Apple's Bite

Article excerpt

Byline: Jacob Weisberg

Publishers should beware the iPad.

During the pre-Internet era, the Italian philosopher Umberto Eco explained the difference between Apple and Microsoft in terms of the divide between Catholics and Protestants. In the DOS-based universe, he noted, there are many alternative paths to salvation. The One True Church of Macintosh, by contrast, "tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step."

With the ascendance of the iPad, a.k.a. "The Jesus Tablet," Apple's Lateran tendencies have grown ever more baroque. The arrival of the new device was shrouded in something better described as religious mystery than mere corporate secrecy. The spiritual leader celebrated the birth of his "magical and revolutionary" gadget at a ceremony akin to a high mass, beneath the glowing Apple icon, which must be approaching the crucifix as a universally recognized symbol.

In this metaphor, content publishers might be described as the halt and the lame flocking to Lourdes in search of a miraculous cure. The pilgrims' desperate hope is that Steve Jobs will restore their businesses to health by blessing them with "apps"--a new way for them to charge readers for content and revive full-page advertisements in electronic form. Burn me for saying so, but they're dreaming.

The first problem with the publishers' fantasy, which I realized only when I spent some time with my iPad over the past week, is that you don't need those cute little apps to read newspapers and magazines. On the tiny iPhone screen, apps bring real advantages. The iPad display, by contrast, is big, bright, and beautiful. The Safari browser is a great way to read any publication on the device, as long as you have a good Wi-Fi connection.

Those exorbitantly priced first-gen iPad apps offered by magazines like Vanity Fair and Time are attempts to revive the anachronism of turning pages. They're claustrophobic walled gardens within Apple's walled garden, lacking the basic functionality we now expect with electronic journalism: commenting, the integration of social media, or even the most basic links to other sources. Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker Media, brutally describes them as "a step back to the era of CD-ROMs. …