Do you remember the disappointing iPad media event of 2010? You know, the one where Apple announced their magical, revolutionary device that can't run more than one application at the same time, won't have built-in videoconferencing, doesn't support Flash, and whose name sounds the same as the iPod's when spoken in Boston.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't crushed; I've never been an Apple fan-boy. My iPod Touch is gathering dust right now because I refused to cave into Apple's $10 milk-the-early-adopter patches (yes, even the one that enabled Apps).
Starting today, however, things will be different. I'm joining the Cult of Mac. I'm in the market for a Mini, and I'm going to buy an iPad. But there's a catch. I'm not doing this as a consumer; I'm doing it as a developer. The iPad can save the news industry, and I want to help.
The Simpler Days of Killer Apps
It seems like only yesterday when you required the fabled "killer app" in order to unleash the full potential of a technology. At some point, Apple decided that instead of worrying about spending time making these things themselves, they would just launch an App Store and let everyone else do the work.
Apple released the iPad without a killer app. This was a problem because we didn't just expect one -- we need one. We need this tablet to redefine the way people access media content in order to make newspapers and magazines viable in the digital age.
It's hard to believe Apple didn't know about our needs, and yet we are sitting here without a media revolution...Or are we? Maybe they just assumed that people would recognize the inherent potential of a lightweight, attractive, networked platform that comes with a relatively inexpensive 10-inch touch screen and an automatic critical mass. When you think about it that way, the iPad might not be so horrible after all.
The Potential of the iPad
Before thinking about what a newspaper-saving application might look like, here are four reasons why the iPad should be exciting for the news and publishing industries:
- It is a giant iPod Touch: People say this like it's a bad thing, but for anybody who likes iPhone/iPod Touch apps, consider that user interfaces for the iPad don't have to fit on something the size of an index card. In the land of touch screens, extra space means more content, more features, and more potential.
- Touching is better than clicking: Tablets aren't a new concept, but existing tablets tended to run awkward ports of mouse-based operating systems. Since Apple created the precedent for successful touch application platforms, I can only assume that this will be a ridiculously engaging way of consuming media.
- It will be quick: By porting the iPhone OS to the iPad, Apple ensured the iPad would have the screen real estate of a laptop without its lengthy boot time. This might not sound like much, but instant gratification means you will be far more likely to use it for short periods of time (just like you might with a smartphone). You will pick it up at the breakfast table while sipping on OJ, sneak in some time right before going to sleep, and use it for a few minutes while waiting for the train.
- There is an established distribution mechanism: Because the iPad uses the App Store, it will be easy to get our revolutionary applications out into the world.
What Would a Killer App Look Like?
Let's pretend that the iPad (or a similar tablet) will catch on in the next year. How can the news industry take advantage of this as an opportunity to revitalize itself? What would the solution have to do?
Below are a few things I want to see:
- A singular distribution channel. I want an iTunes for print. It is far more powerful to have one full-featured application that can serve a thousand newspapers than it is to have a thousand simple applications that host individual newspapers.
- Publications selling information again. No more of this "giving out your content for free" nonsense. Sell your daily paper through this platform for 10 cents an issue. This will be a viable business decision for two reasons: The convenience of the medium, and the insane richness of the consumer experience.
- Far more than just text. What the New York Times showed off at the Apple media event was nice, but we need to go a few steps further. Details will have to wait for future posts, but I'm generally talking about tools for contextualization, crowd empowerment, rich media, and personalization.
- Effective and powerful content creation tools. There will be two sides to this system: the consumer facing side, and the publication facing side. Publishers need to be able to create these dynamic digital documents quickly and easily.
Even with just these four attributes one can start to see how this might help local news organizations. If done right, people would buy the newspaper again. They would add the iPad to their morning routine and flip through through the media-rich pages at their leisure.
The reason this would happen is because this system will provide a more powerful experience than anything that exists today. The tablet interface will enable things that nobody would have dreamed of doing on a laptop or smart phone. The application would be accessible because of the consistent consumer experience that comes from a common platform (in the same way that people around the world read the newspaper in the same way 50 years ago).
I wasn't kidding about wanting to dream up, design, prototype, and launch something for the iPad that will save publications; but I can't do that without getting some publications on board. If there are any organizations or individuals out there that are interested in seeking the Holy Grail, contact me (@slifty on Twitter).