Apple's iPad makes covers of Time, Newsweek

The iPad made the cover of Newsweek, above, and Time.
The iPad made the cover of Newsweek, above, and Time. (Courtesy Of Newsweek - Courtesy Of Newsweek)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2010

When was the last time that Time and Newsweek went with the same cover subject whose name wasn't Obama?

Clearly, such treatment would be reserved for a development so indisputably vital that it would change civilization as we know it. That event has arrived, in the form of a $500-to-$800 product that you should feel guilty for not having, even though it doesn't hit the stores until Saturday.

The iPad might turn out to be so revolutionary that we'll look back on its unveiling like Alexander Graham Bell speaking to Mr. Watson. Or not. But Apple and its media maestro, Steve Jobs, are once again reaping what amounts to tens of millions of dollars in free publicity.

Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel says he remained skeptical as "a lot of people in our business have looked at the iPad as the Jesus tablet, the savior." But "when Steve came here for breakfast" to demonstrate the device earlier this year, "I thought it's a fantastic thing for almost every kind of content, including surfing the Web.

"We've had a long relationship with Steve. Steve looks at Time as an iconic American brand. We've got exclusive access at a time when he's giving nobody else access."

Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham says his technology team convinced him "that the iPad could finally be the device that does for visual content what the iPod did for music. To my mind, there's no bigger story about media or culture -- and media and culture affect everything else -- than the future of the delivery of news, and that made an iPad cover a clear call."

Even veteran Apple-watchers who have seen the company make headlines with mere product upgrades are shaking their heads. "Their ability to get press all out of proportion to news value has amazed me for decades -- and I say that as a former Apple beat reporter, longtime fanboy and someone who's counting the minutes until UPS shows up with my iPad," says Mark Potts, chief executive of the online technology company GrowthSpur and a former Washington Post reporter. "The level of hype is insane. There's simply no other company that gets coverage of product launches like this."

The same media outlets covering the phenomenon are also hoping to profit from the iPad. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times struck nondisclosure agreements with Apple in exchange for early samples for their development teams.

"We've been allowed to work on one, and it's under padlock and key," Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns the Journal, said last month. "The key is turned by Apple every night." The Journal is offering a stand-alone subscription to its iPad content for $3.99 a week.

Time, USA Today, CBS, NBC, ABC, National Public Radio and many other media organizations have also rushed out their new iPad applications. The Washington Post, which did not receive advance access to the device and has not published a detailed review, is working on its iPad app.

Print reviewers might harbor a deep-seated wish that this tablet computer proves capable of rescuing their battered business, thereby preserving their way of life. What's more, the folks who write about technology adore fancy gizmos. Many are Mac users. They revel in the Apple-orchestrated drama of these rollouts.

Apple is widely credited with making elegant products, from the iPod to the iPhone, that have lifted the level of consumer technology. But there is something about the company -- and the secrecy cultivated by Jobs, who famously refused to talk about his own health problems -- that makes some of the smartest tech writers go weak in the knees. Keep in mind that Jobs unveiled this thing back in January.

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