iPad – The Future of Our Journalism?

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…”?

Paradox

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.

The Future

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.

 

BBC in iPad (free app)

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.

Yes

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.

Pulse in iPad (1,59€)

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.

No

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?


Teknari in iPad (Free)

 

 

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.


4 Comments

  1. Hopper Stone
    November 17, 2010

    I love how you say: “If you are used to using an iPhone then that’s it, same machine. Except that it is not a phone.”.
    Actually, it’s the same thing except bigger. The iPhone isn’t a phone either.

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      November 17, 2010

      yup… i agree… but you understand my point? iPhone 80% auditory, 20% visual (or what ever percentages you want to give it, matter of taste) whereas the iPad is 80% visual. That’s it.

      Actually, I saw a pretty amazing demo yesterday (a project I am working on, using 4 pcs of D5 mk2 to shoot video to be projected on a surface of 3,5 x 18 meters… I might have talked about it before?) Anyway: this sort of transparent foil you can glue on glass – such as a window – which when you cut the small amount of current running to it becomes totally transparent, but when you have the power on, it acts as a controlsurface you can back project on…. I mean, that was a touch screen, an “iPad” of the size 1×2 meters – or any size really. Think about applications in museums or any public places… it was pretty amazing – and I am not that easily impressed nowadays.

      Reply
  2. JP Tukiainen
    November 19, 2010

    Howdy there!

    Lots of things happening and not happening:
    1. I am just finishing my first video for the iPad-version of my magazine.
    2. David Brooks writes about the new hope for serious journalism
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/19/opinion/19brooks.html?ref=opinion
    3. This blog has only one reply before mine.

    IMHO number three is symptomatic. The Change is coming on with such force that people go silent. I’ve noticed that everybody loves new ideas unless, of course, they are previously unheard of.

    Anyway, I agree with your points, but I’d like to offer one more, or kind of amplify one that you only imply. Methinks that the most dangerous aspect for Finnish journalism is not that they are late to the party. I think it is the party itself.

    Like your favorite Pulse app shows, all content creators will soon be in a row, next to each other. If I want to write about the future of journalism I have to compete directly with David Brooks. There is nothing to protect me, because the potential reader can just pick David over JP with a flick of a finger. Finnish language will not give much cover, either, as your blog shows.

    So the critical resource is not time. I think that everybody in media has still one or two full years to make the transition, because it will take some time before the tablets and the business models reach critical mass. However, the extra time will not help if you are not unreasonably interesting by the time you come to the party. (“Unreasonable” is stolen from Seth Godin Nov 16th)

    The critical resource will be very old-fashioned journalistic quality. Old media folks will congratulate themselves and say that “oh, we have lots of good journalism, if only we could shoot it in video”. Not so. There are very few writers and shooters who create truly good stuff. The crisis does not come from the difficulties of getting people to pay for digital content – the crisis comes from getting exposed to competition. People will pay as they have before, but in very short time they can choose actually worthwhile content.

    The ax will fall when the last crucial innovation comes online: the quick and easy virtual money. People have so far not wanted to pay small sums for content because it is still cumbersome and risky. When you can buy a story for, say, seven cents and pay for it with one touch, then truly good writers become millionaires and truly blah media conglomerates will go broke.

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      November 19, 2010

      Hi JP –

      good to see you have found this blog – and thank you for a very insightful commentary. Let me answer in reverse order – i.e. 3,2,1…

      Yes, very symptomatic indeed. The Change is coming with such force that people just freeze… they don’t understand how their cushy little world is suddenly falling apart… and the dominant strategy chosen to cope with this is blunt denial.

      One could talk about the “comfort zone” or “minimizing the cognitive dissonance”. These are fancy words, but simply mean that when in doubt / under stress the majority of people choose to play within the little box/playground they are accustomed to. Exactly what you said about “loving new ideas – unless they are previously unheard of…”

      Very good point that it is not about being late in the party. No, it is not: it is a totally different party all together. You cannot expect to be allowed to wait and enter the party when it is in full swing. No, you have to come in early and help to organize it.

      That is, if you want.

      Or somebody else will – but in that case, chances are that a) it will not be in your town and b) that you are not welcome anymore to that party – when you finally decide you could make your grand entry.

      As you said – quoting Seth – you have to be unreasonably interesting in order to enter – and the definition of this “unreasonable” is getting higher and higher all the time.

      In printed media news – as such – have become a commodity which has no financial value attached to it whatsoever. This should be obvious.

      Nobody will pay for news in a sense that they would know “x has happened”. The moment your “paper” knows it, everybody knows it. Or within five minutes they will. Why should your paper be able to recycle old stuff and suppose that somebody give you money for it? It’s totally absurd an idea.

      However, I am sure people will pay for a) quality of reporting, b) consistency of reporting and c) integrity of the source – and these will be the cornerstones of any future (news)media. As is rich visual content: it is much harder to rip off images (still or live) and especially multimedia storytelling as it is to rip off your competitors text and “news”.

      I very much value your comment: ” The crisis does not come from the difficulties of getting people to pay for digital content – the crisis comes from getting exposed to competition. ” Absolutely true. Few are brave enough to take that risk – and in our line of work, it is a risk you take very publicly. It’s much easier to hide behind “I am a staffer for XX so I have to be good and on the right path… so just shut up and let me do my work as I always have”. Not so.

      Good point on language also: “I write in Finnish so I don’t have to worry about competition coming outside our little linguistic community” Totally wrong.

      David Brooks’ article (your ref.) in yesterdays New York Times is a good one. Very thought provoking – and I agree with him, the need for that kind of storytelling is real – the need of a shared quality news/information baseline.

      But as he says, it is important to know what year it is. It is 2010, not 1998 nor 1984. Wake up, smell the coffee… Continuing with the old just doesn’t cut it. Versioning a paper to the iPad… again, wake up. How about creating something original to the iPad? With some real talent, some real journalists? Original content? Seeing it as the primary platform?

      I promised I go backwards, so to your first point. Congrats, good for you, I am happy you have a client who is using the iPad actively. As I said in the post, magazines would be stupid not to do this – and I am glad you have a chance to hone your skills still now early on when the party is being set up.

      But what I am very worried about is the daily news – my playground – which is a real black hole. There… it’s back to the comfort zone…”let’s do what we know how to do, because that’s what we have always done … I mean, the problem is the readers and not us, right?”

      Reply

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