Digital Tablet Makes Strides in Europe and U.S.

By: Steve Outing

The future of the portable multimedia newspaper was dealt a blow by Knight-Ridder Inc. last year when it shut down its Information Design Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Digital tablet visionary and lab director Roger Fidler was sent packing and now is at Kent State University and its Liquid Crystal Institute, where he continues to push the flat-panel newspaper concept.

But Fidler’s vision is at the early stages of being realized now, both in the U.S. and in Europe, as technology initiatives close in on unveiling working models of a digital tablet capable of displaying publications digitally.

The Walt Disney Co.’s Imagineering unit in Glendale, California, last week unveiled a prototype of an electronic magazine device capable of downloading and storing publications for reading sans power or telephone cords. Disney executives say they have the technology working today, but estimate that it could take five years before the cost of producing the portable tablets drops enough to bring them to the consumer market.

In Europe, a project called NewsPAD is even further along. NewsPAD is a portable digital tablet being developed by the Acorn Risc Technologies division of Acorn Computer Group plc. The NewsPAD device consists of a rugged plastic enclosure around a paper-sized, high-resolution color active-matrix LCD screen. A user interacts with the digital publication by touching the NewsPAD’s screen overlay; the only control on the unit is an on/off switch. The unit has a small speaker for audio, and has provisions for a microphone and small video camera to be added. The unit is powered by an integrated ARM microprocessor, which is the same chip that is at the heart of Apple’s Newton portable digital appliance.

In the long term, NewsPAD’s developers envision news being distributed via high-bandwidth digital broadcasting, delivered to the consumer through a low cost, small size, low weight home “multimedia set” or receiver (in other words, a “docking station” that uploads data to the portable unit). The receiver (actually, a transceiver) will in turn be able to communicate with the information supplier via narrowband digital channels, enabling the consumer to interact and control or order specific services or content.

NewsPAD was demonstrated in public recently at the iTV’96 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, and created quite a lot of excitement, according to Alfonso Molina, founding director of TechMaPP at Edinburgh University. TechMaPP is working on a NewsPAD pilot project with El Periodico de Catalunya, the largest newspaper in Barcelona, Spain. This fall, the devices will travel and stay in houses of real users for periods of two weeks at a time, with content updated daily by El Periodico. Continuous updating of news throughout the day also will be simulated. The newspaper is the coordinating partner of the NewsPAD project and is currently testing the concept of electronic multimedia interactive newspaper design and production.

Molina says that the intent of the test phase is to engage users with the technology at an early stage of development. The partners in the project recognize that they cannot simply push the technology onto the market, but must work in the coming couple of years to align the needs and desires of consumers with the evolving technology.

NewsPAD is partly funded by Europe’s Open Microprocessor systems Initiative (OMI), which is financed by the European Commission’s ESPRIT Program. Information about the device and the concept behind it can be found at these Web pages:
http://www.ictnet.es/public_newspad/index.html


Contact: Alfonso Molina, A.Molina@ed.ac.uk

PEN update

I’ve previously reported here on another portable digital tablet venture, the Personal Electronic Newspaper (PEN) device being developed by Hawaii-based PEN Industries Inc. The company has since put up a World Wide Web site, explaining its concept and business plan. The company believes that the Web is too slow and too crowded for effective commercial publishing, so it is developing a concept of a PEN device that downloads digital publications (either by consumers carrying their PEN unit to a store and choosing a newspaper or magazine to download, or doing so at home over cable lines). The device is envisioned as a replacement for the printed newspaper and magazine. The company says production of the digital reader units should begin in 6-12 months. PEN’s Web site is at http://www.southconn.com.

Contact: Robert Crandall, president, rdsee@aloha.net

ClariNet seeking new funding

Privately held ClariNet of San Jose, California, which operates the ClariNet e.News “electronic newspaper” service, is seeking funding to expand. According to Ed Vasquez, PR/IR manager for ClariNet, the company is considering an initial public offering and examining venture capital and other sources to grow the 7-year-old Internet news publishing pioneer. The company currently is employee-owned, with chairman Brad Templeton the majority stockholder.

ClariNet, which has about 30 employees, now has annual revenues in excess of $4 million. Its principal source of revenue is ClariNet e-News, an Internet news service that is licensed to Internet service providers, corporate intranets, government agencies, educational institutions, etc. It claims 1.5 million paying subscribers. (For a subscribing ISP with 100,000 members, those members are considered ClariNet subscribers, even if they do not regularly access ClariNet’s news feeds.)

ClariNet is supported entirely by subscription fees, though Vasquez says that advertising is likely to be added at a future date. The company also is introducing personal subscriptions with a service called Clari-Alert, which sends news in user-specified categories to a customer’s e-mail box daily. The Clari-Alert service will be a competitor to personalized news services by Individual Inc.

Contact: Ed Vasquez, Ed.Vasquez@clari.net

Address change: Keeping external links up to date

Out on the World Wide Web, there may be hundreds of sites containing links to your publication’s site, bringing you new visitors. If you’ve changed your Web address recently, don’t forget to inform all these sites about your new location. While placing a notice at the old address pointing to the new one is important, it’s far better to attack the problem addresses at the source.

Earlier this week I received an e-mail notice from the Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia) Web site, telling me that links on my Web sites pointed to an old Pilot Online URL. What the Pilot Web team is doing is an important task for any Web publication to perform after changing an address.

A simple way to find out who’s pointing to your Web site is to use a Web search engine like Digital’s Alta Vista. In the search field, type in “link:http://www.oldaddress.com” and click on search. (Use your outdated URL in place of “oldaddress.com,” of course.) Then you’ll need to notify Webmasters of those sites requesting that they update your link. If you don’t know the individual to contact at a remote site, a good bet is to send a message to “webmaster@linking-site.com”.

Candidate matching in Seattle

In my column of last Friday I mentioned the (London) Guardian’s feature that matches Web user opinions on political issues with like-minded candidates. The Seattle Times also offers a similar feature called P olitical Matchmaker, which helps voters choose the candidate for Washington governer who best matches their own views.

Nostalgia for newsroom noise

Howard Owens of The Affinity Group writes:

“I enjoyed your two columns on journalists moving into new media jobs. There have certainly been some adjustments to make for me — moving from a traditional newspaper background to a large, diverse corporation — but the most striking difference is how damn quiet this office is. I became so attuned to the noise (talking, yelling, laughing, cussing, phones ringing) of a newsroom that the silence here was driving me crazy. I now have a radio on my desk and I can work again.”

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company.

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