Apple's long-rumored tablet PC is widely expected to make its debut in San Francisco on Jan. 27, and among the big beneficiaries could be traditional publishers, which have been looking for an alternative way to disseminate their products in the face of declining sales. Reports from The Wall Street Journal and other sources indicate that Apple has been in negotiations with those publishers to port content onto a device. However, Amazon.com and other manufacturers seem to be gearing up to respond competitively to Apple.
Apple's latest creation, widely expected to be a multitouch tablet PC, will
make its debut in San Francisco on
Jan. 27. Apple has never confirmed that such a device is in the works, despite
months of rumors and analyst speculation. But multiple sources seem to agree
that, no matter what form it finally takes, an Apple tablet is likely to have a
drastic impact on the media world.
There have long been whispers of ties
between Apple's vaporware and publishers.
In late October 2009, Bill
Keller, the executive editor at The New York
made an allusion in a closed-door speech to "the impending
Apple slate." But did he mean "Slate," the proper noun, or
"slate," as in an upcoming slate of products? The blogosphere saw fit
to debate that particular grammatical point for a number of days, even as other
reports emerged that Apple was in talks with publishing companies to port their
content onto an Apple device.
Around that time, reports
emerged from Australia that Apple had approached publishing houses
discuss porting their content onto a device as well. In a report
in the Sydney Morning Herald,
executives hinted that they had been in some
sort of talks with Apple officials.
That was on the periodical side of the publishing world. On the books side
of the equation, The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 18 that HarperCollins
Publishers has been negotiating with Apple to make e-books available on the
tablet, quoting as its source unnamed people close to the supposed
negotiations. HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray
had previously suggested that publishers could squeeze out higher margins in
the e-reader business through multimedia-enhanced e-books.
The Journal has also suggested that Conde Nast Publications and News Corp.
were approached by Apple for content-related discussions, along with television
networks. Textbooks could also be another focus of the tablet, according to a
Jan. 21 article entitled, "Apple
Sees New Money in Old Media."
But the biggest hint that Apple is preparing to storm the world of
traditional publishing could be found in recent moves by its possible future
competitors, notably online retailer Amazon.com. On Jan. 21, Amazon.com
announced a Kindle Development Kit,
or KDK, which will allow software
developers to build and upload content for the Kindle Store that will make use
of the Kindle's 3G wireless connection and high-resolution e-ink display.
One of Amazon.com's partners, EA Mobile, issued a statement about the KDK,
which will be released as a limited beta in February.
"As the leading worldwide publisher of mobile games, EA Mobile has had
the privilege of collaborating with many dynamic and innovative companies in
bringing exciting gaming experiences to new platforms," Adam Sussman, vice
president of worldwide publishing at EA Mobile, said in that statement.
"Working with Amazon, we look forward to [bringing] some of the world's
most popular and fun games to Kindle and their users."
If Amazon.com's updating of its Kindle line were meant to directly counter
its current competitors in the e-reader space, it would have likely focused on
integrating a Web browser or adding elements such as video to its e-books, features
that were present in many rival
offerings at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier in January.
But in announcing the KDK and demonstrating that it can be used for a broad
range of applications from an active Zagat guide to puzzle games, Amazon.com
seems to be preparing the Kindle to be more competitive against a device that
not only displays e-books but also runs mobile apps. That describes the iPhone
and the iPod Touch (both of which feature a Kindle App), but it also matches
analysts' recent guesses about the not-yet-formally-announced Apple tablet. And
then there's the matter of timing on Amazon.com's part, in its choice to
announce the KDK six days before Apple's San Francisco
Tablet PCs of all stripes also made an appearance at CES, as various
manufacturers attempted to both introduce the form factor into the mainstream
and push their own devices ahead of an Apple announcement. During his Jan. 6
keynote address, Microsoft
CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled an as-yet-unnamed Hewlett-Packard tablet PC
will apparently serve as both an e-reader and a multimedia display.
Whether an Apple tablet will revive traditional publishing-which has been
hard hit by the global recession-while pressuring Amazon.com and other
manufacturers is unclear. A recent survey indicated that users may shy away
from an Apple tablet offered for more than $700, while
current rumors suggest that the device that Steve Jobs holds aloft Jan. 17 will be priced at anywhere from $600
to just under $1,000.
Too high a price point for the general public, combined with a heightened
competitiveness from the likes of Amazon.com, may further the general
penetration of tablets but retard an Apple attempt to dominate the market.
However, in that scenario traditional publishers still stand to benefit, as rival
e-reader manufacturers also offer e-books and e-periodicals on a subscription