The unpatented tablet

Clearing out some old clippings at work I came across the following article from the Townsville Bulletin reprinted from (I guess) a Colorado newspaper. It turns out that Roger Fidler is a little bit famous on this point. In a nutshell he probably invented the iPad.

…Fidler had a chance to patent his tablet idea way back when, but took a pass. He believed it should be left unprotected so that the entire newspaper industry could benefit from it. Unfortunately, none of the high-powered brains running the newspaper business 20 years ago took him up on that offer…

Video here, for your convenience:

And now, thanks to the hi-tech method of typing the whole thing out, the article in the Townsville Bulletin.

Townsville Bulletin

31st October 1995

News tablet reads the reader as the reader reads the news

From Steffan Wagner, in Colorado

At first glance it looks like an unpretentious flat piece of grey plastic, but according to Roger Fidler, holding it up: "This is the newspaper of the future. The age of newsprint and paper is past".

The Tablet, as 52 year-old Mr Fidler calls his invention, weighs just under a kilogram and is 2cm thick. It is about as big as a foolscap page and looks just like a normal newspaper.

But touch the LCD (liquid crystal display) screen once and the "front page" comes to life. Subsequent touches produce video clips, graphic, analyses and the rest of the newspaper. The first prototypes of the interactive electronic newspaper are due on the US market in 1997 and, if everything runs to plan, more than 50 per cent of US households are targeted to be equipped with a Tablet within 15 years.

According to Mr Fidler, his invention sounds the death knell for conventional newspapers and also bodes ill for on-screen electronic newspapers designed for home computers. "Who wants to have to set up a personal computer, a monitor and a keyboard on the breakfast table if they want to know what's going on in the world?" asks Mr Fidler. On-line computer newspapers are not the ideal solution for other locations either: on the beach, in the subway or in the restaurant for example.

The Tablet is designed to be as idiot-proof as possible to use, "but it is the portability of the Tablet that is our greatest success", says Mr Fidler. "Using the Tablet, one can read an up-to-date paper anytime and anywhere".

Mr Fidler began his newspaper career aged 11 as a newspaper delivery boy in Eugene, Oregon. For the next 41 years he served the newspaper trade in such varied guises as reporter, author, designer, photographer, media adviser and art director.

For the past 2 1/2 years, Mr Fidler has been chief of the Informations Design Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, spear-heading research and development of the "portable, personal information apparatus". The lab is a think-tank run by media giant Knight Ridder which has a turnover of $US2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) and publishes, among other things, 29 daily newspapers in the united States.

Another feature of the Tablet is advertising, which in a normal newspaper in the US would make up around 80 per cent of the total revenue. One touch on the screen converts a static advertisement into a moving video picture, providing the reader with additional information about the product. Further touches allow the user to order goods or even reserve a table in his or her favourite restaurant. "The reader can then decide – just as with a normal shop window – whether to walk on by or to enter the establishment," explains Mr Fidler.

Readers' selection information, by touches on certain parts of the screen, provide a profile of that user and this allows editorial staff to tailor news supply to that individual. These profiles can also help advertising companies optimally serve target groups. Readers who regularly hog travel pages, for example, would find increasingly more ads for airlines in their Tablet.

There are still a few technical glitches to be ironed out, however. At present there is only enough storage capability for about six 30-second video clips. The battery is still far too heavy and Mr Fidler is still on the lookout for the ideal high resolution screen to provide a sharp image.

However, Mr Fidler is optimistic: "I think we've already solved the Tablet's main problems. Technical development is continuing and in the next few years we can expect storage capacity in the one gigabyte range (one gigabyte equals one billion bytes of information). For a single edition of the Tablet newspaper we need between 20 and 50 megabytes (one megabyte equals one million bytes)."

Paper, newsprint and distribution are all expensive and make up about 60 per cent of a conventional newspaper's production costs. Should the Tablet project be a success, then all these aspects would cease to exist. So, of course, would newspaper delivery people and waste-paper collections. Wet shoes stuffed with the sport section and glasses wrapped in the front page would become a thing of the past. However printed paper would not entirely disappear, in Mr Fidler's opinion: "We still found a use for horses, even after the automobile was invented."