No doubt, Steve Jobs showed off a compelling tablet computer today, one that should excite people who make videogames, TV shows — even books. But today's Apple iPad debut was a big letdown for magazine and newspaper people.
Look, expectations were fairly insane. Publishers have seen their revenues plummet over the past year and are desperate for the sort of explosively successful digital products that Apple CEO Jobs makes look so effortlessly magical. Condé Nast, Time Inc., Hearst and the New York Times company were among the companies believed to be making content for the device before the iPad's existence was even officially confirmed.
So it was going to be near-impossible for Apple to dodge critiques like this one, from the Times' associate managing editor Jim Roberts: "Waiting to be surprised. That hasn't happened yet."
And yet there's really something to that appraisal, if you score by the criteria we laid out earlier today. Led by Jobs, Apple executives spent gobs of time on videogames and TV shows — at least 15 minutes by our tally — to say nothing of social networking, productivity applications and other non-traditional content and applications.
But there was not one demo of an i-magazine, just a quick visit to Time.com, complete with a Flash media error (reportedly). No wired version of Wired, no singing verion of Rolling Stone, not even a video-enabled Sports Illustrated. That's astonishing for such a sexy, high-resolution device that's repeatedly been billed as a boon to magazine publishers.
Things were nearly as disappointing on the newspaper front. The Times did get five minutes to show off its own tablet app, but, as many others have noticed, it looked like a boring, warmed over version of the existing Times Reader. In fairness, the Times guys only had two or three weeks to work on the app.
But what their demo — the sole non-website newspaper content — lacked in actual pizazz it failed to make up for in hype, either. Nothing from Jobs on a dedicated newspaper (or magazine) store or reader application. Hardly any waxing poetic by Apple on the possibilities and content development path for newspapers and magazines. Which, as we said before, is absolutely Apple's prerogative — these guys are in the business of making money, not rescuing other industries — but has to give print media execs heartburn.
The silver lining for print media was in books. Jobs showed off an "iBook Store," an iBook app for e-books, deals with five huge book publishers (Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillian and Hachette) and a format based on the open ePub spec. Jobs even said that textbooks would be a big part of the device, too.
We can only imagine that magazine and newspaper publishers like Condé Nast, which has been trying to port magazines like Wired to the tablet since September, were more than a little jealous. Where's their special store? Where's their moment in the Apple sun?
Maybe it's yet to come. Certainly, the tablet still has a massive potential to change how people read newspapers and magazines. That hasn't changed. And several of us (including this blogger) are ready to whip out our credit cards and buy our own iPads.
But newspaper and, especially, magazine executives have to be feeling left out of the party today. Many have been asking in recent months that Apple give them some independence on the tablet. And now they can regret getting exactly that.