Want to get a head-start on next year’s holiday shopping and get the hot gift for Xmas 2010 now? Well, you’re going to have to wait a couple weeks because it says here that it’s going to be the new Apple tablet computer (reported to be called the iSlate). Uncle Tom, who consistently scores highest marks among the Rectorati for finding kool stuff on the web recently sent out this link to a demo of things to come for mags and newspapers once the new tablets come out later this month.
But wait, don’t tablet computers already exist? Well, yes, tablet PC computers exist but if a quick perusal of tabletpcreview.com’s most recent “best of” list is any indication, they’ll soon look about as attractive as an old flip-fone in today’s iFone age. Assuming that tabletpcreview.com knows a thing or two about tablet PCs, comparing the state of the art in that category (and “still #1” according to their rankings) to what is shown in the Time magazine clip is like comparing apples to Calvados.
At the close of 2009, tablet PCs were basically laptops with touch-sensitive screens that can swivel (oooh!) and that you tap with a plastic stylus, like your uncle’s old PDA. In 2010 you’ll have what amounts to a giant iFone with a screen that you can type on like a keyboard, obviating (obviously) the need for an old-school keyboard and thus cutting out about half the weight and thickness of the machine. I think I’m starting to understand why Steve Jobs recently scoffed at the idea of Apple making a netbook. I’m also reminded of a recent event that hardcore Apple customers were invited to, at which they were given notebooks without keyboards and were asked to type using only a big scroll wheel, like your old iPod used to have. Sounded kind of kooky, of course, but I’ve got a feeling that the data that Apple gathered from those events will be evident in the new tablets.
It’s all real neat but what’s really got my synapses firing is that the print media (or at least Time/Life and, reportedly, Condé Nast) are embracing this new tablet technology. Not only does the dynamic interface that seamlessly integrates video into the traditional text and photos look really kool but I see the seeds of the rebirth of the Fourth Estate in this engagement between “print” media and über-gadget. Technology has consistently eroded the newspaper industry since the advent of radio — to the point where established, big-city dailies have gone under — and has spawned a consolidation of the reporting of information to the public into fewer and fewer hands. I believe that this contributed to the Bush Jr. administration’s ability to not only take power but manipulate the media — and by extension the voting public — as oligopolistic media outlets were more worried about losing “market share” to sensationalistic competitors than reporting the unvarnished truth.
The benefits to the bottom lines of newspapers and magazines from the new tablet technology is obvious, as their new product is eminently subscription-friendly (indeed, some newspapers are already their own proprietary low-tech readers) but could the new tablets also revive our society’s moribund journalism culture?
The new tablets appear poised to replace laptops in time, just as laptops have replaced desktops as the dominant form of computer — they should be even more portable and user-friendly than laptops. It’s also not difficult to imagine that soon most computer owners will be equipped to subscribe to and download these dynamic, interactive “print” media in the coming years. Better for readers and also better for newspapers since their production and delivery costs and logistics will be streamlined — and anyone interested will be able to get a good price on a huge, used, obsolete newspaper printing press. As flashy as the product might appear in the SI demo video, producing it is essentially just a matter of plugging content (text, photos, video) into a template provided by a proprietary software (btw, a good investment opportunity if you can predict exactly who will be producing the version that comes to dominate the industry).
No more enormous capital investment in the printing equipment; no more expenses like newsprint and ink (and no more trees sacrificed for same); no more extensive delivery networks to get hot-off-the-presses copies to everybody’s doorstep (well, sometimes) by the crack of dawn. Labor costs are essentially stripped to production of content (i.e. journalism and editorial), IT support, and — dare I say it? — advertising. Combine that with the irresistible subscribability of the product and just about everyone could start a newspaper, right? Well, anyone with journalistic talent and editorial integrity. In other words, all the folks that have been pushed out of te industry the last few years — plus all the students that will be replenishing the classrooms at all the journalism schools across the land.
More local news sources for markets big and small and less opportunity for goons like Rupert Murdoch to foster fascism through information distortion. It’s win-win-win-win! Press conferences and campaign buses will once again be filled to the gills with witnesses from across the country and across the political, social, regional, and ethnic spectrums.
But if anyone can start a newspaper they’ll all just be glorified wing-nut blogs, right? Not so fast, my friend. With a proliferation of news sources, those that are consistently off-key will be drowned out by the vast majority of straight-shooting reporters — the true believers in the essential pillar of democracy that is a healthy, free press.
Can technology save American journalism and re-civilize our society? Ya gotta believe.