Tribune developing an Android tablet?


One solution to the decline in traditional newspaper delivery: Tribune is working on a touchscreen tablet that it plans to offer to subscribers, according to a CNN report. The tablet is expected to run a modified version of Google’s Android OS and prominently feature software for the owner’s hometown newspaper. Tribune, still pleading its case in bankruptcy court, aims to offer the tablet for free, or at a highly subsidized price, to people who agree to sign up for extended subscriptions to one of its papers and possibly a wireless-data plan with a partner cellular carrier, the story quotes anonymous sources as saying.

“The initiative, a major one for the national media company hoping to emerge soon from bankruptcy, spans several cities and includes various consultants and partner organizations, the people said. Tribune has been in discussions with Samsung Electronics and others to build the hardware, three people said.”

Tribune owns a handful of major daily newspapers, including Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Baltimore Sun, Daily Press and The Morning Call.

The project has proved to be a more complicated undertaking than expected. Tribune had set a mid-August deadline to begin testing the tablet in Chicago and Southern California, but it will miss that target, said three of the people.

“They’re having to reinvent many wheels,” said a person familiar with the matter. “If it turns out to be a failure, it’ll be a fantastically interesting failure.”

Tribune’s major newspapers currently offer free applications for the major smartphone platforms and on Apple’s iPad. The company also has a multimedia program, called Mosaic, for Windows tablets and phones as well as for Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which is based on Android.

However, Tribune’s newspapers don’t have apps optimized for the new breed of Android tablets, which run a version called Honeycomb.

The tablet project is getting deep technical resources and attention from Tribune’s highest ranks, said five of the people familiar with its development. Meanwhile, the company has recently restructured its media services and publishing facilities, laid off editorial staff and is continuing to plead its case in bankruptcy court.

Eddy Hartenstein, Tribune CEO, is the tablet’s biggest advocate, personally briefing people on his vision for the product, said four people familiar with the matter. “It’s Eddy’s baby,” one person familiar with the plans, told CNN.

RBR-TVBR observation: Part of the problem is many of the folks the tablet would target are current paper subscribers and are “set in their ways,” so to speak, not likely to want to read from a tablet. However, if the model really does give subscribers – or potential new subscribers – a very discounted tablet (and a great wireless carrier plan) with the deal as CNN hears, there’s potentially a large segment that would jump at it.