What Apple's iPad Means for Journalism Design, Multimedia & Business

The iPad is now official. It does a lot -- Web browsing, photo viewing, games, videos, apps. But what about news and information?

I asked Poynter faculty and staff for their five-minute analysis on what the iPad means for their areas of expertise in journalism.

Bill Mitchell on Apple's "retro" pitch

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The most interesting claim Apple made for its new iPad goes to the heart of journalism's future: the experience of news on emerging devices. It's a claim that sounds a lot more analog than digital.

That experience will certainly be enhanced by the connectivity, video, color and other functionality. Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations for The New York Times Company, pitched the paper's app as "the best of print and the best of digital, all rolled up into one."

But isn't it interesting that Apple Senior Vice President Scott Forstall touted the tactile strengths of the device over its technology? "IPad is the best way to browse the Web for the same reasons that it just feels right to hold a book or a magazine or a newspaper as you read them," he insisted in a video shown as part of the product launch. "It just feels right -- to hold the Internet in your hands as you surf it."

That's not how I'd describe my experience reading newspapers on my Kindle or Times Reader. And that suggests an interesting retro strategy behind Apple's claims for the iPad: delivering that familiar old experience of curling up with my favorite paper/book/magazine -- with some cool functionality thrown in, too.

Sara Dickenson Quinn on design and usability

For me, news design is about getting the reader to interact with the page. This has a more tangible feel. As a newspaper lover, I like the idea of a little more "elbow" room to work with.

With the options of changing column width and type size, I am reminded a lot of the Times Reader application.

I'm looking forward to seeing the screen in person. The resolution looks amazing, bringing exciting possibilities for photojournalists, artists and designers. It seems a bit like a high-definition television that you might hold up to your face.

This will mean a lot more design work to create apps for newspapers -- and they will have to be done right -- but the possibilities for using images and nice design are very exciting.

Al Tompkins on its effect on consumption of television and video

For consumption of journalism, it could make it easier to watch a video because you're not watching it on a 3-inch screen. The question is, can 3G deliver video that streams quickly and reliably? It's got to be better than what we have currently online. What we have even in the wired world is terribly unsatisfying.

Connectivity is the enemy of video. 3G is still not fast enough for video to run smoothly. That's what we want. We don't want to wait for video. We don't want videos to buffer; we want to play them just like a DVD. And we want it wherever we are. We're still not there with this.

What we want is a device that's more like a TV. In the past, you bought a device and then you're done. You don't buy a device and keep paying and paying and paying. It's not like a radio or even an iPod where you buy a device and then you're done. (Editor's note: The iPad can work just on Wifi, but a 3G version will cost more, in addition to a monthly charge.)

Regina McCombs on the impact on multimedia

The iPad makes the promise of integrated storytelling possible. (Yeah!) The Web has held that promise, but it is still often clunky. (Boo!) The good news is that the iPad isn't locked to HTML (Yeah!), but what it will use within the iPhone operating system is unclear. (Hmmm) The New York Times app shown at the release looks great, with embedded video. How it was built is not yet public.

The fabulous Sports Illustrated tablet demo was built with Adobe Air and Flex, which don't play on the iPhone OS. Most online multimedia is built in Flash, which doesn't play on the iPhone OS. Most audio slides shows are built in Flash. Most online video is encoded as Flash video, which -- you guessed it -- doesn't play on the iPhone OS.

So while it holds a lot of promise for better user interaction, figuring out a whole new platform, how to design for it and integrate our content management systems with it is going to be a big challenge for news organizations. (Sigh.)

Steve Myers on how it could change how people experience news

Here's my quick take as a news consumer: I use my iPhone largely for bits of news and information when I'm not at my computer. Sometimes I'll read an entire New York Times Magazine article on the little screen, over the course of several lunches or when waiting in line somewhere. Or I'll check in on some of my (infinite) RSS feeds.

I can see how news applications designed for the iPad could deliver a higher-quality experience in those situations -- especially when it comes to watching videos and multimedia presentations.

For someone who works all day at a computer, a tablet computer may put me in a different state of mind than when I sit down on the couch at night and open my laptop. Perhaps the absence of a keyboard will encourage me to watch some of those news videos that I put off when I'm at work.

Rick Edmonds on its effect on the newspaper industry

Yes, the iPad has potential to be a popular new way to get the news and a meaningful new revenue stream for the newspaper industry, which needs several of those in a hurry. Transforming, revolutionizing or saving the industry? That's unlikely.

The iPad does this, that and many other things, but it is by no means a sure bet that among the many options, consumers will value newspaper apps highly. Newspapers will have to go through Apple to connect with customers, and we don't know some important details about pricing, revenue split and presentation.

The price of the device, $499 to $829, will limit the universe of customers to the well-off and tech-savvy, not the broad-based audience that the newspaper industry has been built on.

Finally, will the iPad work for marketers better than the present roster of digital display ad options? If yes, that's great progress; if not, the impact for newspapers could fall far short of what today's excitement suggests.

Howard Finberg on strategies to develop news applications on multiple platforms

As you mentioned in your tweet, media organizations that have some development experience with the iPhone have an advantage. As usual, this means larger organizations that have the resources to hire developers or hire contractors have a head start.

For media organizations, the iPad might be helpful in making the reader experience better, more like having a paper product. Magazines might be the initial beneficiaries of the iPad before newspapers.

What interests me as much as the potential for publishers is the potential for educators. This might be the textbook of the future. There are exciting opportunities to create the right experience in a device that is easy to carry to class and home again.

There are some disadvantages to developing only in a "closed" platform: financial and user experience. Even if a media organization has an iPhone app, they should be thinking BEYOND the iPad as their next steps. The fight for mobile consumers has just started. I don't think that Amazon will stand still. I don't think that Google will stand still. And don't count out the cell phone companies.

As usual, publishers have to think about the DEVICE first, not about how they can "port" their current delivery system to a new device. New devices require new thinking.

And, now more than ever, news orgs must have back-end systems to manage all this content and get it to the right platform. That will also require investment in computer systems to make sure the right content and visuals get to the right device -- iPhone, iPad, computer, print and beyond.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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