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Explained: iPad’s role in the media ecosystem

The iPad is a premium product for premium content. It’s a lean-back device most used in the evenings, and it provides a new chance for photo- and long-form journalism.

Since its launch earlier this year, the media industry has been abuzz with talk on how the iPad will change the industry. As a media journalist I’ve already attended quite a few talks, and read an extraordinary amount of articles, on the subject, but INMAs Tablet summit in Oxford this week gave me new insights into what kind of role the iPad might come to play in the media ecosystem.

Convenience or uniqueness?

That is not to say that there is a consensus about this role. For instance, The Guardian’s Jonathan Moore said his newspaper saw the iPad more as a convenience device, its iPad app offering pretty much the same content as you find on The Guardian’s news site, while the majority of the presenters saw it as the perfect device for offering unique content people were willing to pay for.

"This has to be a premium content. If you approach it as something free: let’s just turn off the light and go home. It has to be premium, paid for, from day one," said Juan Señor, Innovation in Newspapers' UK director. He asserted that we can’t talk about tablets without talking about the rest of our platforms, pointing out that you have to have different content for different platforms.

A new chance for photo- and long-form journalism

"Tablet and paper will be premium, provide background etc, while we have to see online and mobile as mass media. You will have to charge perhaps five times more for print paper and for tablets," he said, highlighting some of the newspapers Innovation in Newspapers has remade, especially the successful Portuguese daily news magazine I, as perfect journalism to be transformed to the iPad.

Media consultant and commentator Frédéric Filloux said the iPad offers a new chance for long-form journalism. In his view, it provides three major rehabilitations: 1) Re-bundling the news. Tablets and mobile can re-bundle content, 2) Visual 3) Length.

The lean-back device

"The iPad is the lean-back device: it’s a consumption device rather than a production device – it has nothing in common with a lean-forward device such as the PC," he said. Read more of his thoughts on this here. Interestingly, Jon Einar Sandvand, digital strategist at Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, said iPad readership figures suggested it was most used in the evening, between six and ten.

"Research suggests iPad will become the leading platform in terms of how much people spend consuming media on it. It is a media consumption device. If you are a mono-media operation producing second-hand stories you won’t win from iPad: garbage in, garbage out," said Juan Antonio Giner, president and founder of Innovation in Newspapers.

Now, let me confess that I often find big media conferences tend to focus too much on ideology than on how people actually are approaching a certain issue or innovation, but the Tablet Summit offered some excellent brain food in that it provided lots of insight into how different news organisations were approaching the iPad.

Among those, the most useful was the very hands-on presentation by Saulo Ribas, creative director at Brazilian Editora Globo’s "Epoca Magazine".

Useful iPad tips for publishers

His newspaper wanted to be the first in the country with an iPad app, so they built a light version first, and will launch the full version in July. He offered five useful tips for newspaper wanting to develop iPad apps:

    1.It’s an app, not a magazine or something like that. We have to make the best use of the interface Apple has provided.
    - Good apps are non-linear. You can access content from everywhere in the app.
    - Good apps don’t require users to learn how to use it, or at least not so much. If you need instructions on how to use the app it usually means it’s poorly designed.
    - Good apps have very simple information architecture. Simplify and eliminate the unnecessary.
    - Good apps allow the users to leave and then come back to where he left. Try to produce the best reading experience possible.
    2. Think about templates not pages. What is the role reserved for the editorial designer in the age of the tablets? If it looks awesome in the iPad it will look awesome in any other tablet.
    3. Personalise: the reader is really in control. Allow the reader to define the settings of the app, the more the better. It's a big change for us because we’re very attached to our typography in our mags and papers. We have a search view. Can’t be static, people are used to search. We’ve tried to put the basic controls at the bottom of the page.
    4. Technology is content. Have programmers be part of the newsroom
    5. Choose the right flow of information inside the iPad app

Who controls the data?

Many industry experts have looked to the iPad as a potential saviour for the media industry. In essence, the sound bite I took away from the Tablet Summit which best answers this proposition was that yes, "there is a future life for the news industry if we reinvent, not if we just repurpose". We also have to keep an eye on who controls the data.

"I do believe Apple wants to become the world’s kiosk. We could end up like the music industry; we do need to be aware of what’s happening. They control pricing and they control customer data – and if you loose those, you loose out," said Senõr. That Apple also controls the customer data was new to me, but it was also mentioned by one of the other presenters. If that is the case, it sounds very worrying indeed.

Now, these are the ideas that still stand out for me, looking back at the conference. While I made extensive notes during the Summit, Marek Miller was doing such an excellent job of live blogging it that I thought I’d afford myself the luxury of taking some time to reflect a bit on the event before I started writing about it. I will return to a few other thoughts I took away from the event a bit later, but, if you want to read more about the individual presentations, do check Mareks excellent live blog from the event here.


Kristine Lowes posted a post on her blog about the Tablet Summit in Oxford.

Since reheated debates and Bill Gates are flavour of the week, let me point out that in 2001 billg was promoting a Tablet PC. But the pre-Apple success of the devices was so minimal that everybody accepted tablets were a niche market - even in the face of leaked news of Apple's plans.

Anyway I keep meaning to post this, pre-iPhone4 link (Warning: I had to skip an ad first.) It eloquently sums up my hesitation over the Apple and their iSpawn – well that and the way Apple are treating smaller developers (people have spent a lot of money developing an "app for that" only to have it rejected for unspecified reasons). So if tablet computers have really come of age, I'm not sure Appple will be the long-term winner; and I can see the MSM pouring a tonne of money into the iPad only to have a Chrome or even Windows usurp it.

FWIW I haven't got as far as porting my app to the iSpawn. But my my understanding is Apple *do* hang onto customer details. However the restrictions can be sidestepped if you give the app away for free and then charge for the content – at least the WSJ and FT are able to do that.

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