Will the iPad save printed media?

On April 3rd Apple’s new iPad will be available to customers in the US.  Since its announcement in January, it seems everyone has formed an opinion on whether or not Apple’s new iPad will save printed media.  There are those who think it will, those who think it won’t, and those who are in between.

To me, what’s exciting about this new technology is not what it is, but what it represents.  The iPad, along with other tablet and netbook computers, reside in a space between laptops and smart phones.  But unlike netbooks, the iPad has a touch screen with no mouse or keyboard.  Unlike most tablet PCs the iPad has a more portable profile and the touch screen input system isn’t based on the pen and paper paradigm.  The fact that it uses multi-touch gesture recognition for its interface also starts to break down the traditional user interfaces (mouse and keyboard) that have dominated computing for the last 30 years. 

Because of its form, and the newly announced iBook store, the iPad has been compared to Amazon’s Kindle and some are already wondering if the iPad will kill the Kindle.  It is possible that the iPad could eclipse the Kindle as an eReader, but this comparison seems a bit beside the point.  In an era when many people use cell phones for talking as almost an afterthought (think iPhone, Blackberry, Droid, etc.) the Kindle seems like a quaint one trick pony that does only one job (even if it does it really well). It’s difficult to compare the two devices because their purposes are so very different.  I would point out that history has shown us that convenience wins out over quality a lot in technology wars.  The first MP3s, for example, were lower quality than CDs, but their portability was so convenient that people were willing to deal with the lower quality audio.  The iPad may prove to be a more convenient technology because it will be more versitile than the Kindle.  But, the Kindle vs. iPad argument is really a distraction to the real question at hand.

Will the iPad save printed media?  No.  First of all, if the iPad does it’s job then it would replace printed media with digital media.  But the question we’re really asking is, will the iPad save the businesses that currently do printed media?  It’s possible that the iBook store will help book sales, but books are not the same as news.  People seem more and more willing to get their news for free from amateurs (by amatuer I mean anyone who is not a professional, with no reference to quality), whereas with books most people still seem to want books written by professional authors.  Even major news networks appear to be accepting the ametuers.  Just think of how often you’ve seen CNN or any other major news organization use the blog or Twitter posts or cell phone video from a non-professional at the scene to report on a riot, demonstration, or natural disaster.  This acceptance of the amateurization of the media marks the underlying struggle within news organizations today.  If anyone can report and the consumers don’t demand professionalism, then demand for professional product, no matter what format or media type, will whither.  Until this social struggle is resolved technologies like the iPad will only exacerbate the tensions between traditional professional print media and the new online amatuers.