Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Here’s What an iPad Looked Like in 1994 (Video)

Yesterday we saw what AT&T thought the future would look like, way back in the early ’90s. Pretty accurate!

Today we can see what newspaper publisher Knight Ridder thought about the future, way back in the early ’90s. Also accurate!

Except for an important part it got wrong.

Here’s a Knight Ridder-produced video from 1994, where the publisher imagines a world in which people consume their news on something very, very similar to an iPad. The tech specs kick in around the 2:20 mark (thanks very much, Richard Raucci):

Tablets will be a whole new class of computer. They’ll weigh under two pounds. They’ll be totally portable. They’ll have a clarity of screen display comparable to ink on paper. They’ll be able to blend text, audio, and graphics together. And they’ll be a part of our daily lives around the turn of the century. We may still use the computer to create information, but we’ll use the tablet to interact with information, reading, watching, listening.

Prescient, no? I don’t knock them for being about a decade early on tablet adoption. Can’t get everything.

If you slog through the video to about the 7:45 mark, though, you’ll find a much less accurate forecast. That’s the part where the newspaper publisher confidently explains that even when people have access to amazing tablet technology, they’ll still rely on newspapers, published in a format that looks very much like the print-and-ink product Knight Ridder was publishing in 1994.

Recall that while the open Web wasn’t mainstream back then — Netscape didn’t release its first browser until the end of the year — the notion of the “information superhighway,” with on-ramps courtesy of AOL and CompuServe, wasn’t new.

But Knight Ridder’s vision of the future assumed that newspapers stay dominant, and they stay looking like newspapers.

“Retaining that look and feel is very important, because people don’t buy generic news. They buy a specific newspaper, with a branded identity,” says the video’s narrator. “For most people, a newspaper is like a friend. It’s somebody you know, who you have come to trust,” adds a Knight Ridder executive, on camera.

And here you can see why the newspaper industry was so very slow to adapt to both the editorial and commercial impact of the Internet. It was smart enough to see the future coming over the hill, but not wise enough to realize it was going to run into it head-on — that technology wouldn’t just change the way information was delivered, but the source of information, and the value of that information.

Seventeen years later, it’s still trying to get its head around the idea.


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