Early iPad impressions: device a winner, business model for news companies still in question


I finally had an opportunity to play with my new toy, Apple’s iPad.

Being Canadian, I had to wait until I could get one from the United States since the Canadian release has been postponed until sometime in late May or early June. I will say that, overall, I like it. First impressions: it’s somewhat smaller and much heavier than I expected, and it’s really easy to use.

I was very impressed on the ease of set up, link to your iTunes account, and a few clicks later and you are good to go. I’ve been reading all the hype about this device since it was announced a few weeks ago and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Many had touted this device as a real game-changer for newspapers and magazines. I think I agree, it might just be.

This is the first device I’ve used that has all the right attributes to make it a winner. The size is manageable, the feel is good, and the reading experience is quite enjoyable. I can actually see myself with my morning coffee enjoying a newspaper or magazine of choice. For comparision purposes, I think the Kindle is still a better book experience, but that may change over time. I like the weight and feel of the Kindle (iPad is much heavier), but it just doesn’t work well for newspapers and magazines.

The apps for the iPad are few and far between at this point but are coming on fast; I did try out a few and generally found them to be quite user-friendly. There is no doubt the range of options will grow rapidly.

I found the Time app to be a great way to display a magazine. It was easy to use and offered a great reading experience. It was almost like I had a hard copy in my hand. I normally have a half dozen magazine subscriptions coming in at any time, and I really can see me shifting to this format as my favorite titles become available. Pricing will likely determine the pace of my change, I’m willing to pay, just less than I pay in print today. Time has set a nice bar for others to follow, truly off to a good start. Their embedded browser to scan top stories is just one example of what they’ve done right.

There are free apps for weather and recipes from all-time favorites, the Weather Network and Epicurious. Generally they offer a good experience, easy to use, clean crisp displays. Makes cooking in the rain all that much more enjoyable.

As for newspapers, USA Today, New York Times and Wall Street Journal all have early offerings. Normal newspaper sections such as News, Business and Sports are readily available and easy to navigate. Advertisements, photos and videos all have their place. The offerings are what you would expect – no real surprises. The real trick here will be finding a long-term business model.

After trying out the apps, I spent time using the iPad to surf the internet – what a nice experience. I specifically wanted to check out other news sites and found regular newspaper web sites worked very well on the new toy. Specifically I read about the Dodgers on the L.A. Times site. Then on the Toronto Star website, thestar.com, I read about how my beloved Blue Jays continue to fall in the standings. I was very impressed with how both newspaper web sites delivered on the iPad. In fact, I wonder for most mainstream newspapers how an iPad app can better deliver on the experience, especially enough to actually get people to pay for an iPad subscription. Seems like the print problem all over again – free online, so why pay a subscription fee?

It really is early days, but let’s hope that newspaper organizations don’t miss another opportunity to build a business model with a new piece of technology. If we simply repeat our actions of the past we will likely find ourselves with a new delivery platform but without a business model to support it.

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