The release of Apple's iPad is a new milestone in mass distribution of information
It's never easy for all of us to get that coveted 30,000 foot perspective on the world, because we're all to busy just paying the bills to concern ourself with such things. But if we all stand back for a minute, the shapes of things to come becomes clearer. Take, for example, the future of information.
It's a complete wonder to me that we now take for granted something that was not possible just 15 years ago. The world wide web was the first instance of where the internet moved out of the hands of government and technologists and into the mainstream. Local dial-up services and consumer networking products hit the market in 1994, and within a year a massive rush to change the media landscape was born.
Those who bet on media convergence in the early days of the web mostly lost their shirts. Today, however, the money is on new modes of delivering content that mix text, audio, video, interactivity and animation. What the tech industry has struggled with is the lack of a uniform platform. There are too many standards for cabling, no coherence on user interface, and chipsets and operating systems are constantly at cross-purposes.
This weekend's launch of the iPad (and in a few weeks, a 3G networked version becomes available) – a relatively affordable, simple, powerful and proprietary computing platform aimed at all types of users – may be one of the most important technology milestones since the printing press. This sounds like hyperbole, but let's examine where we are today in terms of media.
- Media companies are struggling, both in terms of sources of revenue and retention of audience share;
- Radio and TV stations are often run on skeletal staff, with big budgets devoted to marquee morning show talent and/or news anchors;
- Journalists are scrambling to maintain a living when increasingly content is being supplied for free by bloggers;
- Free news distribution services such as Google News are increasing in influence & popularity (note that CityCaucus.com is now a Google News media source);
- The world is in love with handheld information devices – they are everywhere, and we are addicted to them;
- The market for affordable information and entertainment continues to grow;
- PR companies and bloggers are having more influence upon understaffed news rooms.
The latter point is confirmed in a recent study by PR Week:
“Social media and convergence have fundamentally changed how the newsroom operates and the way content is created and delivered,” says David Milliken, senior vice president, CNW Group. “The PR professionals finding the most success are adapting and tailoring their pitches so they are relevant to multiple channels. They are learning to serve the needs of an evolving media.”
They study says that MSM reporters are feeling obliged to embrace blogging as part of their work mix.
Despite reported workload increases and staff and budget cuts, media outlet performance has shown stability and some improvement in the past year. Still, 58 per cent of Canadian journalists perceive their current workload as heavier than last year. Canadian journalists more often cite the “tightening of budgets” as affecting them the most. This is most prevalent at traditional media outlets where journalists report an increased expectation to contribute to online news sections as well as blogs.
Blogs are evolving as news sources, as "journalists are penning more blogs, and more bloggers are characterizing their work as journalism," says the study. It's becoming increasingly hard to take seriously those who spurn blogs and their influence, as people like developer Jim Green do every week on CKNW's civic affairs panel.
The advent of the iPad is seen by some MSM as a way for their media to regain some foothold with audiences. The long term strategies for "free" papers like Sun Media's 24 Hours publication is very much focused on handheld devices as a way to circulate their news, and promote their advertisers.
The beauty of the iPad is its simplicity, and potentially its portability. Through this platform computing becomes even more ubiquitous than it is already, and less likely to be dogged by the security issues and blue screens of death phenomenon that more traditional computing platforms suffer from. iPad surpasses the "$100 laptop" per child objective by ridding itself of traditional computing paradigms. An iPad with a durable case might be the perfect tool for the developing world.
The months ahead will define whether iPad is indeed a significant paradigm shift for computing, and for media. There is no question though that Steve Jobs & Apple's latest invention is setting the right course for computing, and it will influence everything that follows it. The smart media will aggressively embrace this new paradigm in order to survive, and hopefully to prosper.