In recent weeks, numerous websites have posted a video that shows an iPad-like tablet being displayed in 1994. This “amazingly prescient presentation on the tablet-y future of news consumption” — as Gawker called it — came from former Knight Ridder exec Roger Fidler, who is now predicting that iPad-like devices will be ubiquitous worldwide by 2021. He tells Romenesko:
Microsoft introduced tablet PCs in 2002, but they were not the devices I had been dreaming about. They were just pen-based portable computers. Sony introduced eReaders with paper-like displays in 2005 and Amazon made them popular in 2007 with the Kindle, but most of these devices had, and continue to have, small displays that are best suited for reading books. It took Steve Jobs and the team he assembled at Apple to finally make my original vision of a tablet – a lightweight, easy-to-use, nearly magazine-size, mobile display device that could function as a popular digital alternative to ink printed on paper – into a reality. By 2021, I would expect iPad-like devices to be ubiquitous worldwide.
Fidler — now Program Director for Digital Publishing at the Reynolds Journalism Institute — was right about the iPad, but admits he missed other developments:
I completely missed the global smartphone revolution and underestimated how rapidly wireless broadband services would develop. Obviously, the kiosk I included in the 1994 video is no longer required for accessing and downloading digital content. I also missed the impact that search engines (Google mostly), non-traditional news aggregators (such as Flipboard and Pulse) and social media (notably Facebook and Twitter) would have on redefining newspapers and the news media in general.
How does he see the newspaper industry in ten years?
I’ve attached the essay I wrote for “Newspaper Design: 2020″, the American Press Institute’s J. Montgomery Curtis Memorial Seminar in 1999. There’s not much I would change if I were writing an essay today about newspapers in the year 2021. Of course I would need to add segments about Google, Facebook, smartphones, eReaders and the Apple iPad.
Some passages from his 1999 essay:
If established newspaper publishers are to survive and thrive in the next century, they must be prepared to abandon the last vestiges of industrial age publishing—printing presses and delivery trucks. Their only viable option is to make a full conversion to cyber age publishing within the next two decades. The writing is already on the wall, or, more to the point, the writing is on the screen.
By 2010, the economic incentives and market advantages of electronic publishing will have convinced most forward-thinking newspaper publishers to devote the majority of their resources to digital editions and to rapidly phase out their mechanical printing and distribution operations.
Well before 2020, established newspaper companies will be competing in a life-or-death struggle with nontraditional publishers, such as Microsoft, CNN and AT&T, and eager “dotcom” entrepreneurs, such as eBay and Amazon, for audiences and advertising dollars.
The majority of newspapers in the U.S. and many parts of the world may, in fact, no longer publish weekday editions on paper by 2020. Timely news, general information and advertising will be so pervasive on line and on the air that daily paper editions will be considered superfluous and outdated. Paper editions simply won’t be able to compete with the more immediate, more convenient and more compelling multimedia digital periodicals and TV/Web services. Only the weekend general-interest, leisure-reading editions of newspapers with their abundance of advertising inserts may survive for another decade or two as traditional paper products.