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iPad Media Apps Stuck in the Past

Daniel Farber is editor-in-chief of

The iPad had a great opening Easter weekend. Apple sold over 300,000 units on the launch day, April 3, and new iPad owners downloaded more than one million applications.

The new tablet-shaped progeny of the iPod Touch was predictably called a "game-changer" by Apple CEO and chief product officer Steve Jobs.

Long-time technology forecaster Paul Saffo, said that the introduction of the iPad is as "important as the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984," which brought the graphical user interface to the masses.

The iPad has clearly wowed the tech cognoscenti, and will spawn a new generation of hand-held (rather than palm-held) touch and swipe devices.
But so far, the small portion of the iPad 150,000 applications designed for media consumption and interaction (newspapers, magazines and web sites focused on news) are underwhelming.

They are still mostly based on a web-page model. Swipe the home page to find a story; click on a story and go to a new page; click on a photo or link on the story page and go to another page; and so on. Web pages with a bit of iPad pixie dust doesn't shout innovation.

The New York Times iPad application is less useful than the web site version. It lacks basic features, such as embedded links, and is stuck in the web-page mold. NRP offers a slick, iPad optimized front page, which allow users to swipe through sections of the site, but once you get to a story page, the experience is more conventional.

Innovation will come in new user interface models. Instead of touching an item and generating a new page, for example, content emerges in overlays on the page. Touching an image, expands it on top of the page. You can swipe to view more images or videos, and alternatively launch a full-screen viewer. Touch a link to see more information about a topic, and a box expands on top of the page. Content emerges in context using gestures, rather than generating separate pages.

Sports Illustrated's prototype iPad incarnation (a YouTube video) utilizes some of these interface concepts, offering a glimpse into the future of digital media.

Of course, it's early in the iPad development cycle. Dozens of companies are working on interfaces that will take better advantage of the thin, 9.7-inch diagonal LED screen with multi-touch capabilities. The interface concepts aren't new-they grew out of CD-ROM applications and attempts over the last decade working with advanced HTML features and more recently technologies from Microsoft (Silverlight) and Adobe (Flash and Apollo).

For now, however, the iPad isn't living up to its promise as a "game changer."

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