A Digitel opinion: Why tablets and technology matter in the world of publishing

A vision of Wired magazine on a tablet device. Once of the better I've seen. But I've also seen other demos that seem to lean to heavily on treating such devices as novel new database interaction tools. -- The teaser art was Slashgear's mockup of what an Apple tablet computer may be.

For all the advances of desktop and laptop computers over the years, the computer medium remains a very active user-driven experience for readers.

A user will type in keywords and grab a mouse to select individual stories based on brief synopsis of the material. An observer from the 70s would likely compare the experience more towards using a database than reading a magazine.

This transformation of print into something more akin to a database has caused newspapers and magazines to suffer greatly online. The online experience (while more timely and offering a much increased diversity of content) simply isn't as enjoyable as a magazine experience.

And, maybe, if we learned this lesson today we might not have to wait to see many of the benefits promised by the tablet age.

And that's why the rise of the next generation of tablet computers is so important. (Note: I'm not talking about Kindles, but devices that have no keyboard, a full-color screen, a long battery life, and are compact and lightweight and designed to be controlled direct by a human hand on a touch screen.)

Tablets offer the promise of recreating the magazine experience of easy-to turn pages, designs that reflect the importance of content, and advertising placements that adjust with the days content and designer's choice of display. That is: You can have the best of the magazine experience with some of the searching and real-time nature benefits of computers and the Web.

This promise could easily be destroyed by publishers that might (and many will) simply offer their Web site on this next generation of devices and call it a day. Doing this would change nothing, it perhaps could even degrade the experience further by requiring human hands to manipulate content designed for keyboards and mouse pointers.

But if publishers can find a way to blend the near-real-time nature and content-rich environment of the Web with the well-designed and simple user experience of magazines, real progress may well be made in recreating a lost experience.

This video by Bonnier Research & Development is one of the better dissections of reader experiences on tablet devices that I've seen.


Now if the concern of poorly executing tablet design wasn't enough to strip these devices of a silver bullet status, then the reality of how long it will take readers to buy them surely will.

Even if all publishers could create a fantastic user experience, it will be at least several months before these devices come to market and many months and years until there's an appreciable number of users using them.

The point is that advanced tablet computing could be the dawn of a glorious new day for publishers, but only for those that are willing to step back and begin to understand how the nature of a device dictates the user experience.

And, maybe, if we learned this lesson today we might not have to wait to see many of the benefits promised by the tablet age.

If we began to properly treat the Web as a tool that was designed for timely information updates, readers would have better experiences online. And the shorter more bereft articles placed online will drive more readers to print and forthcoming tablet publications.

Technology offers many benefits but it is only a problem for those that use it without first understanding it.

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