Monday, April 5, 2010

The first mover advantage: small number of media apps give advantage to some; others wait to launch their apps

Media companies were a distinct minority this morning in the iTunes iPad app store. The Times, USA Today and a handful of others launched apps in time to be seen by new owners of Apple's tablet, but compared to games and books, newspaper and magazine apps were sparse. (And don't look for apps from media industry trade pubs or web sites, either.)

The media industry, being a conservative community, played wait-and-see. Some were expected to be there at launch (the NYT, for instance) and some proudly proclaimed they would be (NPR) and were. The Guardian, interestingly, did not launch a news app on launch day, but instead offered The Guardian Eyewitness, an app that can be found under Photography.
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Few decided to launch early to try and establish first mover advantage -- and those that did, like the Times, did so cautiously with a scaled back app that probably disappointed more iPad users than wowed them.

One of those that launched on April 3rd was from the Condé Nast web site Epicurious. The iPad app from Epicurious was one of about 30-40 food oriented apps to be found on iTunes Saturday morning (including Order Pizza for iPad and the totally worthless iBum for iPad that somehow made it through Apple's approval process).

The Epicurious iPad app is a very simply, clean, usable app that takes advantage of the iPads added real estate, but none of its multimedia capabilities (more on this later). By launching first, Epicurious has staked its ground as the leading recipe and food app -- not because it is trying to do everything, but because of its brand name and ease of use. The free app plays it safe by keeping things simple: remember, the vast majority of developers worked with an iPad to test their programs.
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Epicurious, by launching first, vies to be the cook's default iPad app.

If this was a conscious decision then I think Condé Nast has been wise to go in this direction. That is, keeping things simple early so that they can launch before many competitors, but don't attempt to do things that simply won't work because of the limitation of developing in the dark.

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Epicurious's web site will be able to provide the brand with plenty of content that can enhance their iPad app in the future. Video, in particular, seems a natural. But will they want to keep their iPad app focused on cooking? The Alice Waters video seen now on their web site is really a feature, not a cooking instruction video.

So where does Epicurious go from here:
  • free versus paid: the app is currently free, do they continue to keep it this way, adding advertising to monetize the site?
  • video and audio: this is a keep-it-simple versus add features argument. Also, does Epicurious stay recipe oriented while Bon Appetit launches with features and multimedia? (Strangely, Bon Appetit currently has neither an iPad nor iPhone app - is this a corporate decision? It must have felt weird when they posted this story entitled 5 Best Health Apps for the iPhone.)
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More screenshots from the iPad app from Epicurious.

The Food Network was one of those brands that I searched for immediately on my iPad. The TV and web property has been slow to embrace mobile media, only launching their iPhone app late last year. (Reviews for the app are not enthusiastic, to say the least.)
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Some software developers, though, rushed food apps to Apple to take advantage of the conservative nature of publishers. Several paid apps offer recipes and other features like a timer (see Cook's Pad a $9.99 app at left), as well as excellent layouts that take advantage of the iPad's larger screen and sharp resolution.

But ultimately, good content should win out, shouldn't it?