Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sports Illustrated releases its long-anticipated iPad app

Update: I see "Rik" has written that I said that activating notifications sends you an e-mail -- that is not what I said at all, only that this will lead to you being spammed by the developer. This must have hit a hot button because I received another comment along the same lines.

Let's spell it out: developers are using the push notifications to become spammers and if this continues will lead to iPhone and iPad users turning notifications off -- not a bad idea really.

So "Rik" if you are one of those developers here is a suggestion: go away.

The very first post on Talking New Media was this one which featured the famous Time Inc. preview of their vision of tablet publishing. It showed how it felt an issue of Sports Illustrated would look on a some future tablet. The video demo came out just as rumors that Apple would soon announce that they would launch a tablet had made it into the press. I wrote at the time that "This is certainly a major step ahead of the traditional "flipbook" solution."
Now that I've announced that TNM will be shuttered it seems appropriate that Sports Illustrated should release its first iPad app.

The app may be free but the company has decided to follow the model established with Time magazine by charging $4.99 per issue. That decision to not discount tablet editions has proved to be unpopular, to say the least -- 85 percent of reviews in iTunes are negative. A typical review: "This app is brilliant. Only $260 a year to get content freely available on the web or delivered to your door in print for a fifth of that. Idiots."

But that has not stopped Time Inc. from repeating itself again.

The app, when opened, immediately asks if it can send you push notifications, those annoying e-mails that too many companies are abusing. Some apps have been launched to take advantage of the notification process to act like a spam machine. I'm sure that in this case the notification process is being used to tell iPad owners that a new edition of SI is available, but it would be interesting to know how many iPad owners say "yes" today, and how many later on say "oops, should have said no".

The app gives the users two options: downloading the latest issue at $4.99 or viewing a sample issue that Terry McDonell, the editor, says demonstrates "the new functionality and enhancements that will make SI on the iPad everything you've come to expect from the magazine plus the best of" So off to the sample issue we go.

Well, could they have created a more ugly and less appropriate cover? It's June and the U.S. Open concluded on Sunday and the World Cup is ongoing, and they have football on the cover? On top of that its not even an interesting shot! Now compare their actual iPad app with what they envisioned back in December:

It must have been incredibly disappointing for the SI team to have to release an actual app that was so far away from the original vision. In the end, the actual magazine the app delivers is not far away from a flipbook, with only a minimal amount of programming inside.

“When we released a video demo last November of what SI might be on the iPad, we knew expectations would be very high,” McDonnell said in the company's press release for the app launch. “Hopefully we have exceeded those expectations.”
The app gives you a quick lesson in navigation, which works fine. But unlike the Vanity Fair app, the Sports Illustrated app does not try and give you two different editions of the issue -- one portrait and one landscape -- and that is fair enough knowing that the magazine will have to create new iPad editions on a weekly basis.

The app is a pretty good example of where the major media companies are today in regard to app development. The app gives you article sharing features, portrait and landscape reading, some video embedded.

What the app lacks is complicated animation.
But the fact that Apple's has made it impossible to use Flash has been a huge setback for app developer looking to fulfill the SI vision. Magazine and web designers are just not ready to use HTML5 to animate their iPad editions in any complicated fashion. So SI has kept it simple, using animation in spots and keeping it simple.

What the app does have is a "News & Scores" feature that opens up a new window to allow the user to view up-to-date news from the website.

The actual new edition of the magazine contains ads from AT&T, Gatorade, Lexus, Got Milk?, Nissan, Sprint and Toyota. But the fact that iPad owners will have to pony up $4.99 per issue makes me wonder how successful SI will be with this app. Had this app launched back in April along side the iPad itself, users may have happily spent the money to experiment with the medium the way they did with Time magazine's app. But my gut tells me that iPad owners will be disappointed in this app: at first because it is so far from wild vision seen in the demo video, but later simply because the pricing and execution of the app seems very old school.

We'll see if the Zinio developed app being created for Sporting News, which publisher Jeff Price promises for later this summer, will bring a different vision of tablet publishing to readers.

WoodWing Software, which worked with Sports Illustrated on the app, has released a press release on launch day. They, as you can imagine, are calling the app an "an exhilarating experience."

WoodWing's Digital Magazine Tools works with the designer's InDesign files to help create the iPad editions. But even the software company admits that there is still a long way to go when it comes to tablet publishing.

"We still have plenty of features on our wish list and under development at the moment, but I think the iPad apps available today clearly show that we're offering a versatile and mature solution," said Erik Schut, President of WoodWing Software.


Rik said...

When you activate push notifications, it does not send you an email; do you actually own an iPad or iPhone?

Douglas Hebbard said...

Activating push does not automatically mean you will receive an e-mail, only that you will when the app maker wants to communicate with those that have downloaded the app.

And yes I own both an iPhone and an iPad.