Computing

Apple Tablet Aiming To Redefine Newspapers, Textbooks

Steve Jobs said people don’t read any more. But Apple is talks with several media companies rooted in print, negotiating content for a “new device.” And they’re not just going for ebooks and mags. They’re aiming to redefine print.

Several years ago, a modified version of OS X was presented to Steve Jobs, running on a multitouch tablet. When the question of “what would people do with this?” couldn’t be answered, they shelved it. Long having established music, movie and TV content, Apple is working hard to load up iTunes with print content from several major publishing houses across several media.

Two people related to the NYTimes have separately told me that in June, paper was approached by Apple to talk about putting the paper on a “new device”. The R&D labs have long worked on versions of the paper meant to be navigated without a keyboard or mouse, showing up on Windows tablets and on multiple formats using Adobe Air. The NYTimes, of course, also publishes via their iPhone application. Jobs has, during past keynotes, called the NYTimes the “best newspaper in the world.”

A person close to a VP in textbook publishing mentioned to me in July that McGraw Hill and Oberlin Press are working with Apple to move textbooks to iTunes. There was no mention of any more detail than that, but it does link back to a private Apple intern idea competition held on campus, in their Town Hall meeting area in 2008, where the winning presentation selected by executives was one focused on textbook distribution through iTunes. The logic here is that textbooks are sold new at a few hundred dollars, and resold by local stores without any kickbacks to publishers. A DRM’d one-time-use book would not only be attractive because publishers would earn more money, but electronic text books would be able to be sold for a fraction of the cost, cutting out book stores and creating a landslide marketshare shift by means of that huge price differential. (If that device were a tablet, the savings on books could pay for the device, and save students a lot of back pain.)

Apple also recently had several executives from one of the largest magazine groups at their Cupertino’s campus, where they were asked to present their ideas on the future of publishing. Several mockups of magazines were present in interactive form. It is presumed that more talks took place after the introduction and investigatory meeting. Some magazine company is also considering Adobe Air as a competing option for digital magazines, but without a revenue/distribution system that iTunes has, it seems unlikely.

I haven’t heard anything about traditional book publishers being approached yet, but given the scope of the rest of the publishing industry’s involvement, it’s not hard to imagine they’re on board as well.

Another source corroborates that the January announce date others have reported is correct within the month, with this information heard from a high level.

Some I’ve talked to believe the initial content will be mere translations of text to tablet form. But while the idea of print on the Tablet is enticing, it’s nothing the Kindle or any E-Ink device couldn’t do. The eventual goal is to have publishers create hybridised content that draws from audio, video, interactive graphics in books, magazines and newspapers, where paper layouts would be static. And with release dates for Microsoft’s Courier set to be quite far away and Kindle stuck with relatively static e-ink, it appears that Apple is moving towards a pole position in distribution of this next-generation print content. First, it’ll get its feet wet with more basic repurposing of the stuff found on dead trees today.


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