On a quiet news day, if you focus and listen carefully – over the noise barrage from 24hr news services, the hand-wringing sounds of millions of journalists decrying their lot, and the scratching of next-gen journalists at the doors of mainstream media – you can hear a small murmur of information about digital tablets.
Digital tablets, or Tablet PCs, are pen- or touchscreen-interacted computers that emphasize portability and readability, and they’ve been the answer for mainstream newspapers for years now, whether they realize it or not.
The ability to have a small, newspaper-esque (really, more ‘zine-sized) piece of gear that allows user interactivity (ie: hyperlinks, comments boxes, multimedia assets) is the boon the newspaper industry has needed for many years. Newspaper tablets allow a decent viewing size for content, a departure from the phenomenal cost of print production and distribution, and offer a sophisticated multimedia vehicle with a clean, familiar interface.
An article on The Street today discusses that the New York Times is investigating Tablet PCs, mostly in preparation of Apple’s foray into the field (something that, until very recently, Apple has denied any interest in doing). While I disagree with hyping one brand over another (particularly with prototypes), it does seem wise for newspapers to wait until Apple has entered the fray, given how they tend to be game-changers with portable, personal media devices.
Whether these products roll out in 2010 or beyond (and my thinking is we’ll be seeing them sooner rather than later), there’s little doubt that they will shake up the way we consume media – much as the iPod changed how we consume music (and, uh, media).
While I don’t think the news media should try to adapt to every new piece of technology that is released, I think there’s evidence that Tablet PCs will have strong consumer uptake. The smarter newspapers would do well to plan for this revolution now (as the NYTimes, Washington Post, and a few others are doing), rather than waiting for the change in consumer habits to dictate newspaper development.
This could be the make-or-break situation the industry’s been expecting during it’s long, slow decline.