Doomed iTablet to save doomed newspaper industry

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My fellow ITworld.com blogger Peter Smith has an interesting post today about the potential audience for an Apple Tablet. He offers a necessary caveat that tech nerds need to keep in mind: the ways of tech nerds are not the ways of everybody, and those of us who value our total mobility, device-wise, bringing our laptop with our life's work with it wherever we go, are in the minority. Most Americans drive to work, drive home, and sit on the couch to watch TV, so maybe they could be convinced to sit on the couch and surf the Web (or watch streamed digital movies) instead.

It is apparently this couch-sitting demographic that Apple is aiming for, and using in turn as a lure to fill the device with content. An interesting rumor comes from Gizmodo, which reports that Apple is in talks with newspaper and magazine publishers to bring their content to a "new device". I can see a roll-out of the iTablet involving "content partners" from the New York Times and National Geographic being trotted out, explaining how you can lie on your couch and download their publications onto your shiny new toy (for a fee, of course).

I can also see this model flopping terribly. I have the New York Times app on my iPhone (which was free, though I would gladly have paid a few bucks for it) because reading the paper's Website on the Safari Mobile browser would be irritating. If I had a full-sized (or even a 9-inch) screen, it wouldn't be. As long as that Website is free, it will be hard to compete with.

More to the point, it smacks of the sort of terrible experiments these publications do where they try to replicate the experience of reading it on paper, only on the computer -- you know, like newspapers with "electronic editions" that are just giant PDFs. It's also similar to another experiment of Apple's that I'm not too sure about -- iTunes LPs, which strike me as a sort of half-hearted stab at taking something that worked really well (the large-format LP cover and notes) and porting it awkwardly to the digital realm. It's not to say that people might not be interested in sitting on their couch with their iTablet, reading Time magazine or, for that matter, checking out the extra material from an iTunes LP. It's just that I'm not convinced that either thing is the sort of lightbulb-over-the-head I-have-to-buy-the-device-that-lets-me-do-this incentive to drop $700 or more on yet another piece of computer equipment.

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