers now preparing to launch their iPad version are educating their staff to produce visually driven content?
No, not shoot video with your left hand – but to really think visually?
Good Publications for the IPad
I am by no means expert on this, but let me mention two “channels” I tune into every day: BBC and The Pulse. BBC is for free, Pulse is 1,59€ in the App Store. They display the content as visual rows and columns you can customize to your own liking. BBC clearly produces their own content, Pulse just presents content published elsewhere. Very nice, very visual, very intuitive… Both have video, slide shows, reference to the original pieces, simple integration to social media… Very nice, I strongly recommend. This is the way news should look like.
Yes, they are not papers versioned for the iPad. And with this comment I so totally rest my case: this is the starting point of how news/information should look when presented in a non-linear way (as the newspaper has traditionally been). And this is the way The Print should be going… and I am very much afraid they won’t. They are just too hooked on versioning to the secondary platform.
One should always end with a positive note. So, let me mention one good example in our country going to the right direction. It’s called Teknari. No, it is not a daily publication, it is a magazine – as good examples of our daily print do not exist… Done solely for the iPad, it is free, supporting itself totally with advertizing revenue. Just got released (Oct. 29th). Ample use of video, everything designed for the iPad as the first platform in mind. Even if you are not into the subject matter (technology, cars, boats, etc.), it is absolutely worth taking a peek. It is huge (near 800MBs) and has some other issues as well, but very ambitious an effort.
I do realize that my word count has hit 2500 words – which is a monster of a number. I have not discussed two essential concepts which are of crucial importance: the need of a news baseline in society and the inherent dangers of paywalls. But, as Hemingway (no, no comparison implied… ;-) ) used to say, it was better to stop when the writing was still going good… then you’d have something for the next day as well. So I save those topics for the days to come.