As Schmidt defends Google, visions of online news abound

The Google CEO stood up for his company and offered his view of what news will look like in five years. Content providers aren't far behind.

YouTube screengrab/Andrew Heining
Google CEO Eric Schmidt's vision of the next-generation news-reading device could look a little like Time Inc.'s new tablet interface concept.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt's OpEd – in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal of all places – is largely a defense of his company's role in the newspaper industry's decline.

But more than just offering up a "not-me!" ("'Not Me' doesn't live here," my father used to say) on the death of print, Schmidt's piece offers a look at how online news could adapt and survive.

Instead of today's free model, Schmidt contends that the news consumer of 2015 will see a mix – of subscription, pay-per-click, and ad-supported content.

Some of these stories are part of a monthly subscription package. Some, where the free preview sucks me in, cost a few pennies billed to my account. Others are available at no charge, paid for by advertising. But these ads are not static pitches for products I'd never use. Like the news I am reading, the ads are tailored just for me. Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting.

And instead of being tied to today's luggable laptops and poky phones, the news landscape of Schmidt's seeing is consumed on behavior-aware, instant-on handheld devices, not, perhaps, too unlike the rumored Apple tablet or the sadly-sacked CrunchPad.

On Wednesday, Time Inc. gave the world a look at its take on the next magazine format. Dubbed their Manhattan Project, and demonstrated in a video (posted below), it's a custom touchscreen interface for interactively viewing Sports Illustrated on a tablet computer.

It includes video, customizable viewing modes, the pinch-to-zoom made popular by Apple's iPhone, and, presumably, the same subscription rate as the dead-tree edition of SI.

Wired, too, is getting the tablet treatment. Condé Nast is developing an "iTablet" app to make use of what is predicted to be a booming segment – call it "Tablet 2.0."

Is either the interface of Schmidt's dreams? Probably not – the content produced for it is proprietary and likely labor-intensive to put together. But will they help staunch the bleeding print industry? Maybe. In any case, the thinking is a forward-looking step, away from "mobile Web" meaning "hard to read, awkwardly shoehorned-in" Web.

We can't help but notice, though, that all of these tablet interfaces are coming out ahead of an announced device on which to run them. Time and Condé Nast can't be expecting folks to run these on Microsoft Surface tables, or the underperforming tablets of old, can they?

And if notoriously secretive Apple in-fact met with publishers behind closed doors to develop content for their upcoming device, would it make sense for those publishers to go public with their apps before we get word that that device is coming?  We're just sayin...


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