iPad: Is it the end of the world as we know it?

Keeping in mind that I wrote about the rumored tablet device by Apple three months ago, it was with some satisfaction that I listened to Steve Job’s announcement concerning the iPad on January 27. As I visited with attendees at a newspaper conference in Minnesota, the interest in the new device was evident as one publisher after another approached me to get my opinion on its potential effect on the newspaper industry.


Rumors concerning the iPad were a favorite topic of technophiles over the past few months. Little did I know that the announcement would generate the excitement that it did. As I peruse the list of iPad features, I feel a strange sense of excitement and fear at the same time. Let me explain.


While researching material for my previous column, I was struck by the response of one expert who responded to my question about a possible Apple device by saying, “Look, a unicorn!”


He was referring, of course, to the inability of any device to live up to the mountain of hype. Rumors hinted at a gadget that would combine a high definition TV, along with a computer and phone. In addition, all magazines, newspapers, books and other printed materials could be viewed on the large screen with the click of a button. And Internet connection wouldn’t be a concern. The tablet would have continual access to the Internet. No need to log in to an Internet provider. And the battery would stay charged for days at a time.


It looks like some of the hype was prophetic. Streaming video and television will be available. So will books, magazines and newspapers. Plus, users will be able to browse the Internet. And with a battery life up to ten hours, my flying friends won’t be roaming through airports like zombies in search of some place to charge their computer batteries.


Critics cite some of the iPad’s “deficiencies.” Without a USB port, there’s no apparent way to transfer files between computers and iPads. Apple’s continued alliance with AT&T drew boos from some of the audience at the unveiling. Possibly the biggest criticism relates to the iPad’s inability to play Flash files, a staple for online ads on newspaper sites.


At an Apple employee gathering following the iPad launch, Jobs said, “Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash. The world is moving to HTML5.”
OK. That’s another conversation for another day. But I will say this. When Apple added the Firewire port, I thought they were crazy. Boy, was I wrong about that.


So, I’ve been getting emails from publishers wanting to know what I think of the iPad. They want to know what effect it will have on our industry. Obviously, I don’t know for sure. But I can tell you what I think.


This first edition of the iPad probably won’t be a game changer. I don’t expect most newspapers will rush to get their publications on an iPad. However, just as Apple revolutionized the music industry, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to see how future versions of this device could revolutionize the publishing world. As the screen gets a little larger, new technology emerges to enhance the iPad experience and applications abound, I could see the iPad - or something like it - changing the way many of us produce newspapers.


I’m excited about the opportunities we’ll have to create new revenue streams and enhance the distribution of our papers. On the other hand, I worry about competition coming out of the woodwork. Most people wouldn’t have any idea how to get a newspaper printed and distributed to the masses. Creating a publication and getting it on the iPad will be much easier. That part of it concerns me, as it should concern you.


That’s one reason I would strongly suggest that you prepare your newspaper for the release of the iPad. When it appears in the near future, the iPad will be everywhere. Instead of reading newspapers or working on computers in airports, I believe we’ll see people reading on the iPad . . . or something like it.


Having said that, I fully expect my e-mail to be filled with readers who disagree. Heck, I’m not even sure if I agree with myself.


It is hard to ignore something that happened on Facebook last night. I posted a question related to the new iPad. So far, negative responses outweigh positive responses ten to one.


Mark my words. One way or another, the iPad is going to change things. You might want to get in line behind me to get one when they’re released in the near future. This is one technological leap you don’t want to miss.

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