I’ve written in the past about the iPad’s impact on the magazine industry, but the iPad remains just as important to newspapers as it is to magazines. The Congressional Research Service’s 2009 report on the newspaper industry found that this could be the “worst financial crisis [for the newspaper industry] since the Great Depression.” Tablets and new form factors have brought new hope to the industry and many newspapers have made the iPad a crucial pillar in their digital strategy. Beyond paywalls, the iPad represents a significant potential revenue source. The iPad’s release has brought with it scores of digital newspapers, among them storied brands like the New York Times, the Financial Times, and the Times of London.

The WSJ App's Front Page

New Form Factor, New Opportunities
The iPad is one of the first computing platforms to mimic the form factor of magazines and newspapers. Many newspapers have tried to port their publications to the iPad while maintaining many of the same visual styles and layouts that their readers are accustomed to. Some attempt to add interactivity in the same manner WIRED Magazine did, with the occasional slideshow and manipulable photographs.

Yet despite the traditionalism of most of the newspaper apps, I’ve found them invaluable. No longer is it necessary to carry a newspaper or two around. The iPad is an invaluable companion on a commute. I’ve found myself downloading all three of my favorite newspapers (the WSJ, FT, and NYT) in the morning and reading them all on the train. It really is terrific to have the iPad function as an all-in-one book, newspaper, and magazine reader. The Kindle may have the ability to download newspapers, but its functionality is nowhere near as robust as that provided by the iPad.

Highlights and Disappointments
The Financial Times application has been my favorite thus far. The app also won an Apple Design Award this year. The app includes the FT’s terrific content in a well designed layout, with great video content no more than a touch away.

Financial Times App's Markets Section

Moving between articles and sections is intuitive, and it doesn’t take much time to download an edition on the way to work. The app adds serious value, however, by linking into real time financial information. The FT, a paper designed for businessmen, allows users to look at the financial markets at a glance, providing a great overview of the currency, stock, and equities markets. The WSJ has some great features as well, including the ability to save articles and editions for later. I like how the app keeps the past couple of editions of the paper for perusal. The New York Times, not to be left behind, has also released a solid application.

There are, however, still problems with each application. One is common to all newspaper and content applications in the App Store – the inability to download content in the background. Instapaper developer Marco Arment has lamented the issue in a great post about iOS4. We can only hope that Apple will start including some mechanism to allow users to download content in the background with a future OS update.

Conclusion
As with magazines, newspapers are seeing reinvention and innovation on the iPad. Established media brands have begun paying serious attention to the platform, and it promises to pay off for them in the future.