Friday, August 6, 2010

End of the week odds and ends: preventing brand confusion, betting against tablets, more Comcast woes

The iTunes app store has been described as the Wild West (by me!) for the apparent randomness of apps. Because of this some companies need to institute brand discipline.

Of all the brand categories that have taken advantage of the iPad for marketing, I think the auto industry has done the best job. The really good Das app was released by VW early on, and good apps from Infiniti and others have appeared recently.
Audi, a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, has two iPad apps currently in the iTunes store: one from Audi UK, the other from a consulting group that ported over the Italian Audi magazine. The problem is that both apps are appearing in the U.S. iTunes store when it might be best if neither were there at all.

The UK app for the British magazine is at least in English, of course.

Unlike the corporately created apps for the other auto makers, these apps are simple PDF reader apps that have ported over their respective print magazines. I don't think there is anything wrong with this, but they are weak apps compared to the excellent work being done for the corporate auto brands.

Most of us know that the iPad holds tremendous potential to help create a new type of electronic magazine environment (though a few gurus are apparently hung up on their own outdated concepts of publishing). But does that mean that all periodicals ported to the tablet need to be multimedia tours de force?

No. With the iPad being used a reader much the same way the Kindle is, there are plenty of room for simple conversions. Just don't call them tablet publications, they are print publications converted for reading on the iPad.

One of the things I find funny about the anti-tablet crowd is how much they remind me of those back in the nineties who were against the web as a vehicle for publishers. They had their reasons, too (it's not permanent like print, it's not portable, not one uses it, etc.). But rather than proclaiming victory, tablet advocates should simply remember what won the battle back in the early days of the web -- time.

Time settles these battles better than trying to argue the merits. So then the question is 'do you want to bet against tablet publishing?' If the answer is 'yes" then do nothing. If you win the bet you save a few dollars, if you lose you are in big trouble. If you say 'no' and tablets become as important to publishing as many think they will then you are a winner, if they don't you lose a few dollars. You decide.

Comcast promised the world an iPad app that would control your cable box and do all sorts of interesting social networking things. We're still waiting for that one, but in the meantime Comcast recently came out with a mobile app that allows Comcast users to check their e-mail, check voice mail, etc.

Some iTunes reviewers have said the app is buggy, but I haven't found that to be the case at all. (A lot of iPhone users forget that they need, every once in a while, to reboot their phones. It improves stability, just as it does with a computer.)

Unfortunately, people's cable TV accounts can be a bit complicated. For instance, you may have several e-mail accounts with your ISP, and also get voice service through that same company, as well. So if you want to retrieve your home or home office voice mail using the new Comcast app you must sign in using the primary account holder information -- even if that is not you. As a result you get that person's e-mail in-box -- get for checking up on your spouse, I suppose, but not exactly a well thought out solution. Everyone's e-mail is private, but the home phone voice mail is used by everyone. Who the hell designed this app?

Update: Blogger is acting up and ate my changes to the end of this post. It turns out that there are settings   in the online Comcast site that allow you to adjust the user settings for "secondary" account holders -- by toggling the voice mail setting for the secondary user you will allow them to access voice mail system wide -- including in the iPhone app. Yeah, good way to end the week.

Oh, and it turns out the problem was certainly not the app, but the Comcast system that is way too complex for its own good. Worse, customer service has no clue about such things as apps and mobile media. If your cable TV is out they may be able to help you, but mobile apps . . .?