'The Daily' App Should Be a Lifestyle Product

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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is joining forces with Apple to launch a new iPad-only newspaper called The Daily. This is a whole new newspaper in the form of a dedicated app, designed to exploit the touch-friendliness and multimedia nature of the iPad, with journalistic content not found anywhere else.

The New York Times reports an investment of $30 million in The Daily and a staff of 100. This is small compared to some newspapers, and there are apparently no newsdesks overseas or even in Washington, D.C.

Although details are still mere rumors, it seems users will subscribe each week for 99 cents. Mr Murdoch has said that The Daily is his "No. 1 most exciting project," and believes the iPad will see massive growth in the coming years. The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. quotes sources that say Murdoch expects to see an iPad in every home.

While I was generally optimistic when I heard the news about The Daily, that last comment made me wonder if Murdoch isn't heading for another online disaster (nobody mention MySpace, OK?).

If Murdoch expects an iPad to be in every home then he totally misunderstands Apple's market positioning. Apple products are high-priced, aspirational, and exclusive. Apple isn't Microsoft. Once upon a time Bill Gates might have wanted a PC on every desk, but Apple's voodoo simply wouldn't work if iPads were as commonplace as toasters.

Drill down into the The Daily app concept, and more questions quickly arise. What does the iPad offer that's so useful to a newspaper app? In particular, what technology does an iPad have that can't be found on a standard Website? Based on technical format alone, can The Daily be compelling enough for subscribers? Why shouldn't they simply browse to any news Website, for free?

In fact, The Daily will have to overcome limitations presented by the iPad, such as the touch interface, although this could be made into a selling point: Links within The Daily app could be made bigger and clearer, so there's less fumbling when trying to hit tiny hyperlinks.

However, the main area where The Daily will have to score highly is in its approach and content. Content is one area where Murdoch is on home territory, of course, but the iPad newspaper will have to resonate with the kind of ultra-cool people who buy the iPad. Again, I'm not sure Murdoch gets this.

Most of all, The Daily will have to emulate the same "must-have" coolness as the iPad itself. Hipsters already score points for pulling an iPad out of their bags at the coffee store, but Murdoch will have to ensure that The Daily looks cool to those peering over the readers' shoulders in public. In other words, the publication will have to be a lifestyle product first and foremost.

The Daily won't work if traditional newspaper content is simply packaged into an iPad app. What's needed is a modern style of journalism that's in-tune with the tech-savvy, switched-on iPad userbase.

The Daily will have to lean towards the liberal point of view, which might raise issues for the right-leaning Murdoch. But more than this, to truly appeal to iPad users, the journalism will need to be responsive, rather than agenda setting. It'll have to have more in common with the coolest blogs than it does with a fusty leader column.

Murdoch should note that many young Americans receive their daily dose of news not from traditional news outlets but from satire TV, like the "Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report." News on its own isn't enough anymore. The news bread needs a thick layer of entertainment spread on it.

It's believed that Steve Jobs is personally involved with the project, so hopefully he'll be offering this kind of advice to Murdoch. However, I can't help feeling that The Daily is arriving several years too early. A tablet computer in every home might happen, but it will probably not be an iPad. I suspect Mr Murdoch's main interest in the iPad as a platform is the tightly controlled distribution system via iTunes. Right now, at least, this kind of infrastructure is something that only Apple can offer.

Keir Thomas has been writing about computing since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at http://keirthomas.com.

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