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10/15/2009
07:31 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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The Apple Tablet Hype Isn't Right

Apple's rumored tablet computer, widely believed to be coming next year, deserves the hype it has received and will usher in a golden age of journalism, argues Newsweek's Daniel Lyons.

Apple's rumored tablet computer, widely believed to be coming next year, deserves the hype it has received and will usher in a golden age of journalism, argues Newsweek's Daniel Lyons.The iTablet, or whatever it's eventually called, will help reinvent media, Lyons claims. He cites the explosion of iPhone applications and predicts a similar surge of programs for the iTablet.

There's strong evidence the iTablet is coming: Among all the other supporting tidbits that have been reported, iPhone developers I spoke with recently said they realized the iTablet was real when, at an Apple developer event over the summer, Apple engineers stressed that iPhone apps should be coded to automatically adjust to difference screen sizes.

Future-proof your apps, the iTablet cometh.

It will be a sleek, appealing machine, without a doubt. But it won't "reinvent computing."

It's unlikely the iTablet will be much of a computing device, by which I mean a device geared toward the creation and manipulation of content.

It's likely to be a display device, designed to facilitate the consumption of content. Think of it as a laptop without a physical keyboard or data input ports, a device that only runs Apple-authorized programs.

It's likely to be a big iPhone, tethered to iTunes and resistant to user alteration.

The iPhone has proven that large numbers of people will pay for a locked-down device because the interface is elegant and because it's a hassle to keep software up-to-date and secure. And they'll pay even more for a super-sized iPhone.

It will be great news for media companies, which will be able to distribute rich media applications without the loss of control that comes from Internet distribution. They won't have to worry about things like ad blocking or other client-side content alteration because Apple won't allow it. There will be some piracy, as there is with iPhone apps, but it will be manageable thanks to Apple's oversight.

The iTablet won't so much usher in a new golden age of journalism as it will prolong the lifespan of the golden age of journalism that is now ending.

Whether geriatric medicine of this sort will save journalism in the long run is doubtful. The first thing I'll do, if I decide to get an iTablet, is fund the purchase by cancelling the $500 or so I spend annually to get a printed version of the New York Times delivered every day. I suspect I won't be the only one who might do so.

Lyon's belief that the iTablet with encourage the emergence of new ways of telling stories is, I think, overstating the case. If you followed tech news in the early 1990s, you may recall how CD-ROM technology was supposed to revolutionize storytelling.

That revolution was really an incremental step in the evolution of interactive entertainment, or gaming. And while the iTablet will certainly make a nice gaming device, it's not going to really reshape the news landscape, or the gaming landscape for that matter.

The iTablet will occupy a middle group between completely closed televisions and truly interactive, programmable computers. It will enjoy a few years of strong sales, until devices that are more open and less expensive -- a Google Chrome OS or Android tablet, perhaps? -- push it back into the low-volume, high-margin market niche that Apple has made its own.

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