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New iPad Air comes closer to all-in-one reporting device for mobile journalists

Mobile journalists — those who report on the ground and file stories at Starbucks, for instance — should be tempted by the iPad Air. While it’s unlikely to revolutionize on-the-go computing, it definitely brings us a step closer to having an all-in-one reporting device.

If you’re in the market for a new tablet or your news organization is moving in the direction of outfitting you with a tablet rather than a laptop, here are some advantages of the new iPad Air:

Weight/size

The new name reflects one of the bigger selling points of the device — it weighs just a pound. At 1.4 pounds, the last-generation iPad was already lighter than hyper-mobile laptops such as the high-end 11-inch MacBook Air (2.38 pounds) or the low-end HP Chromebook 11 (2.3 pounds). Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablet weighs in at 1.49 pounds, while the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 weighs 1.25 pounds.

The iPad Air’s lightness is an asset for reporters who might hold it to record short videos, record audio or do voice dictation while in the field. It also has a narrower frame, making typing with both thumbs while holding the device with two hands a little easier, notes Jim Dalrymple of the Loop. That might not be the best way to take notes all the time, but in a pinch the iPad Air could stand in for the old-fashioned notebook, with the advantage that the notes are already digitized when you’re ready to write.

Improved audio and video

The iPad Air adds a second microphone to help cancel out background noise, clearing up audio from an interview on the street or in a busy office, for instance. (See the comprehensive iPad Air review at AnandTech for a side-by-side comparison of audio quality between last year’s iPad and the new one.)

If you’re a reporter, that’s added incentive to bring an iPad Air along for an interview. It’s easy enough to prop up the device on a desk or table with a case, and you’re virtually guaranteed to get some useable interview video to accompany your text. Plus, an advantage of the iPad Air’s large 9.7-inch display over the forthcoming iPad Mini’s new retina display is that it offers that much more screen real estate for video editing on the go after you’re finished shooting.

Free apps

New iOS devices now ship with a suite of free apps, including iPhoto, iMovie and Pages, letting users edit photo, video and words on the go. While it might still be difficult — not to mention silly-looking — to shoot photos and video on an iPad, there’s a real advantage to having that content immediately editable and ready to be filed to web editors via Dropbox or another sharing service. Or, if you’d prefer to shoot photos and video with the much smaller iPhone, iCloud sharing beams that content directly to your iPad — assuming it’s connected to a network — with its larger editing window.

Limitations

That said, there are disadvantages to the iPad Air that might make mobile journalists think twice about abandoning their comparatively hefty laptops.

Apple still hasn’t released a physical keyboard attachment for their tablets — such an accessory is the calling card of the Surface, geared toward users who want a tablet that can function at times as a laptop. Apple has left keyboard cases to third-party accessory makers, but Apple’s Bluetooth-enabled keyboards can of course get the job done, too.

If it’s crucial that you file stories directly to a newsroom CMS, you might be out of luck if that CMS isn’t browser-friendly. It’s still clunky to switch from app to app in iOS, and users can’t run apps simultaneously. That makes the iPad a poor choice if you want to stay connected to your editor via a Google Hangouts chat window or go back and forth between your word processor and web browser to research a story. (Writing this blog post on an iPad would likely have taken twice the time it took me on a laptop.)

Still, every time the iPad’s content-production capabilities grow while its weight decreases, it becomes a more appealing component of the mobile journalist’s toolbox.

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What journalists should know about the new iPad mini

Of all the mobile devices launched in recent years, the iPad has been the most promising for the journalism business.

iPad owners are more likely than others to use the devices to keep up with news, and compared to other types of tablet owners they are more likely to download news apps and over five times more likely to subscribe to digital news products.

The iPad hasn’t been a savior for legacy media companies, but it has offered the brightest light at the end of the tunnel.

So many journalists should be watching closely and thinking critically today as Apple makes its biggest tablet-related announcement since the original iPad launch in 2010. At 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. in San Jose, Calif.), Apple will reveal a new smaller version of the iPad — nicknamed the “iPad mini,” but we don’t yet know what the company will call it.

The video of the event will be live-streamed on Apple’s website (you have to use Apple’s Safari browser to watch it).

Price will matter greatly

Since Apple debuted the first iPad, it has owned the full-size tablet market.

Competitors have failed to make a dent against Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet, but recently several — including Amazon, Google and Samsung — have carved out a niche market for devices that are smaller (7- to 8-inch screen sizes) and cheaper.

Apple's iPad has dominated the large tablet market, while Amazon's Kindle Fire leads the small tablet market, according to research by the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Price has been the main differentiator. Apple product owners cite the brand, the operating system and the apps as their top reasons for buying. Android tablet owners cite price. iPad owners report greater overall satisfaction with their devices.

And so until now we’ve really had two classes of tablet owners: Those willing and able to pay $499 to $829 for Apple’s product and those willing to pay $199 to $299 for smaller Android-powered alternatives.

Today the two shall meet. And if Apple can price the smaller iPad competitively, it may win on every other measure.

Analysts are predicting a starting price as low as $299. It would seem odd, though, to give the new iPad the same price point ($299) as the smaller iPod Touch. So don’t be surprised if it’s a little higher than that.

Is it a small iPad or a big iPhone?

Or a third class altogether?

We won’t know this for sure until we get our hands on the device and see how people use it in the wild. But the question matters to designers of news products and other apps or mobile sites.

User interface designers will need to adjust to the smaller screen dimensions. Is that button that was just right on the iPad now too small to tap comfortably? Is that two-pane layout now too cramped?

User experience designers will need to determine how and where people will use a smaller iPad. The full-size iPad is mostly left at home, used in the evenings while relaxing. The iPhone is carried everywhere and used in short sessions throughout the day. The user needs and environments are different, so you have to design differently for each. If the new smaller iPad turns out to be significantly more portable, that will change what users want it to do.

In the long run, the additional complexity may be yet another nudge for news organizations toward using responsively designed websites that adapt fluidly to any screen size.

Related: Other observations, including that one-handed reading is quite different than the larger iPad (SFN Blog) || Earlier: Steve Jobs hated the idea of a 7-inch tablet. Read more

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Digitimes, perennial Apple rumormonger, is usually wrong

Time Techland

The latest rumor of a new Apple product prompted Harry McCracken to check the track record of Digitimes, the Taiwan-based website that frequently cites “industry sources” in passing along rumors of new products and features. Turns out Digitimes’ crystal ball is pretty cloudy (which means it must not be made by Apple):

When it comes to the big Apple stories, it’s wrong most of the time. Sometimes wildly so. … At least some of its sources appear to be so lousy that suppressing their scuttlebutt would make more sense than publicizing it — and partway through its stories, it sometimes stops hedging and starts stating the rumor as fact.

McCracken was able to assess the accuracy of 21 of 25 stories (the remaining four could turn out to be accurate) and found that 16 were completely or largely “off-base.” His advice: Ignore Digitimes’ stories unless you can confirm them. On a related note, did you hear about Apple’s latest game-changer, the iTV? || Related: David Cohn says everyone who can report substantially on tech industry is beholden to itIs tech blogging over, or entering a new golden age?

(Thanks to Sarah F. Kessler for pointing this out.) Read more

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iPad 3′s Retina display will make news apps stand out, present new challenges for news orgs

Apple announced its latest iPad today, which features a much higher resolution display that’s perfect for reading and for news apps.

The new iPad could finally elevate the text reading experience on a tablet to something much more akin to reading a printed newspaper, magazine or book. Most major news organizations have released iPad apps, but the blurry, pixelated text from the relatively low-resolution iPad 1 and 2 always stood out. iPad news apps may have great looking photos, videos and interactive graphics, but text — often the core of what a news organization produces — doesn’t look that good, especially in comparison to what humans have been able to enjoy for hundreds of years.

Today that changes for the tablet market. This change could be a great opportunity for aggressive news organizations to push more users to purchase and use iPad apps. The new iPad will allow news apps to look much closer to the printed text found in a glossy news magazine, but apps will need to be rewritten to look proper on this new display, and all art assets will have to be redone as well.

Taking advantage of better resolution

The iPad 1 and 2 both had a 1024 x 768 resolution 9.7-inch display with a pixel density of 132 pixels per inch (PPI).The new iPad has a 2048 x 1536 resolution 9.7-inch display with a pixel density of 264 PPI. Everything will appear the same size on the new iPad but will have double the resolution (four times as many pixels). This is big news for the printed word.

Text on computing displays doesn’t look as good as printed text. Computer text is often jaggy, pixelated and blurry and can cause eye strain and fatigue due to its lack of crispness. Many people may not know why they don’t like reading long articles of text on computers, but they know they just don’t enjoy the experience as much as reading printed text.

“A high-resolution display can significantly increase comfort and reduce eye strain,” said Shaun Kane, assistant professor of human-centered computing at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “iPad users with low vision, who often use the iPad in large-text mode, will likely notice that text quality is less blocky and easier to read. It’s also possible that an improved display would feature better contrast, which could help users with a wide range of visual ability.”

Everything on a computer is made up of tiny pixels, usually squares. The rounded edge of a G, for instance, may appear at a distance to be curved on a display, but up close it is actually a series of block pixels that are typically square. To make text easier to read, text is anti-aliased to make contours look smoother and more natural.

Whereas aliased text would abruptly go from black pixels to white pixels, anti-aliased text would go from black to gray and then to white. This stair-step approach creates smoother looking text, albeit blurrier text.

Compare a newspaper or a book to an iPad. The text of the print publication is incredibly sharp without a jaggy edge. You can even bring it right up to your nose, and it will still look great. Forget bringing an iPad 1 or 2 close to your face; the text looks pixelated from a normal viewing distance.

This isn’t an issue, however, if a computing display has a high enough pixel density. The amount of pixels per inch (PPI) greatly impacts how good text looks on computers, smartphones and TVs. The new iPad doubles the pixel density of the iPad 1 and 2, making individual pixels indiscernible from a normal operating distance. All of the sudden text pops like printed text, making reading more enjoyable and easier on the eyes.

The iPhone 4 ushered in the original Retina display that made blurry, jagged, pixelated text a thing of the past. In fact, the iPhone 4 display is so impressive that it makes looking at an iPad 1 or iPad 2 display jarring. Retina display is Apple’s term for a display that you can’t make out individual pixels on when held at normal operating distance. The pixel density required to reach a Retina display therefore varies based on how you use each device.

But apps and websites won’t automatically look better and more print-like on the new iPad. Apps will need higher resolution assets at double the resolution. Images will need to be bigger, and video will need to be higher resolution. In fact, existing apps will look worse on the new iPad because lower resolution assets will be displayed on a higher resolution device. Try watching standard definition content on your high definition TV.

All interface elements of news apps will need to scaled up 2x to make them look crisp and sharp. Images will need to be twice as big (or even bigger if a news app and website uses low resolution photos). Because of the moving nature of video pixels, videos won’t have to run at the new iPad’s native resolution, which is above 1080p, but higher resolution video will look better. Many news organizations still put tiny, highly compressed video on their websites and into their apps. Encoding video at 720p will work fine on the new device, but lower quality video will look bad, especially when shown in full-screen.

Figuring out whether text in your news app needs to be changed

Depending on how an app is designed, text may or may not need to be changed. Any app that renders text natively, and according to best practices for usability and accessibility, will be fine. Many apps, however, don’t render text natively, and instead render text as images. Apps such as Wired, and others built with Adobe InDesign and its iPad export tool, render text as images. Forgetting the accessibility issues with this method, this text will look blurry on the new iPad. In fact, it will look worse on the new iPad than it does on the old iPad.

Unfortunately, the solution isn’t as simple as making these images of text twice as big. Wired and other apps that render text as images have very large issue sizes because images take up much more space than native text. Doubling the size of the images that render text will make this already large issue even bigger, filling up limited space on people’s iPads.

Kane of the University of Maryland said one of the side effects of a higher resolution display that requires higher resolution assets is that download times will increase and more storage will be used. Even websites will need higher resolution assets to look good on the new iPad, and those will take longer to download.

There are subtler issues that may need to be addressed. Typefaces are designed for different screen sizes and pixel densities. A font that looks good on the the iPad 1 and 2’s 132 PPI screen may not look nearly as good on the new iPad’s 264 PPI screen.

Apple changed the default font for the original Retina Display iPhone 4 to Helvetica Neue from the Helvetica that the first three iPhones used. Even though the iPhone 4 came out almost two years ago, iPads still continue to ship with Helvetica. The new iPad will most likely get Helvetica Neue, a font that just looks better on high pixel density displays, but not as good on lower pixel density displays.

Some apps with forward-thinking developers already have higher resolution assets. Marco Arment has shipped higher resolution assets with Instapaper from version 4.0 on because he and others believed it was only a matter of time until Apple launched a double resolution iPad.

Websites will also need adjustments to look good on the new iPad. HTML text will automatically look great on the new iPad. That’s the beauty of using native text over images to render text. But photos that work on websites built for 1024-pixel wide screens will look blurry on the new iPad, especially when users try to pinch and zoom in on images. If publishers want their photos and graphics to look good on the new iPad, they’ll have to start using versions at double the resolution.

Even a standard website logo will look bad on the new iPad, especially when zoomed in. News organization still get much more traffic through websites than through apps, and if they want their websites to look good on the new display, they’ll have to redo all graphical assets at 2x resolution. Read more

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Apple takes on textbooks, online courses with new apps

GigaOmEngadget | 9to5Mac
Apple is aiming to disrupt and reinvent the textbook market, just as it has done previously with music and news. At an event today in New York, company executives debuted a new textbook-optimized version of iBooks, as well as a new version of iTunes U designed to host full courses. iBooks 2 enables note-taking, interactive quizzes and virtual flashcards. There’s also a new iBooks Author software for easily creating iPad textbooks. Textbooks will start at $14.99 or less, and the three major publishers who produce 90 percent of textbooks — Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — are already on board. || Related: J-school curriculum is starting to look a little silly (Poynter.org) Read more

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Reports: Apple plans iBooks-related announcement this month

TechCrunch | All Things D
Apple is planning a “media-related” announcement later this month in New York, Kara Swisher writes. Alexia Tsotsis confirms the report and says the event will “unveil improvements to the iBooks platform” and attendance will be “more publishing industry-oriented than consumer-focused.”

There are no reports yet of what those improvements may be. Perhaps Apple will be addressing some of the features that e-book rival Amazon offers, like the ability to lend a purchased e-book to another person, or apps to read an iBook on something other than an iPhone or iPad (PCs, Android phones, etc.). Regardless, it will be something to watch as e-books play a growing role for news organizations and individual journalists.

Related: Nicholas Carr on the malleable e-books of the future (WSJ.com) Read more

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Few news apps have migrated to Apple’s Newsstand, despite benefits

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McPheters & Company reports that only 8 percent of the 4,000 tablet and mobile news apps it tracks in its iMonitor database had joined Apple’s virtual Newsstand by the end of October. The other 92 percent seem to be missing out, the report says, as “publications heavily promoted on the Newsstand have reported sales 2.5 to 10 times higher than previous levels.” || Earlier: Why Apple’s virtual Newsstand is driving a surge in magazine, newspaper iPad app subscriptions | Full coverage of Newsstand. || Related: Financial Times Web app reaches 1 million users, almost half have created a home screen shortcut icon. Read more

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Why Apple’s virtual Newsstand is driving a surge in magazine, newspaper iPad app subscriptions

A couple weeks ago I predicted that Apple’s virtual Newsstand for iPads and iPhones would provide “a little more convenience for the user, and a little more discoverability for the publisher — but nothing here is a game-changer.”

I stand by the first part of that diagnosis, but it’s now clear there is something game-changing about Newsstand. Since Apple launched it last week in the latest version of its iOS operating system, its impact has been immediate and significant. Many Newsstand apps now rank among the top free apps overall, and magazine and newspaper apps are benefiting from a surge of downloads and subscribers.

Downloads of the NYTimes apps for iPhone and iPad exploded the week that Newsstand was released. (Data courtesy of The New York Times)

The week Newsstand launched, the NYTimes for iPad app saw 189,000 new user downloads, up seven times from only 27,000 the week before, spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha told me.

That’s impressive, but it’s nothing compared to the NYTimes iPhone app, which saw 1.8 million new downloads that week, 85 times more than the 21,000 downloads the week before. Nearly one-fifth of the 9.1 million people who have ever downloaded the NYTimes iPhone app did so last week, with the launch of Newsstand.

National Geographic jumped to the top of the Newsstand iPad app chart, and as of Wednesday is 18th most popular of all free apps. A spike in downloads is great, but for a magazine like National Geographic, the real test is whether those people then purchase a $4.99 issue or a $19.99 annual subscription. They have.

National Geographic’s rate of iPad subscriber growth increased by five times since the launch of Newsstand, President of Publishing Declan Moore told me.

Many other publishers are reporting similar experiences with a Newsstand bump. What’s going on here? In part, discoverability and convenience.

Newsstand has its own section of the iTunes App Store, which makes it easier for niche and obscure publishers to find their audiences. That’s helpful, but I expect the benefit will diminish over time as the 286 current Newsstand apps are joined by hundreds or thousands more.

Newsstand collects all your publications in one place, instead of scattering icons across multiple home screens. It also enables apps to download fresh content “in the background,” so it’s already there before a user opens an app.

But discoverability and convenience are long-term incentives leading to slow, gradual growth. I don’t think they exclusively account for the sudden, exponential explosion of app downloads and subscriptions.

So what is Newsstand’s secret weapon, its viral ingredient? It is, I think, the shelves.

Newsstand’s empty shelves.

Empty shelves beg to be filled. Look around your home. Look for all the shelves, in bookcases or perhaps wall-mounted. Are any of them empty? Probably not.

If I went to your house and put up a new shelf today, you would probably find something to put on it by tomorrow. When given a shelf, a human will fill it.

Newsstand exploits this instinct. Its dynamic icon shows what currently rests on your virtual shelves. When you first install iOS 5 or get your new iPhone or iPad, the Newsstand icon’s empty shelves sit there on your home screen, looking lonely. You tap the icon, you see the full-sized empty shelves, and then you see the “Store” button right there to help you fill them. As you fill the first shelf, another empty one appears below it, beckoning you further.

This would account for why millions of people, immediately after getting new devices or upgrading their old ones last week, suddenly downloaded dozens of new magazine or newspaper apps and bought subscriptions they didn’t think they needed a day earlier. They had shelves to fill.

That’s a nice trick by Apple, which understands product design and user experience better than anyone else. I still believe, as I wrote earlier, that news and magazine apps in the long run will sink or swim based upon their individual achievements of “quality writing, crisp design, effortless navigation and a platform-tailored experience.”

But a rising tide lifts all boats, and in this case Apple’s Newsstand has given a high tide to publishers. Now they must take advantage of it.

Correction: The legend in the chart of NYTimes app downloads originally reversed the dates. The green bars are the week ending Oct. 9, the blue bars are the week ending Oct. 16, when Newsstand launched. Read more

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Newsstand launches for iPhone and iPad

Apple released version five of its iOS operating system Wednesday afternoon, which includes the new Newsstand feature that helps users collect and organize apps for newspapers and magazines.

Newsstand collects (some of) your news apps in a virtual bookshelf.

So far, the Newsstand store is dominated by magazines, including major titles like Wired, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Car and Driver and Cosmopolitan. A few English-language newspapers, including The San Francisco Chronicle, The Oklahoman and The Guardian, have Newsstand apps available.

Newsstand pretty much functions as expected, though it seems a little confusing, at least in this early phase, to have two different places for news apps. The iTunes store still has the “news” category containing all news apps, only a few of which have also been set up as Newsstand apps. (For iPad, there are 4,331 news apps, only 136 of them currently work with Newsstand.)

That said, iOS 5 is only a few hours old. It will likely take weeks for most users to download it and for most news organizations to decide whether to update their apps to use the Newsstand. Read more

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‘Journalists may have been Apple’s original fanboys (and gals)’

Washington Post
Steve Jobs enjoyed almost worshipful media coverage, says Paul Farhi, and his death “was met with the journalistic equivalent of a public rending of garments.” Given Jobs’s record, the quasi-religious hosannas were predictable, notes the Washington Post press critic.

Journalists may have been Apple’s original fanboys (and gals). Early on, the company presented an irresistible underdog story, the garage start-up taking on the corporate behemoth — a narrative Apple stoked in its “1984” and “Think Different” ad campaigns. It’s true, too, that many reporters were early adopters of Apple products, and many use them to this day, surely enhancing positive media feelings.

Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg tells Farhi that Jobs viewed the media through a complicated prism, shrewdly sizing up who could help the company and who could hurt. “It’s pretty hard for me to generalize because he had different relationships with different journalists. A lot depended on whether you were a reporter covering the company or a reviewer of its products.”

Gawker media writer Hamilton Nolan said in his “Steve Jobs is Not God” post that “when even the journalists tasked with covering you and your company are reduced to pie-eyed fans apologizing for discomforting your insanely powerful multibillion-dollar corporation in some minor way, some perspective has been lost.” Nolan’s item has over 1,000 comments, including one from Forbes media writer Jeff Bercovici, who says that “canonizing him is a form of narcissism on our part.”
There have been 2.5 million tweets mentioning Jobs since his death
Check out the words most frequently used in tweets about Jobs Read more

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