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Will Apple's iSlate Save the News Industry?

Will Apple
January 4, 2010 1:42PM

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Apple is soon expected to announce what's being dubbed the iSlate, a tablet computer that would function as an e-reader, movie player and communications device. Apple's rumored iSlate is being eagerly awaited by the news industry as a way to monetize content. But Apple's iSlate will have to contend with tablet-device competition.

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Finally, it's January 2010, and technology watchers will have some answers to a few highly hyped questions. The first week of January will see both the Consumer Electronics Show and an eagerly anticipated event from Google at which the company is expected to unveil its own Android-based phone, the Nexus One.

But by far the most tech hysteria is being reserved for an Apple event, said to be scheduled for Jan. 26 in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center, at which CEO Steve Jobs is expected to announce and show off what's being dubbed the iSlate.

The rumor mill says the iSlate (if that is in fact its name, if in fact it exists) will be a tablet computer based on the iPhone that will function as an e-reader, movie player, and general-purpose communications device. Apple watchers are expecting it to be priced at $800 to $1,000 and be available in the second quarter.

Saving News?

No one is watching Apple's next move with as much interest as the news industry. Indeed, The New York Times' David Carr gushed that Apple could fix what has ailed newspapers since they started putting content on the web for free.

"A simple, reliable interface for gaining access to paid content can do amazing things: Five years ago, almost no one paid for music online, and now, nine billion or so songs sold later, we know that people are willing to pay if the price is right and the convenience is there," he wrote.

The iPhone is already proving this concept, said Tim Bajarin, principal analyst with Creative Strategies. "A good example of this is the GQ app for the iPhone. Each month's issue is delivered as an app for $2.99, cheaper than the newsstand paper copy," he said.

"Apple gives the publishers a new way to monetize content via the App Store, and I expect that the publishing industry will fully embrace it," Bajarin said. "The key is to make it a localized app and then optimize it for mobile platforms. While GQ is available online free, it is not in a book-like portable format."

Beyond Kindle

Suddenly the shift to mobile has become a fait accompli. "Tablets and smartphones can become important tools for delivering next-gen multimedia books, newspapers and magazines," Bajarin said.

Carr argued that paper-like devices are sorely needed. "Conventional wisdom suggests that computers do a fine job of allowing people to read digitized content, but the act of clicking a mouse actually has little in common with flipping a page: Users are scrolling vertically down into text when what they really want is to scan across as they have for hundreds of years."

Of course, Apple won't be the only game in town. Having established the benefits of controlling an ecosystem top to bottom, Apple will see competition from Google, Microsoft and a slew of smaller companies. "I expect Google and their partners to also create tablets and smartphones that embrace the next generation of publishing content as well as become an alternative platform to Apple and Microsoft," Bajarin said.

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