Tablet PC Will Make Its Debut This Week

By: Mark Fitzgerald

After teasing the industry for more than a decade, the portable electronic newspaper edition makes its formal debut Thursday. The Tablet PC is the first digitally delivered provider of news, entertainment, and advertising that matches the print newspaper in readability — and portability. It’s the first electronic newspaper you really can read in the bathroom.

Tablet PC has overcome the fuzzy graphics, uncertain downloads, and hardware obstacles that hampered past electronic newspaper prototypes. With 120 dots per inch in portrait mode, the screen offers stunning clarity and rich color graphics. The tablet is a little smaller — at 8.25 by 10.7 inches — than standard letter-size paper and is just shy of an inch thick. It weighs three pounds.

The electronic newspaper arrives with the backing of heavyweights from the newspaper and computer industries. The Hewlett-Packard Co. and six other hardware manufacturers are making the Tablet PC, which will retail for about $2,000 when it hits stores next year. Adobe Systems Inc. and the Los Angeles Times sponsored the research at Kent State University’s Institute of Cyberinformation, whose director, Roger Fidler, has been working to perfect a tablet newspaper since he was leading Knight Ridder’s new-media research two decades ago.

Fidler demonstrated Tablet PC with an edition of the Los Angeles Times at last week’s Inland Press Association annual meeting here. Downloading the paper takes about a minute for a typical issue of 210 PDF (portable document format) pages, and about two minutes if audio and video is downloaded. Stories are not scrolled but laid out in fixed pages of fully hyperlinked text.

“The business model is more like the printed newspaper than the Web,” Fidler said. While content can be refreshed on demand, this electronic newspaper will be more oriented to editions, he said. Downloads will be sold on a subscription or single-copy basis.

“There’s no rollout date yet,” Fidler said, “but the idea is to keep the subscription price as low as possible … and hopefully get a new generation interested in newspapers.” The electronic paper is also advertiser-friendly. While Fidler said there would be “no dancing images,” advertising cannot be zapped. The screen is laid out in a grid of 24 of the industry’s standard advertising units (SAUs) on each page. Among the positions are “run of story” ads that appear to stay in place beside a story as it runs from one three-column page to the next.

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