Netly: The Third Screen

Archive for the ‘tablet’ Category

Why hasn’t anyone launched a brilliant, native tablet magazine yet? The opportunity is obvious, and yet no one’s done it.

My dream tab rag would cost 99 cents an issue and occupy the space between blog (low cost, small staff, low-production value, given away for free) and legacy print/iPad magazine (high cost, large staff, high-production value, sold for $3-5 an issue or by subscription.)

Some things it would do:

Be right scaled. Employ a half dozen people—edit, business and tech included—if you want to get to 100,000 paid copies a month. Launch for free and start charging after you get 150,000 users.

Do it in HTML5. Find a lowest-common-denominator design that looks gorgeous on Safari, Chrome, Firefox and IE and keep pushing. HTML5, despite its current shortcomings, is the only answer for a variety of reasons:

  • Your magazine ought to behave like a downloaded app, but it’s really a website. That means the “front porch” is free, daily, bloggy stuff. The rest (i.e. the magazine itself) is published periodically as if it were a pay app.
  • HTML5 can do about 60% of what we can do in a downloadable app. But it’s already good enough to use as a publishing platform and will rapidly improve.
  • You can easily design a small-format version, stripped down for smartphones and a large-format version for tablets (and laptops and desktops.)
  • HTML5 gives you all that crunchy web goodness—it’s searchable, shareable and not controlled by anyone.

Use a lot of video. The iPad, and other LCD tablets in the wings, are much better to look at than read. That’s why Netflix is the killer app on the iPad. While I’m not saying you can’t read stuff on tablets—I’ve read scores of books on both Kindle and iPad—but neither is easier on the eyes than paper. Until we start seeing transflective screens like those being designed by Pixel Qi, video and photos ought to be the bigger part of the mix.

Get the pacing right. No one’s done this yet on a tablet—legacy publishers, for a variety of reasons, are too faithful to the print counterpart. But a page of print turns into 2.5 pages of 10-inch tablet—that changes the rhythm and timing of a publication radically. A native tab mag could be paced naturally.

Be wildly entertaining. Until displays improve, tablet-based entertainment will usually trump information. (See 3., above.)

After months of negotiation, a publishing consortium has come together aimed at serving the new world of tablets and e-readers. According to Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore:

Today, five leading publishers including Time Inc., Conde Nast, Meredith, Hearst and News Corporation announced the formation of a new venture to develop a digital storefront and a common reading application that will allow consumers to enjoy their favorite magazine and newspaper content on any platform they choose.

We already know that the next generation of mobile devices will be loaded with color touchscreens, flexible displays, video capabilities and other features that will make them ideal for consuming rich content and an appealing environment for advertisers. These devices will allow us to combine the best of what consumers love about magazines – quality, curated journalism, engaging content and beautiful photography – with the speed, convenience and portability of the latest technology.

The consortium has its work cut out for it—I’ll lay out a few of the hurdles facing it in a later post. But before I get to that, I’d like to make a crazy recommendation: The first thing it should do is buy the JooJoo.

It’s a foregone conclusion that, given the litigious back story between Mike Arrington and Fusion Garage—both of whom are asserting ownership of the device—that it’ll never see the light of day. This thing will be buried under a blizzard of lawsuits, and by the time it’s unearthed, we’ll all be toting around HD monofilament displays provided free by Google to anyone who gets the Google implant in their heads…

But this outcome can be avoided, boys. Call off the lawyers, and sell the thing to the consortium!

Here’s why:

When you watch the demo video of the JooJoo, the first thing that strikes you—aside from how cool the device looks—is how poorly it works on the Web! It’s slow, clunky and, for Web work at least, you really want a keyboard.

By contrast, it would be so much better as a Kindle killer—an e-reader of the first order. Seriously: Imagine reading this on that. Instead of browsing the Web, imagine downloading magazines, books and other media to it. Imagine if the gazillions of subscribers to the consortium’s magazines and newspapers were able to get one of these things for under $200, in exchange for subscriptions.

The JooJoo could address an even bigger issue for the publishers. One of the biggest problems magazine (and newspaper) makers have, in envisioning the future, is it’s a rapidly moving target. Who do we develop for? Which devices? Do we build for the rumored Apple iThing? Do we build in Flash/Air? Do we make our mags and newspapers in HTML5? Having a tablet right now would save us all a huge amount of trouble and guess work, and allow us to build our businesses faster.

The consortium, after all, is all about control. If that’s the way the publishing companies want to go, control over the device is of paramount importance and will be a game changer, not to mention a time saver.

Let’s say that the iThing, and all the tablets like it, are indeed the magic bullets for the publishing business: People are willing to pay for reliable, produced and highly packaged content. The e-mag experience is way more fun, useful and convenient than the paper magazine. And advertising—full page, video heavy, relevant, measurable—lifts off like a rocket.

We can assume that publishers will slowly stop giving away their exclusive content for free online. Many big media sites will become more like billboards, advertising the bounty that lies within pay walls, without giving away the value.

To be sure, the closer you are to news, the more you’ll still have to give away something for free. So the New York Times, Time Magazine, and so on will still have to give away the fungible stuff. But the exclusive, the highly produced and packaged—all that will start living inside paid apps.

Naturally, that’ll make it a little harder for blogs to grab the interesting bits from the pros, at least to the extent they do now. I assume, for instance, that rights holders will be more vigilant in enforcing “fair-use” limitations.

But the rising tide will lift all boats—and the blogs too, especially the established ones.

That’s because the same benefits that tablets bestow on old media will accrue to new media as well—in spades.

At the low end of the food chain, the opinion-based and gossip-mongering blogs probably won’t get subscription revenue, as they adapt to the “page” format of a tablet, they will almost certainly enjoy far better advertising revenue.

The real winners, I suspect, will be blogs and small sites that do original reporting, and are scaled in a lightweight way, with low overhead, lean staffs and a mass of loyal readers. It’s pretty easy to imagine a world in which, say, TechCrunch or TPM or even something more capital-intensive such as Slate, Makes $$$ Fast in the next few years and becomes the most efficient business model.

Digitimes has a credible-looking report that the anxiously awaited iThing won’t be available until the second half of 2010. This is not good news and the otherwise dependable Apple-beat writer Dan Frommer, is mistaken when he writes:

The only people upset by a later launch now—if it’s really true—are gadget nerds and maybe a few executives in Cupertino.

I guess by “people” he’s referring to Wall Street. But I can guarantee you that the people who run the publishing industry collectively plotzed this morning when they contemplated how the rescue ship USS Apple could be delayed yet again. And they’re floating around in the frozen Atlantic, turning an aortic shade of blue…

I am a hyperbolic guy, not to mention a purple writer, but I think it’s conservative to say that in the miserable publishing business, there is no greater hope for salvation that the iThing. With visions of giant iPhones dancing in our heads, all of us are working on prototypes of magazines and newspapers that will work on 9.7-inch, multi-touch screens linked wirelessly to stores. (See, for instance, Peter Kafka’s report yesterday on Wired Magazine’s demo.) And, while there are at least a dozen manufacturers heatedly working on their own iterations, we all await the iThing because history has shown us that Steve Jobs leads the parade. Chaos will ensue, with many idiotic and competing platforms drawing precious resources from content makers who have to try just about everything until a frontrunner emerges.

The iThing will be the inflection point and the sooner it gets here, the better for publishers.

Of course, there was a rumor over the summer that Jobs was planning to unveil the iThing in January but not ship it until June. So maybe we’re still on track? In the meantime, anyone have a cig? It’s cold in here.


At long last, Plastic Logic has not only named its soon-to-be-released E-Ink tablet, it’s named the soon-to-be-release day. Yup, it will unveil its “ProReader”—called the Que—at CES in Las Vegas on January 7. See the website for more details

From day one, Plastic Logic has been aiming v.1 at business users. The original idea was that it would be a way to move to the paperless office—users could carry around all their docs on it. But focus groups begged for other kinds of content, such as business magazines, and Plastic Logic broadened its vision.

The tablet is made entirely of plastic, which means it won’t shatter when you drop it. That’s good, but the Kindle seems pretty drop proof as well…

Interesting trivia: Since Plastic Logic’s patented display technology is super thin and flexible, the tablet could have been as bendable as a sheet of paper. But those same focus groups preferred a device with a stiff back—business users wanted something that felt more like a clipboard than a newspaper.

Extra thin, lightweight and wireless-enabled, QUE is the size of an 8.5 x 11 inch pad of paper, less than a 1/3 inch thick, and weighs less than many periodicals. The innovative QUE proReader features the largest touchscreen in the industry, an intuitive touch screen user interface, and provides access to a file cabinet’s worth of documents, plus your favorite—and most necessary—publications.

The Que will be linked via AT&T’s 3G network to an online Que store, and Barnes & Noble. Amazon? Your move.

Peter Kafka had a good piece today, as did Nat Ives at Ad Age yesterday, on industry efforts to create an open consortium among magazine and other print publishers. The idea, according to Kafka and Ives, is to create a unified storefront for content, which would help publishers maintain control of their businesses as we enter the era of the third screen.

Kafka raised a number of questions, which I’d like to bloviate about, since they strike at the heart of the future of the magazine business.

# They’ll have to convince consumers that already have billing relationships with Amazon, Apple and other vendors to sign up with yet another service.

The tension here is on the device side. If the device is cool—as in iPhone cool—we know that people will be only too happy to augment the functionality of the device with great content. And they will pay for it. They’re paying for the new CNN app. They’re paying for the People Magazine Celebrity Tracker. They’re paying for the McSweeney’s app. They’re paying for books and comic books and all kinds of things.

Getting people to pay isn’t hard if the content is worth buying. Magazine companies already have billing relationships with their customers. It should be pretty easy to extend that to new devices. And it’s not as if consumers are reluctant to set up one-button authorization accounts these days.
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500x_apple-tablet-natgeoA lot of people have been emailing me to ask about the story on Gizmodo this morning, which I feel obliged to shoot down.

Gizmodo is my favorite gadget blog and its editor, Brian Lam, is one of the best reporter/editors in Techland. But in regards to his story today, according to my sources, his sources are flat-out wrong. Apple has not been meeting with publishers to prepare them for, well, whatever it is they’re doing next.

Have people at Apple been talking to people from the NY Times? I’d be surprised if they haven’t. They always talk. Apple has excellent relationships with plenty of big media companies. But I’m told Brian incorrectly characterized the conversations that the NYT and other unnamed media have had with Apple.

In fact, I think Apple has not yet discussed the much-rumored iTablet, or whatever it is, with anyone yet—at least, not in a way that would cause a media company to act. Hell, just yesterday, in what looks like the most credible unsourced (meaning no one is speaking on the record) story yet, iLounge said Jobs hadn’t even signed off on the next device.

Of course, if indeed Apple launches something in late January, I’d be just as shocked if it didn’t have some cool app on it from the NYT or other Big Media Co. But those preparations haven’t been discussed yet.

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