New York Times displayed on new Apple iPad
New York Times displayed on new Apple iPad

Last week’s entry into the tablet space by Apple with their new iPad has been the buzz of the technology world for days – Steve Jobs claims this gadget allows you to “hold the internet in your hands.”  It’s only 1.5 lbs, ½ inch thick with a screen just under 10 inches and has battery life for up to 10 hours – on the surface impressive. Nice job, Mr. Jobs.

While the iPad is not quite entirely a functioning laptop it comes close. Over time features such as video, Adobe Flash animations and removable storage capabilities will all become the norm. So if this device is really just a better, smaller laptop, how can it be a game changer?

 

As a product, the iPad does have clear advantages over other players in this space. Specifically, being part of the Apple family offers it clear access to millions of users with active accounts who are ready and willing to buy – Amazon has a similar advantage with their Kindle product. Both products are reasonably priced for what they are, but in reality they are expensive gadgets for many people, they will likely have a niche audience in the short- to mid-term.

 

With it’s multiple features and functionalities I wonder if iPad’s very allure may be its limitation. The Kindle is a nice pure-play reader experience, it does have its limitations (no graphics or advertisements), but it offers a clean book reading experience. No interruptions from e-mail, the allure of the Internet and its multiple entertainment opportunities.

 

Now what about newspapers? The iPad does begin to offer the opportunity for a better user experience versus what has been available to date, and I have little doubt that the offerings will continue to improve over time. The newspaper industry is still left with a fundamental challenge about paid content. If new handheld tablet offerings are indeed going to offer newspapers a new financial opportunity then the experience and possibly even the content itself will have to be very different to what is being delivered now across the internet.

 

Maybe the answer lies on the advertising front: Does the iPad finally begin to unlock the value of online advertising for newspapers? If so, the value equation could begin to change for media players. Regardless, to develop a sustainable financial model either the user or advertiser (or both) experience needs to be much different than anything we have seen to date. Click below to view where Sports Illustrated sees the future – if they and others can move things along to this level, maybe – just maybe we will see more paid media sites.

 

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As long as news remains free on most media websites I find it hard to believe users will pay for the iPad experience (or any other tablet device for that matter) in great numbers. The New York Times looks like it will be first to have both a paid site (of sorts) and an Itab application, most certainly they will invest in getting it right. The newspaper industry is wishing them luck and watching closely.

 

Is the iPad the much sought after savior for newspapers? Probably not. It’s clearly part of the equation and might just turn out to be a game changer but for now and in and of itself it’s not the answer.  If you are looking for a savior, your best bet is still church.