By: James Derk

As PDAs Take Off, Newspapers Provide Content

When the first Palm Pilot hit the streets four years ago this month,
there was almost audible laughter. Great, a smaller Apple Newton, many
said. Like the Newton, the first Palm Pilot was heavy, expensive, and
didn’t do much.

Fast-forward to today and you’ll find the Palm (even before its
bazillion-dollar IPO) to be the dominant handheld computing platform in
the world, with more than 5 million users. Just stop in any business
meeting and you’ll see grown men gleefully ‘beaming’ business cards and
notes to one another using the Palm’s infrared transmitter.

But is the Palm a glorified personal organizer or is it a serious news
platform? Recent events seem to indicate it is becoming the latter.

‘The Palm is incredibly convenient, and it’s just as portable as a
newspaper,’ says convert Bob Benz, director of online content
development for The E.W. Scripps Co. of Cincinnati. ‘Even more so, in
some ways. When I travel, I download The Knoxville News-Sentinel, The
New York Times, Motley Fool, and Sporting News hockey coverage into my
Palm VII. It’s a lot easier to scroll a Palm in the coach section of an
airplane than it is to flip through a broadsheet. I don’t think it will
replace newspapers, but it sure can complement them.’

It’s not a ‘newspad’

Indeed, no one is yet saying the Palm, or any other personal digital
assistant (PDA), is the ‘newspad’ we’ve all been waiting for to replace
news on dead trees.

‘It’s legitimate only for a very tiny portion of the overall news
market – highly specialized news like what one would pay Bloomberg or
Dow Jones to provide,’ says Eric Meyer, assistant professor of
journalism at the University of Illinois. ‘As it exists, it certainly
is not the Star Trek PADD that newspaper readers will switch to as a
substitute for paper.’

But with the introduction of two new models, the wireless Palm VII and
the color Palm IIIc (both $449), the machine seems to have reached
critical mass. But should already-stretched online news staffs use
valuable time preparing news reports for the Palm?

Absolutely, says Jonathan Bell, senior web designer for the Knoxville
(Tenn.) News-Sentinel, which launched its ‘handheld edition’ in
January. ‘When we started, I don’t think we expected much of anything
seeing as the Palm really only took off last year,’ Bell said. ‘Really,
no one knows how many people have these things out here.’

The first month, only 29 people signed up for the Handheld Edition in
Knoxville. In February, that rocketed to 270.

‘I’m really pleased with what we have and it appears to be growing,’ he
says. Like many sites, Bell’s uses AvantGo, a San Mateo, Calif.-based
company that provides the handheld device ‘packaging’ for hundreds of
media sites and content channels.

His users are clamoring for movie listings and other local information
items, like restaurant info, a need Bell plans to fill shortly. He sees
it as a great tool for specialized news, such as the paper’s ‘GoVols’
site that follows the University of Tennessee teams.

Benz says that’s the key, preparing the content that mobile users want.
‘I think the Palm is already a viable news platform, but it’s often not
used to its advantage,’ he says. ‘News organizations that offer info
for the Palm still have a tendency to dump the entire version of their
print story into the Palm instead of editing information into a form
that’s easier to read on a PDA. It’s still a computer screen, not
newsprint, and we need to organize our content with this in mind.

‘The addition to this, the wireless abilities of the Palm VII make it
really interesting. Now I can check stocks, weather and news updates
from almost anywhere. I’ve been amazed at how well it works. But while
I think the Palm is viable, I’m not sure if it will be the ultimate
form that mobile information takes. I still hate having to keep track
of a cell phone and a PDA. Internet-enabled phones are coming on fast,
and I wonder how long it will be before they develop one that makes my
Palm redundant.’

Figuring out the revenue thing

Then there’s the revenue thing, the bane of the Internet. Bell says
he’s not yet developed any advertising stream for the Palm edition,
waiting until he has more users to find a sponsor or include text ads.
Benz says that’s not unusual.

‘I’m also worried about the revenue model for streaming content to the
Palm,’ Benz said. ‘Will we be charging by the kilobyte? Will we use
text ads? Banner ads? I’m seeing variations on all of these, but I’m
not sure which way it will go yet.’

Until then, expect to see more operations offering content for
handhelds as the market continues to grow. The handheld market is
projected to grow more than 30% annually through 2003, when worldwide
handheld shipments are expected to reach 21 million units.
Dataquest forecasts the installed base of handheld computers to grow to
32.5 million units in 2003. ‘Enhanced communication, including wireless
access, enables a new class of applications that is ultimately the key
to growing the number of handheld users,’ says Scott Miller, principal
analyst for Dataquest’s Mobile Computing Worldwide program.


James Derk (jderk@evansville.net) is the cool
new media editor at The Evansville (Ind.) Courier &

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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