By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The iPad arrived as promised on Saturday, and it is everything it was cracked up to be, except the savior of journalism. After exploring iPad applications all weekend, I am chagrined to note that the quantity and quality of the news apps was sorely disappointing.
My decision to acquire an iPad dates back to November, when Mrs. Santa started dropping hints that there might be an Amazon Kindle under the tree on Christmas Day.
I am a voracious consumer of printed material, and I suspect she has just about had enough of the 2-foot-tall stacks of Esquires, New Yorkers, and Golf magazines around the house; the two or three newspapers we get each week, and the way that books, many now yellowing with age, overflow our bookshelves. Electronic consolidation seemed a promising option.
I asked her to hold off, however, because I had heard rumors that Apple and other computer companies were going to jump into electronic publishing with full-color touchscreens, video, and the like. The more I looked into the possibilities, the more I hoped that these computer tablets could save journalism from the current crisis by enabling newspapers, magazines, and news shows to develop new, sophisticated online products that people will actually want to pay for.
Well, the iPad is everything that Apple said it would be: slick, fast, portable, fun. And the various applications that Apple has been working on—its electronic book and video and E-mail apps—are delightful.
It's the journalism apps that have a long way to go.
To start, there just aren't very many dedicated iPad news apps. Yes, there are a lot of iPhone apps that work on the iPad, but they really don't translate well. The iPad is big enough and powerful enough that it shouts for apps of its own.
Of the news applications that are available, Time magazine is by far the best. Time's editors decided to have a first-class product from the get-go and, though they didn't even receive the engineering specs from Apple until a few weeks ago, they produced a terrific first-generation product.
In Time's story on the singer Alicia Keys, for example, you get a glimpse of the future. Tap on the print article, and it gives way to video of her sitting on a couch answering questions. When she talks about a favorite song, there is a film clip of her performing that song. When she speaks of her admiration for Nina Simone, you don't have to guess what Nina was like—there are film clips of Nina singing.
A great iPad segment is like those Russian dolls that, when taken apart, reveal another smaller doll, and another, and another. With graphics, film clips, and gorgeous color photography (the iPad could usher in a new era of photography, I'm guessing) in its infant issue, Time's editors showed that they understand this.
Conversely, the New York Times app was the most disappointing. The Times, unlike Time, actually had access to the iPad this spring, and the Times was a featured partner at the great iPad debut in January. But the newspaper's app is shockingly primitive: a dozen print stories, with no Russian dolls at all.
Fortunately, there is another Times app that links you to the newspaper's website, chock-full of news and analysis and blogs and features, and deserving of the ridiculously huge number of hits it gets each day.
The Times should make the website the app for which we pay, and give the new iPad app away for free. Maybe the newspaper's plan, over time, is to wean us from the free Web by moving the better content to the paid app. If so, it is starting slowly, really slowly, with a dull debut.
Hey—at least the Times has a dedicated iPad app. That is more than can be said for the Washington Post, CNN, CBS, and most other news organizations. It took me quite a bit of poking around this morning before I could locate—on the promising AP app—the spectacular video of today's space shuttle launch, which confirmed the potential of the iPad and other tablets.
The future doesn't arrive all at once, of course. It plays out, day by day. As disappointed as I was at journalism's initial performance this weekend, I found solace as I watched the stunning film of the blast-off on my iPad. By itself, it was great. With a few Russian dolls, it could be an immersive experience.
The dream is deferred; not dead.