12:36 pm Feb. 3, 2011
Yesterday, at the press launch of Rupert Murdoch's new Ipad newspaper, The Daily, held in a below-grade auditorium at the Guggenheim Museum, a reporter asked Murdoch what demographic The Daily was after. "Upmarket? Downmarket? Men? Women?"
Jesse Angelo, the young and now-dapper 37-year-old News Corp. lifer who is running The Daily, jumped in to answer. He said that when The Daily's C.E.O. first came on board he'd asked the same question, and that Murdoch had answered, "Everybody!"
It was a perfectly Apple-compatible answer.
And why not? Murdoch has been known, when he sees that someone has figured something out completely, to sacrifice much to work with them. As other publishers complained about the restrictions on sales of their products in an Apple environment, Murdoch plowed ahead. He created a special relationship between News Corp. and Apple, because Apple had figured out how to sell products to everybody and still seem special. Now, he has placed a sizeable bet on a product that reflects the Apple ethos every bit as brightly as it does News Corp.'s.
I've spent some time now with The Daily, and read a lot of what others are saying about it. At the Guggenheim event, the phrase "The News from Nowhere" was used by at least one prominent media critic in the room to describe what we were seeing there. That's not quite true. It's the news from New York, N.Y. and Cupertino, Calif. New York supplies the journalism chops, the knowledge of how to report and edit and how to build a publication. But it's that layer of Cupertino—literally, the glossy glass in the black frame of the Ipad—through which The Daily speaks to readers. It's talked about as though it were a crystal goblet that gets entirely out of the way of the relationship between the reader and the content he or she is viewing. In fact if it were only that, I doubt whether Rupert Murdoch would have woken up in the middle of a May night determined to build for it.
Murdoch's need for that crucial Cupertino-ness, for example, was sufficiently acute to have overcome whatever concerns he might otherwise have had about the fairness of the split between Apple and publishers. AOL Daily Finance writer Jeff Bercovici pointed that out back in September: "Murdoch has often gushed with admiration for the iPad, which he calls a 'game-changer' that will revive the newspaper industry. That's in marked contrast to his stance toward the Kindle, whose maker, Amazon, galls Murdoch with its stingy revenue split and refusal to share customers' data."
Yesterday, Apple announced how it planned to handle publishers' sales—they can now sell product in their own apps without handing a cut to Apple; and there will be some data sharing. But though the announcement was prepared for the same day as the launch of The Daily, and though Apple executive Eddy Cue was asked at the Guggenheim when there would be a decision on Apple's handling of its relationships with publishers, he wouldn't answer there. He said to expect an announcement later that day.
Bercovici sees a "bromance" here between Jobs and Murdoch: "Jobs' strategy of using other people's cheap content to drive sales of expensive Apple devices also dovetails nicely with Murdoch's historic willingness to engage in price wars with competitors he regards as less deep-pocketed, more susceptible to investor pressure, or simply less committed than he."
The bromance might be said to date back to last summer, when the Apple store approved Murdoch's UK tabloid The Sun's Ipad app, complete with the infamous topless "Page 3 Girl" in vivid, Apple color. This contravened what was understood to be a fairly strict policy against nudity in Ipad applications. It almost seemed as if News Corp. was getting special treatment because of its involvement with Jobs in making The Daily.
More instructive from this episode, though, is how little The Daily resembles The Sun on the Ipad overall. The Daily is not a place for Page 3 Girls, whether the Ipad is or not. And that is surely deliberate.
There are also subtler links between the design, feel, and editorial vision of The Daily and Apple, and that's what really interests. The content of The Daily looks good, so far. But there's not much road behind them yet, and the staff and editors, if they do their jobs well, will find their voice and learn the most important thing for a publication: what doesn't belong there. Can there really be any question that as far as that goes, conscious or not, the Appleishness of the environment will be a big part of it?
Product design has always been a big part of Apple's approach. Apple products defied logic by making the home computer a consumer good, like a Kitchen-Aid blender or a new television. The conventional wisdom before Steve Jobs was that this was unachievable for tech products. The usability of the software and the friendliness of the hardware are all part of it. Who would bother to add a deposit into a digital checkbook by opening and booting up a laptop that took five minutes to start up? Who wants to drag around a computer that looks like a security briefcase?
Over the years, as Apple's design conversation with users has grown and developed, certain aesthetic choices have become a part of Apple's identity. Apple products are most successful when they are for everyone—a people's product. It's not edgy stuff.
In fact, over the last few years, the edges have literally been taken off everything: Ask a designer and she will rattle off the precise corner-radius of the rounded corners of an App icon so that it is Apple compliant. Apple doesn't publish that radius, you have to figure it out yourself and then design it so it looks right when Apple chops your corners off. MacBooks and Iphones are all rounded corners on the outside too. Look at the windows that open in your Apple web browsers: three of the four corners are rounded. The scrollbars look like elongated ball-bearings rolling in a cylindrical tract, rather than hard, square buttons with a little ridge in the middle as though you need to literally be able to grip them with your mouse to use them that you get on PCs.
Apple interfaces get a subtle bevel near the top with their own radius, and they are frequent users of the half-reflection: Objects in Apple's universe tend to be standing straight up on a floor so glossy it produces a mirror image of the object. That this happens to everything is a sort of branding, but it's also like giving the same high-and-tight haircut to every guy who walks into your barbershop.