Friday, June 25, 2010

Mercury News gets around to launching mobile app

You would think that a daily newspaper that covered cities that housed Apple and Google would be among the first to launch mobile applications, but the San Jose Mercury News today finally got around to launching its own branded mobile app.
The Mercury News Bay Area app is a bit like the Sports Illustrated iPad app released yesterday in that it is an example of where media app development is today -- it has all the usual navigation and content, but breaks no new ground, and in the end, is disappointing because one would have expected more from the daily newspaper of Silicon Valley.

{First, a bit of disclosure content: I was a former advertising manager in the Bay Area, and while the Mercury News was not a direct competitor with the newspapers I worked for, was nonetheless the giant of the Bay Area. Its classified section was absolutely incredible -- every Sunday the classified section was as large and packed with ads as any complete Thanksgiving edition of another metro daily. The paper was also the newspaper voice of the tech industry -- quoted elsewhere on a regular basis, breaking stories and embarrassing the San Francisco papers with its news coverage. But that was the late eighties into the nineties -- a long time ago.}

This new Mercury News app, if released back in June of 2008 when Apple first launched its app store for the iPhone, would have been revolutionary. Instead, it is a very good news app that local residents will no doubt find of use.

In addition to its main news section, the app features Bay Area, Business, California, Entertainment, High School Sports and other news sections hidden behind its "More" navigation button. It is, of course, simply an RSS Reader.

I suppose there is nothing wrong for a daily newspaper to release an RSS reader styled iPhone app in June of 2010 -- many newspapers are still to launch its first mobile apps. But this is the daily newspaper of Silicon Valley and I just can't help but shake my head and wonder why a newspaper like the Mercury News couldn't have partnered with tech company to develop a serious application.

The laundry list of things missing from this app is extensive. First, there is no advertising -- none. That would be fine if there was a nominal charge for the app -- the marketing department could have advertised the app as ad free. Is this app waiting for iAds? It's possible, and would make sense. We'll see on July 1 when Apple launches its mobile ad network.

Also missing is anything to do with maps and location aware technology. Is there no traffic in the Bay Area? I lived in the Bay Area for eight years and I seem to remember traffic, lots of traffic, ungodly traffic. Have the bridges been torn down and the highways quadrupled in size? All the DoApp news apps incorporate traffic maps in their apps, surely the Merc could have included this, as well.

Classified: yikes, when will a news app incorporate classified advertising?

OK, enough of the complaints. Yes, this is nice app. If it came from a small daily somewhere in the Midwest I would be impressed. But . . .

I might add this is the only mobile app currently available from MediaNews Group. I find that incredible, but somehow not surprising.

Left: the main news area; Middle: a typical article;
Right: what's hidden under "More".

Unless something occurs today that fancies my interest this will be my last post on Talking News Media. The past six months have been both a lot of work and a bit of fun. I've certainly learned the limitations of Blogger -- WordPress for me from now on unless the templates for Blogger get more complex and interesting.

I've also enjoyed speaking to so many app developers, many of the interviews can be found by following the links on the right side of the page about mid way down. About a week or so ago I spoke with James Sweeney the editor of the iPad-only magazine Sideways, unfortunately it doesn't look like that story will be completed, sorry.

What I'll miss covering is what I expect to see in the second half of this year and early next: Android tablets; the new branded app from Sporting News that will incorporate sports video highlights; the New York Times metered paywall; the first iPad apps with serious HTML5 animation; the first iPhone news apps that use location aware capabilities combined with directories of local businesses or classified ads; news apps that allow calling from within apps; the first real attempts by a B2B publisher to launch iPad magazines and to use mobile media in any serious manner; a VC that understands that the future of media is content-everywhere mediums and not simply more cost reductions and layoffs -- OK, that last one simply won't happen.

I'll spend the next two weeks deciding what the next website will look like and then launch again. But in the meantime, if anyone is looking for a New Media advocate, someone with a ton of experience in media, and now a fair amount of knowledge of web, mobile and tablet publishing give me a call I'm still here and available.