The buzz keeps growing and growing around tablets - electronic devices with a touch-screen interface, e-reader capabilities, as well as web browsing among others.
Rumors about Apple's tablet, or the iSlate, as it is now being called, have been gaining momentum as the elusive and innovative device that is supposed to look like a bigger version of Apple's iPhone, prepares to launch early this year.
Several other big high-tech players have also lined up to present their own versions of the slate. Just this last Wednesday, Microsoft unveiled the Hewlett-Packard yet to be named tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Microsoft's CEO, Steve Ballmer, highlighted an upcoming slate computer from H.P. set to ship this year in an on-stage demo. As The New York Times reports, the device appeared to have a 10-inch and 12-inch screen and had a copy of "Twilight" loaded up on the display to show off its e-reading function. The H.P. device was running Amazon.com's Kindle software for P.C.s but outdid the Kindle by providing a full-color display. Microsoft and H.P.'s slate had a touch-screen and full multimedia support.
Tablets vs. E-Readers
In fact, a slew of upcoming tablets and similar mobile devices with full-color LCD displays may eventually consume the e-reader market entirely, Canada's The Globe and Mail reports, as Amazon's Kindle e-reader faces stiff competition from the tablet computer's e-reader capabilities.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Rob Enderle, a principal analyst at the Enderle Group technology research firm, explained that the tablets have the advantage of LCD color screens, while "the advantage of e-readers is their battery life and that the text is more readable".
About six million e-readers are expected to be sold in the U.S. market this year, double the number from last year, according to research firm Forrester. Even though e-readers have become an important niche for electronic gadgets, mostly among older users, its high price has kept many possible customers away - the Kindle DX, a high-end e-reader from Amazon.com, has a price tag of $489. For now, the cost of a tablet does not seem to offer much relief, as speculation puts Apple's iSlate at $1,000. Furthermore, these pricey e-readers are far from being a "must-have" product for many consumers. So far it seems that the survival of regular e-readers as the arrival of tablets approaches may still rest on their price tag.
How newspapers could cash in on tablets
For news publishers, the opportunities e-readers, from the Kindle to the iSlate, offer are clear. This week, NewspaperDirect, a digital newspaper distributor, announced it is adding support for the Kindle, boosting the number of newspapers and periodicals available on the device by 1400, according to The Globe and Mail.
Indeed, some do believe that the e-readers could save newspapers in an age where the way consumers access media is rapidly evolving. Although some observers have remained skeptic of the tablets' abilities to "save" newspapers, these notepad-size wireless computers with full-color do offer the newspaper an innovative way to reach new, and possibly younger, consumers.
According to the Innovations in Newspapers blog, these new tablets, like the Apple iSlate, could benefit the newspaper industry if newspapers fully embrace multimedia content production and multiplatform distribution, with an equally slick design and presentation. The arrival of these tablets could give way to more investment in quality content, digital creativity, and multimedia talent in the newspaper business if they are to capitalize on the new audiences the slates can generate.
But, can e-readers and slick, wireless, touch-screen tablets save newspapers?
Despite an expected increase in e-reader sales across the U.S. this year, it is unlikely that newspapers will benefit greatly for they receive only 30% of the revenue from Kindle subscriptions, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. In fact, if all print subscribers to The New York Times changed to a Kindle subscription, the daily newspaper would not make enough to cover the costs of running a newsroom. Given that the device carries no advertisements, revenues cannot increase dramatically. Ultimately, for the Columbia Journalism Review, the Kindle is "another way for newspapers to lose money."
So far, details about the revenue-sharing system the slates would utilize with newspapers and magazines have not emerged. However, the possibility of advertising on the slate could open the door for financial benefit for newspapers.