Tuesday, July 13, 2010

LMU launches iPad application for its college magazine; Apps everywhere, but is volume better than quality?

Back in the early days of the iPad -- OK, I mean a couple of months ago -- a team of developers and journalism students at Abilene Christian University worked to create and launch their own iPad app for their college newspaper as a project. The ACU team missed the launch date of April 3rd by a couple of days, but were nonetheless successful at launching the first college newspaper app for the iPad.
At the time the team was already thinking about upgrading their app and adding new features, but college work, including finals, intervened and the app has not been updated since its launch on April 6th. (You can find the app in iTunes here.)

It may be summer but some other colleges are no doubt looking to use Apple's tablet as another way to spread the word about their universities.

Loyola Marymount University has just launched an iPad app for its magazine, and to promote the app is giving away an iPad as a prize. 3,000 people will be allowed to register to win an iPad with the LMU app pre-loaded. (I hope the contest is

The LMU magazine includes web addresses for video content, but the app itself does not provide a live link.

The app itself is functional -- I suppose that is my way of saying that it works (does not crash) but doesn't offer any real native features. For instance, the print magazine lists web addresses for video content, but the app does not even include live links to the web content. Clearly this is a PDF reader, but were the developers aware that PDFs have allowed for live links for ages? Oh well.

I applaud LMU for the effort, though I hope the Fall session will see another class take this app to the next level.

The quality of an industry can be judged by the quality of its "gurus" -- and the newspaper industry surely has the most embarrassing group of thought-leaders around.

A good example can be found when discussing the news that Google has created a software package that allows "anyone" to build their own Android app. The video Google produced shows a young lady building an app for here phone that includes a button, a picture of her cat, and sound file -- push the button and the phone app produces a meow. Wow, now that is programming.

One media blogger called it the equivalent of Quark -- now anyone can build an app. Nice thought. But I wonder if the writer himself knows Quark. I do, but in all my time as a publisher I never met another publisher who knew their way around Quark -- let alone Photoshop. Am I wrong, does everyone who works at a newspaper now know Quark or InDesign?

But fawning over Google's do-it-yourself app creator was not limited to those outside of tech. A quick search finds dozens of stories that fall over themselves proclaiming a bright new day -- and showing their political sympathies, the end of Apple's hegemony of application development.

I won't link to the worst offenders -- there are many.

But this story from LinuxInsider is probably one of the better stories, however. It looks at Google's App Inventor and states the obvious:
On the one hand, putting development capabilities in the hands of the masses could dramatically accelerate the growth rate of the Android Market, making it more competitive with Apple's App Store; that, in turn, could serve to increase consumer interest in the Android platform and enlarge the potential audience for all the apps created by real developers.

On the other hand, there's the potential that the technology's do-it-yourself approach could "dumb down" Android apps and flood the Android Market with inferior offerings.
Later it quotes on editor: "Do we really need more soundboards, cat photos and 'Twilight' wallpaper apps?" Indeed.

Just as a newspaper or magazine has needed good art direction, and those art directors have needed good technical skills, media companies need to understand that they need to embrace professional application development. Either outsource app development, or create internal capabilities, but look for a cheap solution.

Creating a meowing cat app is not good application development. It may be a nice feature for the consumer market, but taking short cuts won't bring newspapers into the age of mobile media.