As Microsoftits vision for pen-based computing this week, it also said it signed deals with these top publishers to help transform the tablet PC into something people will pick up, take with them and read.
To do this, Microsoft is working with Forbes, the Financial Times, the New Yorker, Slate and two foreign economic magazines, France's Les Echoes and Germany's Wirtschafts Woche, to build tools for publishing a trial set of electronic magazines that will available for download sometime in 2003.
The effort is an attempt to build on other digital publishing initiatives like that of e-books, a once-heralded business that has struggled to catch on in the mainstream. People have yet to become comfortable with on-screen reading for great lengths of time, and limitations in technology have hampered wide adoption of portable reading devices.
Still, the periodicals are viewing the opportunity as a means to innovate and appeal to advertisers in a new way. Microsoft-owned Slate, for example, announced that Volvo would be a major sponsor for the first six months of its trial, spending in the six-figure range, according to its publisher. Others say that advertisers are excited about the coming technology because it combines the familiar--magazine-style print ads--with the interactivity of the Web.
"Everyone's been looking for the breakthrough in online advertising and it hasn't come yet," said David Carey, publisher of the New Yorker. "With the tablet, (advertisers) can take what they like about it--they can take a print ad and offer lots of ways to drill down to tell a much deeper story."
Microsoft demonstrated the device Thursday by presenting a digital edition of the New Yorker that showed an ad for the Audi on page two. Carey said that Audi could restructure its print advertisement for the page and show a 30-second commercial or link to specific Web pages if readers asked for more information.
The New Yorker plans to produce a near-rendition of its magazine for trial, with the same layout, articles, cartoons and spot art as the print edition, available weekly. Pricing has yet to be determined, Carey said.
Microsoft's Advanced Technologies Reading Group is taking the lead on development for all magazines, creating technology to transport content from traditional publishing tools onto the tablet PC. The development team's mission is to make "on-screen reading a more vital, pleasurable experience for consumers," said Grant Duers, a director in the group.
The group is using technology called clear type to create sharper fonts to relieve reader eyestrain. It is also displaying the magazines in traditional formats in an effort to make them more familiar to readers. People can read pages as they would in a magazine, clicking page-up or page-down buttons rather than scrolling through text as they would on the Web.
"We're testing technology to bring magazines and newspapers to the PC in a better way, and then they will buy more PCs and tablets," Duers said. "Everybody's very excited about it. The only issue is proving the technology."
Much depends on the success of tablet PCs. Without people regularly using the devices, the magazines would be doomed to fail; they wouldn't be able draw enough readers to prove attractive to advertisers.
Tablet PC advertising could be interesting as print and Web marketing converge, said Adam Gerber, an ad executive at interactive agency DigitalEdge. "The issue will be the penetration of the tablet PC and how quickly is it going to become a standard," Gerber said.
Still, many of the publishers agree that the tablet PC would not be a substitute for print magazines, but a valuable experiment that plays into the convergence of digital and traditional publishing.
"It's not a replacement for the print edition, but a subscriber could carry around dozens of editions of the New Yorker or save favorite articles," Carey said. "This is a portrait of a much more natural reading experience from the computer.
"This lets us bring an innovative idea to advertisers that is worthy of our time and investment," he said.
Others see opportunity in tablet PC publishing as well. Earlier this month, software maker Zinio Systems introduced free publishing software, called the Zinio Reader, for Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. In partnership with magazines including BusinessWeek, Zinio plans to deliver digital magazine titles onto the tablet PC.
For online magazine Slate, the Microsoft venture takes the publication one step closer to a reader's natural habitat.
"Our content and technology are melding together nicely, giving us the ability to become a mobile magazine," said Cyrus Krohn, Slate's publisher. "Now readers can take Slate to the toilet with them."