Monday, May 23, 2011...9:00 am

Will the iPad be the saviour of journalism? Maybe – but it could be a bitter tablet to swallow

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Could the iPad be the saviour of journalism? Maybe – but only if we are able to swallow some unpalatable truths.

Nielsen’s been doing some interesting research on digital tablet users (iPads and the like). Apparently they are more valuable than users on other devices, including smartphones and PCs. They like (or tolerate) advertising more, they consume more content and are more likely to buy something after they see an advertisement.

People also rather like their tablets. Nielsen says users who have bought a tablet device start to use it more than their laptop or desktop PC.

Tablet owners are still very much in the minority – only about 5% in the US and 1.3% in the UK, according to someone from Deloitte, quoted everywhere, but with no real source to back him up. Which means any numbers about how valuable tablet owners are need to be treated with caution.

But even so, anecdotal evidence from publishers and bloggers shows that more people are visiting content sites using iPads, and the numbers are growing.

Why are media owners likely to get excited? Because, unlike ordinary PCs, tablets are much more proprietary. To access content you need to buy apps – and tablet makers, like Apple, are much more in control of the user experience than they are on PCs. Which makes it more difficult to access copyright material without going through paid for channels. People also seem to have got used to paying for services on closed mobile systems, unlike on PC.

Very old readers will remember the early days of the world wide web, when internet service providers tried to keep web users a prisoner in their “walled garden” of web services. For may early users, AOL was the web – anything that AOL didn’t offer didn’t exist.

But that didn’t last very long. It was very easy to find rival ISPs to open the door to the chaos and anarchy of the early web. And easy to find software tools to help you – everyone ran Microsoft’s OS, apart from the few Apple die-hards, so there was a de facto standard. And content spilled onto the web in such profusion that free seemed to become the only possible business model.

But finally things seem to be swinging the content owners’ way. Cleverly, rather than try to fence off internet content (take note, Rupert Murdoch), tablet makers are turning the device itself into the walled garden.

Which means that web users will pay for content – as long as it’s delivered to them on an iPad (or similar). They’re willing to pay not because the content is necessarily so valuable, but because the device itself is very desirable and they want to use it.

So, yes – the iPad may be the saviour of journalism – but only if we understand that, in the process, journalism will just become a nice accessory for the iPad…

1 Comment

  • Great post.

    Think your last line sums it up. What are apps? They make sense on smartphones because it speeds up content delivery (or at least you get the navigation as part of the app, you still have to wait for the ‘content’ to download). There is solid logic in having apps designed for small screens and slow mobile connections.

    Apps on the iPad seem less compelling.
    I’m sure they do encourage people to stick with content for longer, which will appeal to content publishers. But this is content publishers attempting to make life difficult for users.

    You’re certainly right about the whole proprietary thing. History shows, particularly the AOL story, that people get pissed off. Newbies liked the simplicity of the garden. It was fast, when back then much of the net was slow. But eventually they were pulling down the walls because they wanted more and AOL wasn’t quick to innovate.

    Now look at AOL.

    I try to think about how people use the iPad compared, say, to a laptop. Users may be sat at the sofa or on the train, rather than the desk. But I’m not sure if many of the apps really deal with this.

    The big app weakness is the lack of interactive and social aspects. I am already starting to get annoyed by the number of apps I end up downloading and the constant updates.

    But Apple wants to keeps apps going as it has revenue cut and the fact that the iPad doesn’t ‘do’ Flash means that they still have a future. And certainly a future for video and games.

    But a savior of journalism? I think not.
    Steve recently posted..Data mapping &8211 more than pretty pictures

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