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What screens will we use?

Paul Grabowicz delivers a wonderful roundup of the history and current state of reading on tablet sized screens.

For more research, the links at the bottom of the article are invaluable.

Tablets

Will tablets win the fight to deliver the news?

While cellphones have become ubiquitous as mobile devices, it’s been a much longer road to popularity for tablet computers – portable electronic devices that try to fill a void between tiny screen cellphones and more cumbersome laptops.

Roger Fidler was one of the original proponents of these portable “electronic tablets” when he ran the Knight Ridder Information Design Lab in the early 1990s. See this story and this 1994 videoshowing Fidler’s vision (Fidler is now at the Reynolds Journalism Institute as  Program Director for Digital Publishing).

Many companies subsequently produced various forms of tablet computers as reading devices, such as the SoftBook and the Rocket eBook in the late 1990s and Sony’s e-book readers in the mid to late 2000s. But most of the devices failed to gain much traction with consumers.

Other companies in the 1990s also worked on developing “electronic paper” or “e-ink” technology that would be used in wafer-thin flexible displays that theoretically could be rolled up and put in a briefcase, backpack or purse. But years passed with no consumer product hitting store shelves.

Then with Amazon’s release of the popular Kindle e-book reader in late 2007, buzz about portable tablet computers heated up again.

By 2010 and 2011 a number of sophisticated tablet computers were being produced, usually with color displays and/or wireless Internet connections for downloading up-to-date news and information. The new tablets include:

  • Apple’s iPad announced in January 2010. The iPad quickly became the leading tablet computing device, and 25 million of the devices had been sold by June 2011.
  • Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook eBook reader
  • Amazon in 2011 released an upgraded version of its Kindle reader called Kindle Fire
  • Microsoft in 2012 released its Surface tablet computer

By January 2012, 19 percent of U.S. adults owned a tablet computer, 19 percent owned an eBook reader, and 29 percent owned one or the other, according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The increased popularity of portable tablet computers has sparked debate over whether news organizations will be able to take advantage of them as a new, and potentially profitable content delivery platform.

Display Formats

A key question is what form publications and stories will take on tablets:

  • Will consumers favor the look and feel of websites or will more traditional magazine or newspaper style presentations prove popular?
  • Will people prefer using a web browser to access websites of publications, or will they gravitate toward dedicated applications that publications create to display content on a tablet device?  A Miratech study found that people prefer a dedicated app to web browsing on the iPad. But a Pew Research Center survey in October 2011 reported that while two-thirds of tablet news users have a news app, the web browser was still the more popular way to consume news (40 percent of tablet news users got their news mainly via a web browser). AnOnline Publishers Association study in June 2012 reported that tablet owners preferred websites to applications for accessing newspaper and magazine content. A usability study by Jakob Nielsen found that websites displayed pretty well on an iPad and reading a web page thus was fairly easy.
  • Will the HTML5 standard for the web and JavaScript allow creation of immersive and interactive story packages and web apps viewed via a web browser that rival the experience of dedicated applications developed for the iPad and other tablet devices? See Ken Doctor’s analysis of the HTML5 vs. apps debate and the Financial Times’ success with an HTML5 web app
  • Will a new form emerge that improves the reader experience, making it more immersive and engaging while also allowing for more compelling and effective advertising?

Look at Sports Illustrated’s idea for how its content might be displayed on a tablet, the Mag+concept for putting magazines on tablets and Wired magazine’s vision for what it might look like on an iPad.

See the Orange County Register’s The Peel iPad app that includes stories featured in the next day’s paper, a live feed of weather, traffic and breaking news and multimedia content. The application is customized for a tablet and looks nothing like the newspaper’s website or the print product.

See how Flyp presented multimedia stories in a more magazine-like format that also includes video, photos, animations, interactive graphics and text on pages you flip through (Flyp later becameZemi, which produces multimedia stories for publishers).

And check out vook, which takes a traditional book format and adds video, interactivity and social networking.

Apple also announced in January 2012 its iBooks Author tool that journalists can use to easily create interactive multimedia long-form stories for display on the iPad.

Other applications provide personalized newsfeeds:

  • Flipboard provides a customized feed that combines stories from news publications and postings to social media sites
  • Pulse pulls in stories people select from a variety of different publications

How People Use the iPad

Especially important is whether tablet devices like the iPad offer a more leisurely lean-back reading experience at home than either cellphone browsers/applications, which people use while on the go, or computer terminals, on which people usually read news stories while at work, rather than during leisure time at home.

Here’s what studies and surveys of iPad users have found:

Time Spent on a Tablet

- Some early research by Conde Nast on how people use iPad applications of the company’s magazines indicates that reading of stories is more of a “lean back activity” done at home.

- A survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute of iPad users found that:

  • people were spending significant amounts of time with the devices (75 percent spent 30 minutes or more a day reading news)
  • they most frequently used the iPad at home (73%)
  • the most popular use of the iPad was reading about breaking news and current events (84 percent of users listed this as one of their main uses).

- 77 percent of tablet owners use them every day and spend an average of 90 minutes a day on them, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalismreleased in October 2011. Reading news stories was also one of the most popular activities for tablet owners, and 42 percent said they regularly read in-depth stories or analyses on their tablets.

- A study by Localytics found that people spend 2 1/2 times longer using iPad news applications than other types of iPad apps.

- A study by Miratech that used eyetracking technology to compare how people read a print newspaper vs. an iPad found that readers are more likely to skim an iPad article than a printed article.

- A study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri reported that two-thirds of mobile media consumers 18 to 34 years old said they spent an average of 5 hours  week using their mobile devices to access news provided by news organizations.

When People Read on a Tablet

- Data compiled by Read It Later found that iPad users are most likely to read articles during “personal prime time” in the evening.

- Data from ComScore shows that readership of content produced by newspapers increases on the iPad in the evening, compared with readership on a laptop or cellphone.

- An Online Publishers Association survey in June 2012 also found that the biggest usage of tablets was between 5 and 11 p.m.

What Information People Access on a Tablet

Tablet users are somewhat different in the kind of information they consume than users of other mobile devices like smartphones. Tablet users ore somewhat more likely than smartphone users to access news and information or watch videos on their devices, according to a survey of mobile device users by Keynote.

Tablet Aggregator Applications

- An eMedia Vitals analysis of the most popular iPad applications in 2010 found they tended to be aggregators of content from a variety of sources, practical applications that provide useful information to people, and those that are free – rather than paid apps that only present news stories from a particular publication.

- But a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released in October 2011 reported in a  that 90 percent of tablet application users went directly to the app of a specific news organization to get news headlines, comparied with 36 percent who went to a news aggregator application.

Paying for News on a Tablet

- A Knowledge Networks survey of iPad users found that only 13 percent are willing to pay a fee to read a magazine or watch a TV program to which they already have access. The most popular uses of the iPad were search, web browsing and email, while applications to read news media content were much less popular.

- A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released in October 2011 found that only 14 percent of tablet users had paid directly to access news and the vast majority preferred free or very low cost access to news.

- A Nielsen report on data for the fourth quarter of 2011 found that 62 percent of U.S. tablet owners have paid for downloaded music, 58 percent for books, 51 percent for movies, but only 19 percent for news.

- An Online Publishers Association survey in June 2012 found that while the amount of money tablet users spent on paid applications had doubled in the last year, 54 percent of tablet ownerspreferred free, ad-supported applications vs. paid apps, up from 40 percent the year before. Tablet users also were more likely to have purchased magazines or ebooks than newspaper subscriptions.

Advertising on a Tablet

- An Adobe-sponsored study by a University of Connecticut researcher of iPad users found that interactive advertising in digital magazines can engage people more than static print ads.

Tablets and Traditional Media

A majority of tablet owners who frequently used the devices to get news still subscribed to traditional media like newspapers or news magazines, according to a 2012 survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

But 60 percent of large tablet users said consuming news on the devices was a superior experience to reading a printed newspaper, and 63 percent said the experience was better than watching news on a TV, according to the RJI survey.

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