Time magazine on the iPad: A glimpse of the future

Just before my lecture at the Sri Lanka College of Journalism (SLCJ) for newsroom managers, I came across this video on Time magazine’s app for the Apple iPad. I’ve not yet taken a look at the issue highlighted in the video below, but reading two other issues downloaded to the iPad suggest that along with other examples – Wired magazine’s avatar for the iPad in particular – the iPad as a device and platform showcases today what journalism tomorrow will look like in form and content.

As a platform, the iPad’s features and functionality has already deeply influenced media content production and delivery – even the iPhone failed to inspire this level of interest in packaging content specifically for a device. What is equally interesting is the emphasis on multimedia – photos, video, audio, text seamlessly combined with online content, social networking and interactivity, which has implications for the way stories are told and seen, as well as the manner in which consumers engage with the content.

Interactivity of course does not mean participation – the iPad remains a tightly, almost irrationally controlled environment where transgression of Apple’s strict content management, copyright and application boundaries is not an option. It is not possible therefore, even though the video suggests it, to reuse and revise, or mashup content from Time magazine, Wired and say the Guardian’s (gorgeous) Eyewitness photo application to create one’s own media. The iPad’s OS does not allow it, and strict copyright of everything that is on it, debars it. In this sense, this is not really a device or platform for true creativity or open content production and sharing.

What it has clearly inspired however are content producers who have the financial wherewithal and importantly, imagination to tailor their existing content and publications to fit the form factor and capabilities of a device that clearly will be for journalism what the iPod was to the music industry. Despite grave reservations about the platform and device about, I am excited to see great content rendered so brilliantly on the iPad. It is more immersive than, and for me, as natural as reading an issue on paper.

Of course, the experiences cannot be compared, and it’s not strictly evolution either. I will always purchase the longer lasting print version for the issues I would like to preserve. The magazine stand in New York at the end of the video will never sell iPads with the magazine (and others) preloaded. But at the rate of Apple’s innovation (take a look at how far the iPhone and iPod have come from their first generation technically, and in terms of content available on it) we can surely expect lighter, longer lasting, higher capacity iPads in the future. As it stands, the first iPad will never be a mass market device or platform. Everybody wants it, but few actually need one. It is its future and evolution, along with the evolution of the content produced for it (and eventually on it) that interests me deeply, and why I believe that ever today, it is a glimpse of what mainstream journalism will look and feel like a few years hence.

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