December 13, 2012
The Daily folds as Symbolia launches: The future of tablet-native journalism and other like thoughts

The Daily, the NewsCorp-produced iPad news app, is folding.

And, writing on the Columbia Journalism Review blog, Felix Salmon points to this as a sign that, “Tablets in general, and the iPad in particular, are actually much less powerful and revolutionary than many of us had hoped. ”

http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/the_impossibility_of_tablet-na.php?page=all

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He has some interesting points, all of which get at the user experience of the Daily and many other content-heavy experiences on the iPad in particular but really on tablets in general.

News apps, it has become clear, are unwieldy and clunky things. Every issue of a new publication has to be downloaded in full before it can be opened; this takes a surprisingly long time, even over a pretty fast wifi connection. That’s one reason why web apps can be superior to native apps: no one would dream of forcing people to download a whole website before they could view a single page.”

"… the iPad’s native architecture is severely constrained in many ways. Look at any publication you’re reading in an iPad app, and search for a story. Oh, wait — you can’t: search is basically impossible within iPad apps, which at heart are little more than heavy PDF files, weighed down with multimedia bells and whistles.

I’m reminded, here, a bit of Apple’s iOS Maps debacle. Compared to old-fashioned static maps, Apple’s maps are amazing. They also come with clever 3D views: an impressive bit of technological gimmickry which doesn’t add a huge amount of real value. But while Apple was working on rendering technology, Google was incrementally improving its own maps in much more useful ways, employing a huge team to add vast amounts of rich data every day. The result was that by the time Apple’s maps launched, they were inferior in most ways to Google’s alternative.”

[Speaking of Apple maps - do you know you can now get Google Maps on your iPhone again? It’s true - http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2012/12/13/with-google-maps-for-iphone-finally-out-its-now-safe-to-upgrade/.]

"Similarly, when the iPad launched, it allowed people to do things they could never do with a print publication: watch videos, say. But at the same time the experience was still inferior to what you could get on the web, which iterates and improves incrementally every day. The iPad then stayed still — the technology behind iPad publications is basically the same as it was two years ago — even as the web, in its manner, predictably got better and better. No iPad publication is remotely as innovative or as fun to read as, say, BuzzFeed, because BuzzFeed has coders who can do very clever things with their chosen platform, and iPad publications don’t. If you’re publishing on the iPad, you’re basically a designer rather than a coder, and you’re far more limited in what you can do. This kind of thing, for instance, works OK in Safari for iPad, but you won’t find it in a downloaded publication.”

"The promise of the iPad was that it would usher in a rich-media world combining the versatility of the web with the high-design glossiness of magazines; the reality is that it fell short on both counts. The Daily was Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to get a head start in the new medium, but in this case the medium simply isn’t good enough to get traction: the only iPad-native content which has worked really well has been games."

You can read all of Salmon’s post here: http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/the_impossibility_of_tablet-na.php?page=all

This post made me think about my own tablet media consumption habits.

In my household, we’ve owned/used the following tablet devices:

  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook (our first tablet/e-reader device purchase, which we’ve since given away to a family member).
     
  • Apple iPad (mostly used by my wife, because I tend to default to the …)
     
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (which I was lucky enough to win this past Spring at a Google networking/education event).

  • Amazon Kindle Fire, our most recent Tablet purchase and a replacement/upgrade for the Nook.  

I can’t speak to my wife’s use of the iPad, although I know she’ll browse Pinterest and watch movies via the Neflix app on it, but I am typically using the Kindle and Galaxy Tab for the following tasks:

  • Watching movies via Netflix streaming or Amazon Video on Demand on the Kindle Fire (I find that the Kindle streams video faster and more smoothly than the Tab, even if the Tab’s screen is bigger). (This is probably my number on Kindle task.)
  • Reading e-books on the Kindle Fire.
  • Taking notes in Evernote on the Galaxy Tab (probably my number one Tab task).
  • Browsing the Web on the Galaxy Tab.
  • Checking email on the Galaxy Tab and Kindle Fire.
  • Tapping into a limited number of apps on both devices.

For me, the tablets ARE primarily a media consumption device (note taking functionality aside). And though I do my share of reading on the device, it’s also true that I don’t spend a lot of time with any of the daily/regular journalism applications out there. I’ve checked out various publications or apps on occasion - I had a subscription to the Daily for a while, but found out I wasn’t checking it often enough or getting enough out of it when I did check it out to justify that sub. I’ve set up a Flipboard feed. I’ve checked out the digital/tablet versions of Wired and (I think) Vanity Fair and a handful of other publications. But reading tablet journalism has not become part of my regular media consumption routine.

So my findings, anecdotal as they are, do reinforce Felix Salmon’s observations.

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That said - at roughly the same time that this announcement was made, an iPad news app of a different sort was busy being launched - Symbolia, the iPad-only comics journalism magazine: http://www.cjr.org/the_news_frontier/symbolia.php

Symbolia is a tablet magazine of illustrated journalism that “pairs incendiary reporting with thoughtful illustration and comics.” (Think  of the journalism in comics form work of Joe Saco on a larger scale, or at least a scale involving more players.) The stated goal is “to provide an immersive, engaging experience for a new generation of newshounds.”

You can check out their maiden effort “How We Survive” here: http://www.symboliamag.com/

I’ve downloaded the PDF version of their preview issue, and there’s some interesting reading inside. 

  • A story on the history and environmental devastation in California’s Salton Sea area.
  • Journalist Sarah Glidden on Life in Iraq.
  • A piece on “secret species” in the rLower Congo River. 
  • A story about a Zambian rock legend.
  • Among others.

It is great to see that there’s still some experimenting going on with the ideas of the iPad as a platform and interactive journalism. I like what they’re doing here, and hope Symbolia succeeds with what it’s trying to do.

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Speaking of comics, Rosenfeld Media just released its book “See What I Mean: How to Use Comics to Communicate Ideas” by Keven Cheng.

http://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/comics/

These days, I pretty much pick up any Rosenfeld Media book sight unseen. I’ve read probably 90% of what they’ve published, and always get a lot of their books. I haven’t read “See What I Mean Yet” but I’m expecting that this book will be equally as valuable.