First of all, let me say that the iPad is indeed a Big Deal. All those journalism-future discussions you’ve had over the years about truly portable electronic newspapers have materialized for the first time. And that has potentially huge implications.

The press has been caught in a squeeze play between the high-revenue, higher-cost print edition and the low-revenue, lower-cost Web version. The problem is, of course, that the Web version doesn’t bring in nearly enough revenue to support a sizeable newsroom. The fantasy has been to have a portable digital version of the newspaper that essentially eliminates the enormous costs (50 percent or so of all spending) of physically printing and delivering dead trees to tens of millions of stoops every day.

The iPad comes as close to this as we’ve seen. Unlike on a computer, it’s actually fun to read stories on it. Apple’s multitouch interface lets publishers mimic the physicality of the newspaper. You actually “turn” pages rather than clicking a mouse on a tiny hyperlinked target. The application-based editions enable far more visually pleasing graphic designs than do Web-based ones. And—most important—that design allows for non-intrusive advertising that resembles a newspaper’s. More than fifteen years of Web design hasn’t come close to this.

I’ll show you an example, and remember first of all that it’s early days yet. App developers, including publishers only had a few weeks to create these iPad editions. The best is yet to come.

That’s evident with The New York Times, which is so far limited to an “Editor’s Choice” edition with only a selection of its content. What’s there, though, resembles the paper’s excellent Times Reader app. Here’s the front page on the iPad (click through for bigger images):

Touch one of the stories, and it opens up in less than a second—far faster than physically turning a page in a real newspaper. Here’s what you see:

Here’s the jump, with an ad that’s noticeable but doesn’t tick you off (UPDATE:I just got an annoying full-page popup on one story for the first time):

And the final page of the story:

The text is formatted to put about as many words in a single line of a column as there is in the physical newspaper (though there’s a ton of white space on the final jump that ought to be used better). For those of us who grew up reading column inches, it feels like a more natural read than anything on the Web.

There’s only one ad in the story, and it takes up half of the second page but is in no way annoying. If you decide for some reason that you want to find out more about Chase Sapphire reward points, click the ad and an interactive full page version pops up (although it takes six seconds to appear. That’s far too long).

You can see why the press has had big advertiser interest in their iPad versions so far. Chase bought out the Times’s ads for two months. FedEx bought up all of Reuters’ ads for three months. The Wall Street Journal has at least six advertisers, including Coke and FedEx, paying $400,000 apiece for four-month iPad stints.

We wrote the other day that a reader said the Journal’s iPad app looked “like a desktop-publishing newsletter circa 1998,” and design is indeed a shortcoming here. But unlike the Times, the Journal actually got a full edition out by the iPad’s launch.

Unfortunately, there are still some bugs to work out. While the NYT app took about three seconds to launch and let me browse stories, the WSJ’s took more than 100 seconds this morning as it downloaded today’s entire edition. True, it has many more stories than the Times’s does, but a minute and a half is far, far too long to spend sitting looking at this screen:

Once today’s edition is downloaded, it takes about ten seconds from when you click the WSJ app to when you can view the front page (still way too long), which looks like this today:

Okay, it’s better than this:

But it still needs some tweaking.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.