Monday, August 30, 2010

Developers continue to release iPad RSS news reader apps to fill the void left by hesitant publishers

They say power abhors a vacuum, and I guess that saying goes for app developers, as well -- when they see an opening they'll march right in with an app that fills the need. RSS readers are the latest trend in apps as developers fill up Apple's iTunes app store with paid RSS readers, few much better or unique than the others.
This new app called ChicagoSportsFeeds is a good example - a basic reader that grabs feeds from the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, Fox Sports Chicago, Comcast Sports Net, ESPN and others. Because it is a paid app, it is questionable whether the app is actually legal -- my guess is that many of these media firms have legal language that prevents the use of the RSS feed for commercial purposes. Recently the Pulse news reader, one of the most popular and well designed readers available, was pulled following a complaint by lawyers from the New York Times, only to reappear within hours.

Paid RSS feed apps that preload different feeds and reformat the content are stretching the limits of what can be considered fair use. But interestingly media firms don't appear eager to challenge these developers. For one thing, assuming the content links back to the original site then they are good traffic drivers for the publishers.

Apple continues to approve these apps regardless of their merit, or their legal right to be created in the first place -- though in the case of news readers there should be a question about their legality, in general. A few weeks ago a series of apps hit the iTune store that seemed to me to be clear violations of trademarks. Nothing much was said about it until TNM asked the publishers if they had a problem with their brand names and content being reused by the developer. The apps are now no longer in iTunes.

But the reason these apps exist in the first place is simply that publishers are not filling the need created by the growth in mobile devices and now the iPad.

The good news for publishers is that these reader apps are generally horribly designed and not very valuable -- they can be replaced pretty easily by a genuine media app from the original publisher. But the better apps are today replacing your websites and print publications because they offer good layouts and are natively designed for the tablet.