With the much-anticipated U.S. launch of the iPad coming this Saturday, media executives everywhere are waiting with bated breath for the verdict: Will the iPad save news media? No one's sure yet, but tech columnists across the web who managed to get their hands on advance releases of Apple's tablet computer gave generally gushing reviews of the innovative product, ensuring that consumers will be lining up on Saturday to snap up the small stock of iPads delivered to Apple stores and Best Buy.
At the time of its release on Saturday, users will be able to access over 1,000 apps made specifically for the iPad, with 60,000 books in Apple's e-book store. Among those apps are options from numerous newspapers and magazines, all selling their products with a range of payment plans.
The Financial Times is offering a free trial of its application sponsored by watchmaker Hublot, and Bloomberg News' app will also be free. Reuters is offering an app which BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin claims is a "free app in which video is, again, a seamless delight."
The New York Times is offering a pared-down free app, called "NYT's Editor's Choice," which includes a selection of articles from the paper which are automatically updated, video, photos, and a way to e-mail items to others. NYT is expected to add future apps with more interactive content that will be paid in the future.
The Wall Street Journal is notoriously offering a subscription-only iPad app that will cost $17.99 per month--67% more than a subscription to both its online and print versions. But Walt Mossberg, tech columnist for the Wall Street Journal, claims that his use of the WSJ's iPad app was "by far the best implementation of the newspaper I have ever seen on a screen."
"Unlike the Journal's Web site, or its smart-phone apps, the iPad version blends much more of the look and feel of the print paper into the electronic environment," he said.
Thus far, aside from the ambitious iPad app previews popping up around the net, no app that has already been launched has been lauded for its innovative use of the iPad technology. Rather, many are touting what Mossberg described as "dramatically more realistic iPad apps"--that is, a digital newspaper experience that feels more like a real newspaper and less like pixels and glass.
The New York Times' David Pogue gushed over the usability of the iPad's reader app, describing useful features which are likely to be integrated in most magazine apps as they come out.
"When you turn a page, the animated page edge actually follows your finger's position and speed as it curls, just like a paper page," he described. "Font, size and brightness controls appear when you tap. Tap a word to get a dictionary definition, bookmark your spot or look it up on Google or Wikipedia."
Early reviews indicate that the iPad works better than expected--the battery life tends to last longer, the internal processor is surprisingly fast, and no reviewer has yet complained of eye strain. Reviewers have said that the screen is brighter and clearer than that of the Kindle, does not need a light to read in the dark, and offers easier scrolling and page turning. These qualities are likely to make it particularly useful for college students, and one university, Seton Hall, announced that it will be giving a free iPad to all of its full-time students next school year.
A main complaint with the iPad lies in its inability to run video based on Java software, crippling some of the interactive content on websites when users browse on the iPad. But there's news that NPR and WSJ are creating Java-free websites based on HTML5 software, which is an alternative programming code that the iPad can process, and reviewers expect this to become the standard for most websites.
Pogue does add a caveat in his mostly glowing review: "There's an e-book reader app, but it's not going to rescue the newspaper and book industries (sorry, media pundits)."
Media execs are betting that he's wrong, with the AP, most Conde Nast publications, and, most recently, the Spectator, releasing plans for their apps. But Rory Maher, a writer at the Business Insider Research, has a troubling analysis of the impact of the iPad on the magazine industry that could easily translate to newspapers as well.
"Even if iPads fly off the shelves magazines will still only realize a small percent of their overall print revenue," he writes, alarmingly, in all capital letters. "Even if iPad sales soar past expectations and reach, say, 16 million units over the next two years total magazine subscription revenue would equal about $2.8 billion per year," in an ideal market, where iPad consumers had two magazine subscriptions on their iPad averaging at $15 per month for each.
"That's less than 30% of annual circulation revenue for the entire magazine industry and only about 10% of overall industry revenue," he adds.
And newspaper publishers still have some wrinkles to iron out with Apple execs. Publishers only have a right to 70% of the revenue made from app sales, and it is still unclear whether Apple will give up consumer information, of significant importance for publishers, to news companies.
But iPads are not yet in the hands of the deciders: the consumers of media. Though the tech pundits offer glowing reviews, and though some analysts are skeptical of the device's impact on the publishing industry, news execs are still racing to create a successful business model based on the iPad. When boxes are opened and devices turned on across the United States this Saturday, the true verdict will finally come out.
Learn more about how to make the most of the opportunities offered by the iPad with the Editors Webinars series "iPad and tablets: how newspapers can make the most out of a new platform" featuring speakers Juan Senor (Innovation Media Consulting), Jeff Litvack (The Associated Press/AP) and Al Trivino (News Corp/News International).