This week’s column is about the iPad, but first, a few words from an unexpected source: Conrad Black.
Remember Conrad Black? The disgraced publisher who went to jail for defrauding shareholders, while funneling his newspapers’ money to himself?A larger-than-life figure long before that, Black was the keynote speaker at a Canadian Association of Journalists conference I attended in Ottawa in April 1994. Black’s speech was full of the invective and needlessly complex words we expected – he also made sure that the hundreds of journalists knew that he thought little of many of them – but also had a few surprises.
One of them came when Black was asked to speculate on the future of the newspaper. Remember, this was an era when the Mosaic browser was the standard, and the phrase “world wide web” didn’t yet sound that ridiculous.
As I recall, Black said while he felt there would always be a market for printed newspapers, he also expected the news to be delivered to some kind of tablet. What it would like, and how it would work, no one knew. It was the first time I heard anyone of Black’s media stature roll out that kind of expectation.
Almost 16 years later, I think we got a pretty good sense of where things are going with Apple’s unveiling of the iPad.
To be fair to Black, talk of a tablet was in the air – sort of – back then. Apple had released its ill-fated Newton, a handheld device that was a commercial flop, but which prefigured many of the consumer electronics that have dominated our lives in the last decade, from the Palm Pilot to the BlackBerry to, yes, the iPhone.
And, now, the iPad, which came out to a good round of applause but also a loud chorus of snickers about its name and a collective yawn from many spectators, including some Apple fans. Seth Meyers made a crack on Saturday Night Live about Apple releasing “a thing that does stuff its other stuff already does.”
It seems like a fair comment, since the iPad shown to us looks like a wider, longer iPhone, with the fun of an iPod and the broader functionality of a Macbook.
But I think that’s missing the point. I expect developers and content producers (including newspapers, but also magazines, television networks and all kinds of ordinary users) to rise to the challenge that the iPad presents.
Many people are expecting the new device to be a savior for hard-hit newspapers and magazines. I’d like to see that, too, but I also want the technology to evolve – and the storytelling, too.
Let’s say you download a new edition of your favourite magazine. Maybe you’d be content to flick through the pages, ebook-style, but I bet readers will want a richer experience that draws on the strengths of new media.
So, for instance, the photograph you see will offer video; the chart or infographic will be animated, and the text itself will have way more than mere web links to enrich your experience and understanding.
On the opposite page, where you normally see an ad, expect the marketing folks to make a technological leap. Why put a static ad into an evolving medium that offers so much more?
I don’t think the next generation of content will be mere replays of what we already see on the web; rather, it will (or should) be a great, thrilling, imaginative leap forward.
I’m not sure if I will order an iPad when it’s released this spring. I want to see if the next generation solves some design issues.
However, I’m dying to see to where the app and content developers are going to go with this new platform. I think we’re off to somewhere quite exciting.
John Gushue is a writer in St. John's, and is currently on leave from his job with CBC News in St. John's. John is on Twitter right here.