Has the Apple iPad saved journalism from extinction?

In this parlous climate for the traditional media, a newspaper journalist who gets too excited about a gadget such as the iPad is liable to attract scorn from techno-pundits. You don’t get it, their response goes: the revolution in media is bigger than you can grasp, yet here you are, clinging to the shipwreck, desperately hoping that some fancy new device is going to save you. And yet I have to admit it: I’m pretty excited.

What these pundits miss, and what Steve Jobs has always known, deep in his bones, is that the way things are done — style, design, the “user experience” — is at least as important as what you do. Apple didn’t invent MP3 players, nor the idea of purchasing music online: it just did it all in a way that made people want to weave it into their lives. The complaint that the iPad doesn’t do something sufficiently specific, or sufficiently path-breaking, ignores the lesson of the iPod’s success: if its feel, its looks, and its whole ineffable personality manages to seize enough imaginations, it will triumph.

Which is why I’m enthusiastic. Not because I imagine the iPad will “save newspapers” in their current form, but because there’s every chance that a generation of devices that are joyous to use will prompt a new flourishing in book publishing, in in-depth journalism, in beautiful magazine design, and so on. This renaissance could exploit the awesome potentials of multimedia and collaboration while building on the best aspects of the original forms. No, that’s not a business model. But the whole history of culture, from books to TV to iTunes, shows that you can make money, somehow, when the experience you offer is sufficiently immersive, delightful and effortless. The dwindling attention spans and fractious bickering of online life today are surely explained, at least in part, by the fact that our hardware is still so unpleasant to use. Form matters. Whether or not the iPad turns out to be a winner, Apple (to echo the pundits) really does get it. – guardian.co.uk

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Oliver Burkeman
Guest Author

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