Today's much ballyhooed announcement of the new Apple tablet has the feel of a story that broke in 2007 -- for weeks already I've been reading stories and getting Twittered link after link of stories from journogeeks about how this portable slate is going to be the savior of newspapers (and let's not forget books!) Here's an example:
Struggling US newspapers and magazines may seek Internet Age resurrection in a so-called "Jesus tablet" -- a computer expected to grab the spotlight Wednesday at a much anticipated Apple event in San Francisco.
A notebook-sized version of an iPod Touch that Apple chief executive Steve Jobs is expected to show the world could try to do for newspapers what iTunes did for music and what the App Store did for mini-programs for smartphones.
What is this "Jesus tablet" (kind of sounds like "Jesus juice," huh?) of which they speak?
We've already learned, from whispers of those in the know, that it's basically a supersized iPod touch with a 10-inch diagonal screen and it may cost about $1,000.
In addition to playing music and video, it's going to display digitized books, newspapers and magazines.
It will have a browser, Wi-Fi, the ability to run Web applications and probably an option to connect through a wireless phone network.
Place me in the "dubious" column. The Apple tablet may prove to be a very useful tool for promoting media, but I doubt it will "save" it, especially the old-school kind of media like newspapers and books. Two things, quickly:
1) Is there really a demand for this thing? Among the small circle of media and techno geeks who cover these things and who live live in a 16-hour-a-day upscale information bubble, and who also have healthy disposable incomes?...Sure. But among the masses?...considering that newspapers still aspire to be a mass medium. I think most normal people -- especially teens and young adults who consume the most media -- want two kinds devices that already exist. They want a "big" (which could be as small as a netbook) device with full computer capabilities, and they want one "small" device for all the rest, a phone-music player-Web surfer-clock-camera. This is a third device, at a size that's just great for a techno-journalist speeding on Amtrak between Princeton and Manhattan, but not for your average iPhone-adled slacker -- which is where the real money is. And no one will pay $1,000, if that's the price.
2) Even if there's consumer interest, the Apple tablet won't save journalism -- because it will be a massive distraction that will keep newsrooms from making the real changes that could keep us in business. I could go on for a couple of thousand words on this, but today I'll try to keep it short. The problem with newspapers isn't really not having the right technology. To survive, we need to change our whole worldview -- finding ways to encourage more dialogue with readers and more community involvement so that local readers feel they have a stake in this thing. And we also need to do a better job at the thing we claim to be already good at -- real journalism that makes a difference. To show what I mean, read this recent expose on the Washington Post to get a feel for how once-great news organizations have drifted so far off the track. If the Apple table has been around in 2003, we still would have screwed up the run-up to war in Iraq, and if it had been invented in 2007, we still would have missed the looming financial meltdown. How many stories we will miss now while the bosses upstairs are waiting for "Jesus" to suddenly deliver all the loaves and fishes of subscribers and cash.
Unless newspapers are giving readers what they need and what they want, it wouldn't matter if Steve Jobs invented a way to deliver the news via brain waves and ESP.
UPDATE: It's an iPad!....sigh.