Industry support and enthusiasm for Apple’s iPad leaves one item of outstanding business, writes Peter Coleman
It’s amazing the way an impending deadline concentrates minds: When Apple founder Steve Jobs unveiled his company’s iPad device in January, there was yawning ambivalence on the part of some publishers.
Not others however, the ‘New York Times’ getting on the bandwagon in time for the launch, albeit at short notice: “There’s no place for ambivalence in digital publishing,” Marc Frons, chief technology officer of nyt.com, told me during the Media 2010 conference in Sydney.
Will it change the way people consume news: “To me it’s the first device that’s truly convenient, truly portable and yet very readable, very easy to use,” he says. “Yes, it’ll change things, and you need to be there.”
Illustrations of content from the ‘New York Times’ featured prominently at the Apple launch, and the paper’s senior vice president of digital operations Martin Nisenholtz and Jennifer Brook spoke at the event. It seems their team had only started to develop the app shown at the launch three weeks before.
Leadership from one of the world’s biggest news website – nyt.com has also announced that it will ‘go paid’ in early 2011 – and the impending availability of the iPad this month had also focussed the attention of other publishers, some of whose columnists has been the naysayers of the launch announcement.
In Sydney, Brian McCarthy, whose company Fairfax Media had sponsored the Media 2010 event, was talking about it as “a wonderful opportunity for a paid model”.
Fairfax already has iPhone apps which allow readers to buy its publications and more are apparently in the pipeline. Now the company is eyeing revenue from iPad users via subscription or content download models.
The publisher has a stated preference for the Apple device over Amazon’s Kindle – initially favoured by rival News – and has begun talks on issues including how it will retain control of subscribers.
Elsewhere in Australia, national broadcaster the ABC – which is currently rebuilding its web presence in a project with Core Media – has been among the first in the country to commit to iPad apps.
Whatever use publishers make of it – and it’s clearly a great way to browse free web content – there’s little doubt the combination of mobile and laptop functionality creates an opportunity which goes way beyond reading digital facsimiles.
Developers of e-edition products have been among the first to announce their support for the iPad, but the device’s real potential is to access dynamic news and information sources, expanding on the potential of smart phones such as the iPhone.
Dutch newspaper software developer WoodWing said it would have tools for the iPad to show guests when its seminar tour opened in New York this month. And Atex says its content management system can already be used for direct publication to e-readers and tablet devices including the iPad.
WoodWing’s Hans Janssen says the Apple device is certain to boost the success of media consumption through handheld devices. “This offers a host of possibilities for publishers to create new sources of income, and it’s our task to provide them with the right tools for that job.”
The company says its developments have covered workflow for interactive digital publications, as well as creation of a native iPad app. It launched a customisable iPhone app service for newspapers at IfraExpo in Vienna in October.
President Erik Schut says the iPhone experience enabled creation of an iPad reader app capable of displaying attractive-looking content containing a mixture of text, audio and video, along with intuitive and easy navigation. The company says it has been “working closely” with key customers on these developments.
The iPad tools were being unveiled during the first stop of WoodWing’s ‘world tour’, at the Time-Life Building in New York City.
Atex says worldwide e-reader shipment volume is expected to reach 19.76 million units by 2013 – according to a report issued by industry analyst Gartner – a substantial increase from the 3.05 million units shipped in 2009.
It claims ‘out-of-the-box’ functionality to streamline digital content publishing. Depending on the device used, a media company can track the content customers like most and allow readers to leave comments and answer poll questions. A content solution can feed user-generated content back to editors as well, allowing constant interaction with readers.
Head of global product management Peter Marsh says the company has a team dedicated to e-reader and tablet device development.
Another company announcing its support for the iPad is Pressmart, which provides ‘same-as-print online editions and other services for publishers in 50 countries. It already supports e-reader devices such as Kindle, Sony, Nook and Cool-er.
The company says publishers will be able to use its software-as-a-service platform to convert and distribute their print publications in an iPad-ready format and custom branded apps.
“With the iPad’s larger screen, the mobile consumption of news and general content through websites and apps is expected to surge heavily,” says founder and chief executive Sanjiv Gupta. “iPad is made primarily for content consumption and publishers do not want to lose out on this opportunity. Publishers who do not have a rich, community-driven website or a mobile app can now use Pressmart to create one.”
Australian e-reader developer RealView says it has started developing and testing “a new reading experience” on the iPad. “Our current viewing solution will also work without change,” says chief executive Richard Lindley.
“There is no doubt the iPad is good news for publishers. Everything from retail catalogues, consumer magazines to business journals will have significant new opportunities on this new device.
“The ability to sit back and relax to read a magazine rather than hunch over a keyboard will revolutionise the digital publishing medium.”
In the USA, comments by incoming chairman of the NAA Mark Contreras have been taken to mean the publishers’ organisation may develop a platform which would enable Apple to distribute content from multiple newspapers.
“The industry is working on a project that would enable Apple to offer content from multiple newspaper sources,” he told Forbes.com in February.
The new Apple product has a 246 mm touch screen and access to the same applications store as the iPhone and iPod touch. The New York Times reader shown at the launch makes use of the larger screen to improve interactive aspects of the experience similar in some respects to the paper’s latest iPhone reader.
The Times Reader 2.0 calls for a subscription, and its publisher says it will launch a metered pay wall on its website, so charges for iPad content are likely. Payment mechanisms could already be in place, as Apple claims its iTunes store already holds 125 million user accounts with linked credit cards.
In Australia, the topic of pay-for-content is being avoided for the time being. Fairfax Media’s the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ said News Limited spokesman Greg Baxter would not tell them about its Australian iPad plans – why would it – but its own chief executive, Brian McCarthy was enthusiastic. “It could prove as important a development for the printed editions of our newspapers and magazines as it will be for our websites,” he says.
“It will allow papers and magazines to be easily read electronically in a format that many readers like while also linking pages directly with breaking news and videos on our websites.”
There’s a problem to fix, however: A frustrating stalling-point with the iPhone has been the absence of Adobe’s Flash Player technology, although it can be built into specific apps. Flash presentations in web pages – such as those on the homepage of www.gxpress.net – appear as blanks when viewed on the iPhone.
We’ve read the arguments about Flash being unable to work with touchscreen control – that it can’t know when your finger is just hovering over the screen – but not everyone wants an iPad just to play games. Inability of Flash content to work on the iPhone/iPad browser, or inability of Apple to work with Flash developer Adobe... we’re not sure. But we’re pretty sure there’s a workaround which will still deliver the ‘extraordinarily high-quality user experience’ Apple expects. Just fix it, guys.
Pictured: Free and easy – iPad simulations for the ‘Metro’ commuter freesheet from UK developer PageSuite
(From GXpress Magazine, March 2010)