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.
One of the things that confused me, when The Daily launched, was the way in which it failed to leverage the wealth of rich and valuable content available within News Corp. You couldn’t watch episodes of The Simpsons, you couldn’t get access to amazing footage from Avatar, you couldn’t read exclusive extracts from HarperCollins books. Murdoch was happy to spend a large eight-figure sum on building custom-made content for the new publication; he even shelled out for a Super Bowl ad. But he never managed to use The Daily as a means of bringing his company’s already-existing content to life in new ways for a new platform, and I suspect that iPad constraints are part of the reason.
Tablets, it turns out, are a great way to consume content which was designed for some other medium, like books, movies, and videos. But weirdly, magazines and newspapers are having a harder time of making the transition: there are many books I prefer in electronic format, but there isn’t a single magazine or newspaper which I’d rather read on the iPad than on paper.
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.
As far as news and journalism are concerned, the verdict is in: tablets aren’t a new medium which will support a whole new class of publications — there’s almost nothing you can do well on a tablet that you can’t just put on a website and ask people to read in a browser. Publications of the future will put their content online, and will go to great lengths to ensure that it looks fantastic when viewed on a tablet. But the tablet is basically just one of many ways to see material which exists on the internet; it’s not a place to put stuff which can’t be found anywhere else.
Rupert Murdoch is quoted in today’s press release as saying that “The Daily was a bold experiment in digital publishing”, and he’s right about that. Someone needed to see whether there was such a thing as tablet-native journalism, and Murdoch took that role onto himself. The answer, it turns out, is no. But we didn’t know that when The Daily launched in 2010. Now we do.