Posted on May 9, 2013 in Archive

How the iPad looked in 1994

This morning I watched a YouTube video rescued from the distant past – the 90’s – about digital newspapers, and I was impressed by how accurate the majority of the predictions were.

American media company Knight-Ridder presented the video in 1994 after they launched their Information Design Lab. The purpose of this research group was to develop a long-range vision of where the newspaper industry would head as a result of the growth in communication and information technologies.

Their primary argument was that the rise of computers and digital telecommunications would transform all forms of news and information delivery systems. On this note, there can be no dispute that they were correct.

Director of the research group, Roger Fidler predicted that news would see an alternative to ink on paper. This alternative would be in the form of ‘digital papers’, or tablets. When he made those claims, tablets were relatively unheard of, and definitely weren’t common amongst the general public. Knight-Ridder envisioned a rise in tablet popularity at the turn of the century and many sources agree that tablets did in fact reach increased popularity and sales in the early 2000’s.

The tablets that Knight-Ridder visualized were ‘totally portable’ and possessed a ‘quality of screen display comparable to ink on paper’, and the ability to ‘blend text, video and audio together’. Again, these predictions were accurate. Even the most simplistic tablets on the market today include all of these features.

The video shows the prototype of a tablet that the Information Design Lab was working on. It is used exclusively as a digital newspaper, and some of its features include: enlarged type size for the visually impaired; sound bites and video clips to enhance the news story; and the option for users to flag items of special interest to them. It also has interactive maps and graphics, and the capability to save and share articles.

All of these features are characteristic of news applications on modern tablets. In many ways, the Information Design Lab’s vision for future newspapers was almost prophetic. They only made a few slightly off predictions.

Firstly, they kept emphasising the importance of newspapers transferring many of their familiar characteristics from their print newspapers to their digital copies. They referred to this idea as ‘the bridge of familiarity’ and I agree with this idea on the grounds that it enhances usability. Users recognise the format, and immediately know how to use the application.

However, I disagree with Fidler’s claim that the bridge of familiarity is essential because ‘people don’t buy generic news, they buy a specific newspaper with a branded identity’. I’m inclined to argue that in a modern era of news saturation, people are less likely to be loyal to a particular media outlet. Instead, they access their news through a variety of channels, and this has a lot to do with the rise of alternative news sources, such as blogs and social media platforms like Twitter.

Fidler didn’t anticipate these changes to the news industry, nor did he predict the reach and availability of the Internet. He imagined kiosks that download information onto electronic cards that would then be inserted into the tablets; he didn’t predict the scope of broadband Internet.

On a final note, Fidler assumed that people today would be just as interested in digital advertisements as they were print advertisements in his time (think coupons that could be cut out and used at department stores). In my experience, this is not the case. A lot of Internet users find digital advertisements annoying and obtrusive and this is mistake that was being made in the 90’s that continues to be made by digital newspaper companies today.

You can see the full video below.