SAN FRANCISCO — With the widely anticipated introduction of a tablet computer at an event here on Wednesday morning, Apple may be giving the media industry a kind of time machine — a chance to undo mistakes of the past
Almost all media companies have run aground in the Internet Age as they gave away their print and video content on the Web and watched paying customers drift away as a result. People who have seen the tablet say
Apple will market it not just as a way to read news, books and other material, but also a way for companies to charge for all that content. By marrying its famously slick software and slender designs with the iTunes payment system, Apple could help create a way for media companies to alter the economics and consumer attitudes of the digital era.
This opportunity, however, comes with a sizable catch: Steven P. Jobs.
Mr. Jobs, the chief executive, made Apple the most important distributor of music by imposing its own will on the music labels, bullying them into accepting Apple's pricing and other terms. Apple sold lots of music, but the music labels claimed that iTunes had destroyed the concept of the album and damaged their already deteriorating bottom lines.
With the new tablet, media companies could be submitting themselves to similar pricing restrictions and sacrificing their direct relationship with customers to Apple.
For now, at least, the technology and media industries are looking at the brighter side. "Steve believes in old media companies and wants them to do well," said a person who is familiar with Apple's marketing plan for it. "He believes democracy is hinged on a free press and that depends on there being a professional press."
Part of the media industry's high hope for the tablet comes from descriptions of the device from analysts and others who have been briefed on it.
It will run all the applications of the iPhone and iPod Touch, have a persistent wireless connection over 3G cellphone networks and Wi-Fi, and will be built with a 10-inch color display, allowing newspapers, magazines and book publishers to deliver their products with an eye to the design that had grabbed readers in print.
Their optimism for the tablet also stems from consumers' willingness to spend money using mobile devices. In the last decade, while people downloaded music illegally to their desktop computers, they happily paid small amounts of money on their cellphones to download ring tones and send text messages.
Trip Hawkins, a founder of Electronic Arts and now chief executive of Digital Chocolate, which makes games for cellphones, says "When you have a device that is this convenient and fun for consumers to use, you can get a lot more people interested in paying for and engaging with the content. Big media companies should be all over this like a cheap suit."
Indeed, they already are. The New York Times Company, for example, is developing a version of its newspaper for the tablet, according to a person briefed on the effort.
Two magazine publishers, Conde Nast and Time Inc., have also created mockups of their magazines for tablets, even before such devices have hit the market.