New Media... a matter of participation?

This week was the week that Apple finally released their iPad, the long awaited and breathlessly anticipated tablet computer. At the 'unveiling', Steve Jobs announced that the iPad (a name scorned by many, but one I think fits well within Apple's iNomenclature) would be based on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform and that all 140,000 applications previously developed for the platform would work on it as well. I think this was a wise decision, giving the iPad immediate access to a plethora of working applications, instead of having to dumb-down Macintosh applications, or worse yet, have to develop a whole new ecosystem around the iPad.

Something that was actually shown twice at the announcement (once when Steve sat down and demonstrated the functionality of the iPad and then again when several new iPad-focused applications were showcased) was the New York Times app. I think this is very revealing because for this device to be more than a novelty, it needs the ubiquitous 'killer app'. I see newspapers and magazines (and other printed media) to be the killer app for the iPad.

What will this killer app ultimately look like? No one knows. The person to blow the doors off of the printed media reader genre is probably still overclocking gamer PCs in his bedroom, or she is still designing user interfaces for ATM machines. Practically all of the great, game-changing innovations have come out of nowhere. So, for now, we are going to have to be content with using the iPad as an analog to the traditional 'turning of the page' that we are used to with books, papers and magazines.

But... this isn't so bad. Really. While there are those who are happy sitting at their computer, scrolling up and down as they read stories or articles... I don't like it. And I am NOT alone. I like to read where I like to read. Whether it is at the breakfast table, sitting in a comfortable chair, lying in bed or (yes, here it comes) sitting in the 'library' taking care of business, I don't want to have to drag a computer around to do so.

Laptops tend to get hot, are not easy to hold, have a short battery life and must be read in landscape mode. What if I am stuck in line at the DMV or sitting in my doctor's office waiting room. I don't want to have to read an 8 month old copy of People Magazine, or squint at my iPhone. I want my own content. Of course, I could carry my Kindle but I DON'T HAVE A KINDLE. Nor do I want one. I think it is too small and I like color. Sorry.

Here at The-Asterisk ranch, we subscribe to the local daily newspaper and the Wall Street Journal. Most mornings the papers are out on the front porch waiting to be brought inside. I tend to read the WSJ and my wife tends to pore over the local zeitung. She likes to do the Jumble puzzle every day. I like to do the Crossword Puzzle in the Friday Journal. C'est la vie! Wouldn't it be nice if we could read and participate in the media of our choice on our new iPad or on our new Whatever Tablet?

Follow me through this scenario:

It is a blustery, cold and rainy day. The alarm clock ungently jolts you into consciousness. You swivel out of bed, ambling towards the bathroom. On the wall, hanging like a small picture in its charging cradle, the iPad is lit up. It was set to awaken at the same time as you. It displays your To Do's for the day and it also shows a few top stories from all of the media that you subscribe to, in the order you have chosen. You grab it from its perch and carry it with you as you wipe the sleep from your eyes.

Whether you freshen up and do some exercises, sit and meditate, or eat breakfast after your shower, you have your news and your day in front of you. You look at your schedule and get a clear idea of what you need to do today, then you tap one of the headlines that interests you. Your local paper slides to the forefront and presents the article for you to read. There are a few ads sprinkled around the periphery of the page. You read the piece and tap the picture on the page. It jumps forward and plays a video of a local official describing why something was not his office's fault. You didn't mind it because the length of the video was clearly stated in the caption and you have the 20 seconds to watch it. Along the side you see an advertisement for the local grocery store. They have fresh cherries for $3.99/lb. That is a good price, so you make a gesture over the picture of the fruit and it adds the item to your grocery list already in progress.

You close that article and choose the next one which is from the Wall Street Journal. It is a quick read, but you like to peruse the Commentary section, so you tap the tab and there are the headlines, first paragraphs, and highlights of each column. The one that you read was written by someone that you do not recognize, so you tap his by-line and a bio pops up complete with a picture and a video of him on Charlie Rose last week.

You only have a few minutes before you need to leave, so you close the WSJ and tap the New York Times article. You subscribe to the Times, but you don't have the paid subscription like you do with the WSJ, so when you pull up the article, you see the ads and can read most of the article, but the in-depth portion is not presented to you. You can still make use of the interactive ads and if you really want to finish an article, you can elect to purchase it for 25 cents.

What is really interesting, is that while you are enjoying the stories, the publishers are getting feedback about which articles are being read, how far you are getting into the article and which ads you click through. They are providing you with content, and even if you are not a paid subscriber, you provide them with revenue through ads and statistics. It is like a Neilsen box on steroids.

Beyond that, if you are curious about a word or phrase that is used in the article, you can press on the word and a definition or reference can pop up to help you understand it better. Also, another gesture on the article allows you to share your interest in the article with any number of friends or groups who are linked into your social sphere. Finally, when you are done with each article, it is conveniently listed as 'read' on your timeline so you can keep up and not revisit it unless you want to.

As you move through your day and you have time, you can catch up on more reading. On the commuter train, you start working on that crossword puzzle, using the interactive mode which lets you fill in the squares and even check your answers. On your way home, you stop by the market. You pull up your grocery list app and along with the milk, tomatoes and orange juice, you remember to pick up two pounds of cherries at $3.99/lb using the interactive coupon in the paper.

Notice that I didn't even talk about any other aspect of having a tablet beyond how the 'new' media will interface with your daily routine. The rest of the story could fill volumes. I admit that I used a little poetic license in the story with the apps, but if they do not already exist, it would take someone probably a month or two to throw them together.

The nay-sayers are certainly out there vis-a-vis the iPad and let it be known that I am NO Apple fanboy. No-sir-eee. I haven't been a fan of Apple since the Apple II days when Steve had a lot more hair and fatter jeans. Steve Jobs and I are the same age and my take on the situation is viewed through the prism of many years of wandering in the 'wilderness', writing letters, emails, blog postings, blog comments and such; begging the powers that be to take the existing pieces of technology in the tablet and touch world and assemble them in a cohesive manner. I have watched the absolute abdication of the tablet throne by Microsoft who has had a presence in tablets and touch for close to 10 years and has many, many innovative ideas sitting on the proverbial shelf in a closet somewhere in Redmond.

Then along comes Apple a little over two years since redefining the mobile phone business. It has now, I believe, redefined the tablet and mobile business. Because they have defined and provided clarity to the segment, does it mean that they own it? No, but they will remain the trend setter. Just like Nirvana defined Grunge, The Beatles defined 60's pop music, and Michael Jackson ruled the pop world of the 80's and 90's. These groups are the personification of their genre. And then there is Elvis. All Rock 'n Roll of his generation is compared to Elvis. This is where Apple is today. They are the sine qua non. Now we know where the bar has been set. Apple has defined the absolute minimum that the market will accept in a tablet and I think it is a great place to start.

I can hardly wait to get my hands on an iPad and start participating in the new media.

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