Unprinting Journalism?

The discussion about the future of journalism, and how print media can move on to digital devices, has been going on for awhile yet. Time has recently announced a “magazine tablet” that’s demonstrated in the video below. It goes by the name Manhattan Project or SI Tablet (for Sports Illustrated, named after the first magazine to first appear on it), and supposedly will be out in 2010.

The demo (that looks so computer-generated it’s really nothing more than a rough project outline) left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it looks really good, in a glossy, slick way. (Then again, everything with a large, sharp screen does.) But on the other hand it’s also just too much like a glossy print magazine. It’s large and shiny and glossy, yes. But it’s also void of text and kind of dull. Why exactly it would be called the “most compelling media device” I’m not sure. Maybe I’m missing something.

The SI Tablet seems to offer some very basic sharing functionality (“email this picture to a friend”), but besides that it’s completely non-interactive as far as I can tell. Seriously, how many time a month do you want to share something out of a magazine with anyone? Everything I want to share is either from websites (usually blogs or photo/video sites) or maybe a newspaper. Magazines just don’t have the kind of content that’s really worth talking about. Magazines can be awesome (like some design mags), but mostly they’re awesome mainly for advertisers. (Which is probably why other companies are working on similar concepts, too.)

Personally, I’ve been waiting for a decent ebook reader for a long time, because that’s something I’m totally in the market for. (Here’s an ebook overview.) In theory. Only so far, none has appeared that really convinced me.

The Kindle looks decent enough (although it’s getting mixed reviews from the people I trust with these things). The Kindle certainly has the marketplace pat down with iTunes style ease of use. However, the Kindle is so totally closed and flawed by DRM that I simply don’t want to support it. The open source models I’ve seen haven’t been able to convince me either. And glossy stuff like the SI Tablet certainly won’t be my solution because they look like you need to take care of them.

Frankly, what I’m looking for is a device that lets me read ebooks, has long-lasting batteries, is open and rough & cheap enough so I don’t have to pay more attention to it than to a paperback novel. And, importantly, a device that takes advantage of sharing functionalities: If I can’t share it, it doesn’t exist. I want to be able to tweet quotes, blog them, post them to Facebook. I’d like to send quotes and references to Endnote or other reference management tools. Being able to annotate text would be great, even though it’s not essential. (Maybe the txtr will do the trick, we’ll see soon.)

That’s all personal preference of course, and you might have very different needs. But as long as all this isn’t wrapped up in one small device, I’m not going to get an ebook reader. And it shouldn’t take too long. After all, the technology is all out there, it’s just spread out over several devices. But I’ll take this functionality over a glossy magazine viewer any time.

Update: Just minutes after posting this little rant of mine, I happened upon the video below:

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

What we see here is a design study called Mag+, and here’s what it is:

This conceptual video is a corporate collaborative research project initiated by Bonnier R&D into the experience of reading magazines on handheld digital devices. It illustrates one possible vision for digital magazines in the near future, presented by our design partners at BERG.

Frankly, it looks like it might incorporate all the things I mentioned above (including the cool, yet cheap-ish look that’s so psychologically important when you just want to throw the thing in a bag or backpack…)

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