Apple’s iPhone Plus doesn’t spell doom for tablet design

September 9, 2014

Critics have long groused about the death of the tablet’s use in news design. Jon Lund pronounced tablet magazines “a failure” in a 2013 GigaOM article, declaring that the “app-based tablet approach to magazines leads straight to oblivion.”

When News Corp’s iPad newspaper, The Daily, was discontinued in 2012, Tech Crunch ran an article titled “Why magazine apps suck” that rattled off a list of problems plaguing tablet publications: large file sizes, lack of imagination from developers and a failure to reach the sizable audience of iPad readers.

In recent weeks, rumors of a new iPhone with a larger screen began circulating in advance of today’s Apple event, prompting industry watchers to forecast dark days ahead for the tablet. Marketwatch’s Quentin Fottrell called the new phone “a big risk for Apple,” quoting an analyst who said the larger screen might cannibalize the iPad market. The Motley Fool’s Tim Brugger agreed, writing that large-screen phones might eat into the sales of tablets and mini-tablets.

But despite the speculation, news organizations shouldn’t be quick to abandon their tablet offerings, said Neil Mawston, executive director of wireless device strategies for consulting company Strategy Analytics. Although sales of the devices have taken a hit of late, tablets constitute roughly half of the total market for personal computing, an audience newsrooms can’t afford to ignore.

A variety of products with varied screen sizes — including Apple’s new iPhone — has fragmented the market for consumer electronics, Mawston said. This means that news organizations should be packaging their content for multiple devices, including the tablet. That entails catering to news consumers who use so-called hybrid devices, such as the tablet-sized phone and the touch screen laptop.

The McClatchy Company, which has 150 applications — including tablet versions of its newspapers — isn’t giving up on its tablet audience. Although the majority of the traffic for the company’s newspapers comes in through browsers, tablet readers spend on average more time browsing content than website readers do, said Anders Gyllenhaal, vice president of news for McClatchy. Because the landscape for news devices is constantly shifting, the company is placing bets on multiple platforms, including tablets.

“The metrics tell us how readers want their news and we have to respond to that no matter what it might be,” Gyllenhaal said.

Phones with larger screens might draw some news consumers away from the tablet, but it won’t supplant the device entirely, said Mario García, founder of García Media and an adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

“The larger-screen phone will probably lead editors and designers to prepare more curated editions for newspapers and magazines, and, as a result, may lead back to tablet editions that are more evening-oriented.”

Related: “Why news organizations shouldn’t write off tablet magazines”