Publishers probably don't like to admit it, but they are very much at the mercy of advances in publishing technology. No matter how much we like to believe our industry is steeped in tradition and little changed, printing and publishing technology continues to change our world.
Two years ago today there were exactly zero tablet magazine apps on the market. Five years ago there were few real mobile media apps, certainly none that look like today's smartphone apps.
I'm saddened to admit that I remember hot type and the move to cold type. I'm prouder to say that I was very much a part of the move to desktop publishing (I should never have allowed my wife to get rid of my Apple 2e!)
Tomorrow Apple unveils its third generation iPad. We don't know whether CEO Tim Cook will announce that the new tablet is the iPad 3, the iPad 2S or whatever, but analysts are already predicting outrageous sales for Apple (probably because their initial estimates for the original iPad were so wrong).
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Most tech and media sites are obsessed with potential sales figures, new features, and the like. But behind the scenes publishers and the companies that serve them are already considering the impact of the latest Apple tablet.
What we think we know is actually still speculative. For instance, the new iPad is expected to sport a display that will have double the resolution – instead of the current configuration of 768 x 1024 the new tablet is said to be 1536 x 2048.
While that may translate to doubling the resolution, in reality that means four times the pixels (do the math). As a publisher, that would scare me: many users already complain about slow download speeds and large issue files inside the App Store, won't larger files sizes be a problem?
Some are optimistic.
"The rumored higher-resolution display is going to be absolutely amazing for digital publications," Mike Haney of Mag+ said this morning, "giving them a unrivaled platform to show off the incredible visuals that are a real strength of the magazine experience. The back-lighting and bright colors of the iPad display, combined with the print-quality resolution, will create a visual environment that simply has never existed before in the digital realm."
Haney said that Mag+ would work to keep file sizes down and said "we anticipate the payoff will be worth it for consumers."
"File size is always a challenge we're working to overcome," said Shawn Duffy, Managing Director at WoodWing USA. "But we're also pleasantly surprised by how well magazines are accepted on the iPad, even with file size into consideration. So I think the market will react positively to all the cool things that are coming out in the iPad 3."
Sean Keefe, Director of Publishing Technology Hearst Magazines, said that "We're always conscious of file size and we are always try our best to keep the size to a reasonable amount. But that being said, we also weigh the importance of what we are putting into the app, whether it is video, whether it is another kind of enhancement that is going to increase the size, versus the time it's going to take a user to download."
I still think this could be a problem, especially for those magazines that currently are not delivering their downloads at acceptable speeds. A 500 MB file is tough enough to download, but will we start seeing magazine issues larger than a gig?
Adam Hodgkin, co-founder of Exact Editions, writing on the company's blog, sees a definite upside for some magazines in higher resolution levels.
This new iPad will be very good for all magazines, but it may have a particularly dynamic effect on the quality end of the market. I am thinking here of those ‘high end’ magazines that have particular prestige in the domains of fashion, design, art, poetry, environment and architecture. There are lots of such magazines. Some of them are highly popular and influential and some are priced at a level well above the consumer magazine norm. Magazines such as Purple, Disegno, Frieze, Monocle, Architecture Review, The Burlington Magazine, Eye etc.Hodgkin says that he believes these magazine "would all look spectacularly good on the next iPad."
There is no doubt that readers of most replica editions would find higher resolution magazines an improved reading experience, assuming their magazines are upgraded to accommodate the new iPad. Older issues, though, that have poor scanned pages now will be that much more fuzzy on a "retina" display iPad. Publishers might want to consider redoing some of their files now in preparation for resubmitting them down the road.
One thing that might improve download speeds is the introduction of 4G. Many rumors point to Apple including 4G capability.
Apple is a bit conservative when it comes to adopting cellular technology – you remember the original iPhone, right? No 3G, that didn't come until the iPhone 3G a year later.
But I think there is a good chance Apple may include 4G, after all, it is an instant argument against claims that doubling resolution will equal slow download speeds.
The trouble, as usual, lies with the carriers. Both AT&T and Verizon offer 4G coverage (and once again AT&T lags behind Verizon in coverage). But unlike the iPhone, the iPad is an unlocked device. That means that business travelers can use their tablets overseas by swapping out the sim cards (your U.S. iPhone is locked unless jailbroken).
Besides resolution, a better camera, what else can we expect in the new iPad that could effect publishers and other media executives?
Most of the major changes that really effect the media world are found in the iOS updates. Faster processors, more memory, cameras and the like only enable the things that are found in the software updates.
One of the biggest of these has been AirPlay, the ability to stream content directly to an Apple TV. Because Apple TV sales are lower than iPhone or iPad sales, this has yet to impact media that way it might in the future. The next version of the Mac OS will include the ability to use AirPlay from your Mac, further expanding the importance of AirPlay overall.
The new iPad, like the iPad 2, will be able to mirror its display to an Apple TV, but how else might AirPlay use be expanded?
Another feature currently available to iPhone 4S users is Siri. I would be shocked if the new iPad doesn't include Siri, at least in "beta" form. It's possible that it will be promised to iPad 3 owners in the future, but if tomorrow's announcement doesn't mention Siri I would be shocked (and disappointed).
Like the introduction of third party apps that accompanied the iPhone 3G announcement, opening Siri up to third party apps is the golden egg. It is hard for me to underestimate what that would mean for media apps. But I doubt this will happen just yet. Siri involves a lot of server power, and if the new iPad can use Siri that means millions more users. Further, this fall's introduction of the new iPhone will bring in even more Siri users. No doubt Apple will be very cautious adding more Siri server usage until it knows it can handle it.
For me personally, the new introduction of the new iPad is important simply because I will be buying the damn thing. (Apple sends me zip. So it's off to Best Buy or the online Apple store for me.)
I am lucky enough to convince my family to all own iPhones. Every year two phones come up for upgrading and my wife and I get new phones – the kids get the hand me downs. Everyone seems happy, a new phone for everyone every year!
But I did not buy the iPad 2. The iPad 3 (or whatever it is called) will allow me to finally post videos of magazine animations, introductory videos, etc.
Probably even more importantly, some of the new media apps that seem sluggish on my original iPad will most likely perform better on the a new iPad with its faster processor and better graphics.
(The current thought on availability is Friday, March 16 – awfully soon, but probably a good guess since several new Apple stores will be opening on that day.)
We'll see. The Apple event is tomorrow at 1PM EST (10AM PST, 6PM GMT). Plenty of tech sites will be live blogging the event and TNM will have a post up as soon as the event is over – figure 2:15 EST.
Last thought: we're all going to miss Steve Jobs tomorrow – he is irreplaceable. But my bet is that Tim Cook does a much better job tomorrow than he did last fall. If he is smart he will act as MC and simply get the ball rolling, then pass on the presentation to the rest of the team.