What My Apple Tablet Means For News

The good news is, we're heading toward a period of incredible creativity in news and entertainment, with a new medium that is far superior to ink on paper.
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There's loads of buzz about this Tablet that we may or may not be developing at Apple. For now the product is entirely imaginary -- and yet, oddly enough, it's already received more reviews than most devices that actually exist. That's the nature of the beast here at Apple. And I know, I should feel lucky. Most companies would kill to have the kind of hype that we do.

Nevertheless, I despise you. That's right, every last one of you. Mostly because, for all the blather about our Tablet, nobody seems to recognize what's really significant about this device. Little hint: It's not about technology.

Brian Lam hints at it on Gizmodo this morning, but it's worth a deeper explanation. Here's the money quote from his Gizmodo article, titled, "Apple Tablet To Redefine Newspapers, Textbooks and Magazines":

The eventual goal is to have publishers create hybridized content that draws from audio, video, interactive graphics in books, magazines and newspapers, where paper layouts would be static. And with release dates for Microsoft's Courier set to be quite far away and Kindle stuck with relatively static e-ink, it appears that Apple is moving towards a pole position in distribution of this next-generation print content. First, it'll get its feet wet with more basic re-purposing of the stuff found on dead trees today.

Italics mine on the "hybridized content." Because that's the key thing. That's what Brian is getting at when he talks about "redefining" newspapers and other dead-tree products.

It's like this: New technology creates new ways to tell stories. That's the exciting thing. Not the tablet itself, but what it means for news, for entertainment, for literature. Gasp. Geddit? Is the light going off yet? This is what Anton Chekhov meant when he said that the medium is the message. This is why the Tablet is so profound.

Look what happened when TV was invented. In the early days, they just put radio stars on the TV. They did variety shows. Remember Milton Berle? If you do, that's nice, but you won't need to worry about what's coming next on the Internet.

Thing is, at first TV was just radio with a camera. But eventually people came along who invented a new language, a new way of telling stories, one that was unique to the medium.

So far with digital media we're about where TV was in 1950. We've basically just taken stuff from the old worlds of TV and print and ported it to a digital delivery mechanism.

But now we're at the point where things are going to take off. The Tablet is part of that.
Frankly, there is no point in moving to digital readers if we're just going to do what we did on paper. That's why Kindle is such a piece of junk. All Amazon did was pave the cowpath.

That's also why we've held back on our Tablet -- not because the technology wasn't ready, but because the content guys are such idiots that they still can't create anything that makes it worth putting the Tablet into the world.

It's stunning how few of the big guys in publishing actually understand this. We've invited them in for meetings, and while we're talking we sort of give them a little quiz, in the form of a very simple question: Where do you think publishing is going?

Most of them can't see anything other than what they've done in the past. To them this is all just another blip, a little shift in their business, like going from black-and-white newspapers to color, or going from broadsheet to tabloid.

But that's not it at all. We're talking about an entirely new way to convey information, one that incorporates dynamic elements (audio, video) with static elements (text, photos) plus the ability for the audience to become content creators, not just content consumers.

The funny thing is that the publishing guys still refer to themselves the "creative" side of the business -- even though they're probably the least creative people I've ever met.

The irony is, they're the ones holding everything back, because they don't have any vision for what the future should look like. Honestly, you should see them sitting there in meetings, their mouths hanging open. Sooo creative. Yeah.

Worse yet, they still have loads of attitude. They really think it's unfair that the tech geeks keep reaping most of the rewards from digital media. "Content is king," they keep saying, and I'm like, Yeah, but not *your* content. Your content is lame and stale. You're selling a product that hasn't changed since the 1950s. Hell, since the 1850s, really.

And what are the old media guys doing, when they should be out there reinventing their business? Why, they're talking to Congress and trying to get a bailout for newspapers. Good Lord! That's like organizing a bailout for black-and-white TV.

Friends, we don't need to bail out newspapers. We need to hasten their demise. Let the weak ones die. Let the strong ones go bankrupt and restructure their business. The Huffington Post can pick up the pieces.

The good news is, we're heading toward a period of incredible creativity in news and entertainment, with a new medium that is far superior to ink on paper. The bad news, at least from my perspective, is that I'll be selling a piece of hardware whose success depends on whether the content guys can dream up cool new things to do with this piece of hardware. And, as we've already established, most of them are bozos.

This wasn't the case with the iPod playing movies and music. There, we had loads of good content, and all we had to do was pry it from the owners -- I mean, strike distribution deals with studios and labels -- and find a way to spray that content over wires from an online store. Relatively easy.

But here, in the realm of the Tablet, we need to deliver more than a piece of cool hardware. We need to reinvent the way we tell stories.

My guess is that the truly revolutionary content is not going to come from the old-guard publishers. It's going to come from new guys, kids who have grown up digital. This notion of mashing together elements comes naturally to them.

Somewhere out there, a genius is waiting to be discovered -- the Orson Welles of digital media, someone who will create an entirely new language for storytelling. If you're reading this, Orson Jr., please get in touch. I've got something I want to show you. Okay? Peace.

Check out my latest musings on http://www.fakesteve.net/

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