Some Thoughts On Tablets

Like a lot of you, I was pretty excited to hear about Apple’s iPad (terrible name) today. I was glued to Gizmodo’s live blog of the event and like what I saw. I don’t currently have an iPhone or iPod Touch, though the missus just ordered one for her birthday today (she was hoping the conference would announce some new iPod Touch info and was pretty bummed they didn’t). My cell phone is the LG Envy Touch which works well for checking email, browsing very basic websites and making phone calls, but it has nowhere near the apps that the Apple phones do. The main reasons I don’t have an iPhone are the cost and the fact that it’s on AT&T which doesn’t hold a candle to Verizon in New York. Plus I’ve heard it’s a pretty shitty phone. So, even though my phone isn’t all that rad, it did completely revolutionize my thinking about information. I could literally look anything up at any time. I know people have been doing this for years, but it was a game changer for the way I thought about things. Okay, this post turned out to  be pretty long, so hit the jump if you want to read the whole thing. I hope you continue reading and make comments as I’m really curious to see what other people think of this.

I think the iPad and other tablets will do the same thing, but in different ways. I don’t think this thing will replace laptops (like the MacBook I’m typing on right now) or iPhones, but they will occupy the same space as netbooks and ereaders. For me, as a writer and someone who dabbles in video and music editing, I wouldn’t want to give up the power of my laptop for something that can’t handle multitasking. But, that’s not to say I wouldn’t purchase a tablet. Aside from the radness of a larger scale touch-screen which looks and seems crazy futuristic, I can definitely see these tablets replacing a good chunk of print media. Assuming Apple does iBooks and iMagazines (not an official name, I don’t think) as well as they’ve done iTunes, the mass digitizing of reading material probably won’t be far off.

But that’s not to say the magazine industry will be moiderlized, just changed. Like that video I posted a few weeks back of Sports Illustrated’s plans for tablet versions of their magazine shows, there is all kinds of potential for these things. From in-story videos to retaining magazine-like layouts, the potential for creativity is huge here. It actually makes me wish I was still at ToyFare (or worked for a very similar, but different magazine) because there are so many fun things we always talked about doing with sound and video that are just impossible with print.

I feel like I should very quickly point out the reasons I think the magazine format should stick around in the age of internets. For me, websites are great for quick news. I don’t generally read really long posts (which this is turning into oddly enough), but I do read long form magazine articles. Plus, magazines seem to get more indepth on topics. I guess these are all barriers that could easily be broken down, but that’s the way it is right now. Even the biggest blogs all seem to editorialize while still whining about why they’re not considered big time legitimate news sources. Of course, I’ve read magazines that do the exact same thing, so maybe my standards are outdated (or maybe other people are wrong, let’s go with that).

All of this does raise a question in my mind, though. Why can’t we just do these things on a laptop or computer? I’m sure you can, it just hasn’t been done yet. But, I’m hoping that the iPad and other tablets will be crazy popular, which will lead to digital versions of magazines and comics that can be purchased, downloaded and read on either that piece of equipment or a laptop. It’s kind of the reverse of MP3s. People were ripping their music long before the iPod came along, but once it did, the format blew up even more and created all kinds of other digital music players. Your dad probably wouldn’t have MP3s of his music were it not for the popularity of the iPod, is what I’ms aying. This time the hardware will come first and hopefully change things for every other piece of hardware.

Another really exciting aspect of magazines or comics on tables is the idea (fact?) that it will put everyone on a more level foothold, from established mags to young upstarts. In print media, you need money (usually based on ad sales) to pay for all the bells and whistles like color printing over black and white, glossy pages and, well, pages themselves. The way it works is that the number of ads you sell generally determines the number of pages you have to work with. You’ll notice with the decline of the magazine industry that your average mag has gotten thinner. I just got an issue of Wired in the mail that 114 pages whereas the previous issue had 130.

Sometimes, those expenses can make or break a comic or magazine. But, with this type of format, you’re taking the physical limitations and expenses out of part of the equation. You don’t have to pay for paper this way, just the work being done, the words being written and the pictures being shown. There will, of course, be differences in the programs and software that people have access to (Sports Illustrated will have more money to spend on this stuff than say, UnitedMonkee Monthly), but I think that could lead the way to more smaller press magazines, comics and even books by taking a huge chunk of the publishing costs out of the equation. I have no idea what it takes to get your material up on iTunes, but I’m hoping they’ll either have an “indie” section or allow developers to create magazines, books and comics in whatever format is compatible with the iPad. I would also imagine the digital format and lower costs would make investors more likely to buy into a magazine concept because it would be less of a financial risk.

Now on to a few negatives. The shape looks awkward and slippery. I’m sitting here with my laptop on my lap trying to imagine how I would sit comfortably and work on that thing (though, again, I probably wouldn’t use it for stuff like this). But still, even if I was using it just as a reader, it looks hard to hold. I’ve got no idea how they can work on the shape thing though, that will just have to either win people over or fail colossally, which I doubt will happen considering Apple’s track record. I’m also trying to imagine sitting on the train with it and it makes my back hurt just thinking about it. I can see how people who already have an iPhone of iPod Touch wouldn’t care about this. It seems to go against the current tech mentality that smaller is better. But, for me, there are some things that demand a larger viewing experience like mags and comics. I can also see this larger device bringing in people who might not have been interested in such a small device (read: older people). Again, it’s not just about the device itself, but what it can show people, like how good books, magazines and comics look on it.

So, in the end I’m hoping that tablets, which I’m sure the iPad will be the most popular at least for a while, will show the world that the magazine and even newspaper format is still viable. That having an editorial structure is actually a good thing. And that it will reduce the costs that go into putting a magazine together. I’m also hoping that whatever new formats are created are artistically exploited as well as they can be by intrepid artists working in every and all fields from comics to writing. I have no idea what those things will be, but I can’t wait to see them.

2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts On Tablets

  1. I gotta say, I’m not convinced that this device is gonna do anything good for print media. Personally I don’t enjoy reading long articles on the web because after a page I can feel my eyes start to ache.
    The problem with reading on lcd screens is the eye strain. E-Paper displays like the one on the Kindle and all those other e-readers solve this problem. It presents a mostly matte display with no backlighting and decent contrast. When I picked up the Kindle for the first time i was amazed that hours had gone by and my eyes felt fine. Just as if I was reading a real book.
    This iPad is a step backwards if one of its main focuses is reading. I think as a general web device it will do a great job and people will love it. Interactive media will probably take some interesting twists and turns becuase of this thing. But if they really wanted to focus on print type media they should have done an lcd with a passive color E-Ink display like Pixel Qi’ 3Qi. But thats just me ranting.

    1. Hey Yianni, good to hear from you. That’s a really good point that I didn’t think about and probably something that will get changed in a future version I would think.

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