One of the last great arguments in favor of the printed newspaper is its portability. You can read it anywhere, even in the subway or on the toilet. In fact, that's always been one of the great arguments against the online newspaper: You can't very well drag a computer into the bathroom to read the news. That one goes back at least 15 years.
Well, that's changing. Has been for years, actually. We experimented with putting an electronic version of The Washington Post on an Apple Newton back in 1993, headline services are available for PDAs, Blackberrys and other mobile devices, and the first reaction I had when I saw the Sony Vaio mini-laptop a few years ago, I swear, was, "Hey! You could read the paper on the john with that!"
And now comes Apple's iPhone, which puts a full-blown Web browser (and many other truly remarkable features) in the palm of your hand. It was hard to miss a famous newspaper logo in the onslaught of advertising that led up to the iPhone's launch: The example Apple used to demonsrate Web surfing on the iPhone in its ads was no less than NewYorkTimes.com. Which, as it turns out, looks very good on the iPhone's incredibly sharp little screen.
Web news executives ought to be looking very closely at the iPhone and thinking about how they can tailor products to it and the devices that will follow it. With its fullblown Web capability, the iPhone finally begins to meet the requirement for a portable new reader that rivals print. It's still a baby step--in the next few years, we'll see bigger screens and lighter devices, even ones that you can roll up and stick in your pocket like a newspaper. But the iPhone already fits in your pocket, surfs the Web and offers the same interaction with Times.com as a desktop computer or laptop. The future, as it turns out once again, is now.