Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Freedom Communication's first tablet application is for the OC Register; Handmark is the the development partner

Freedom Communication has released its first iPad app for one of its newspapers. The app for the OC Register appears to be a direct porting over of their iPhone app, with the same RSS feeds and categories being displayed, but this time for the larger tablet screen.
Back in April Freedom Communications inked a partnership deal with the developer Handmark Inc. Today the media company has 14 iPhone apps for its media properties available. The latest batch, released the same day as the OCR iPad app, are for the Valley Morning StarThe Odessa American, and O A Varsity (an Odessa high school sports site).

The developer, Handmark Inc., currently has over 100 iPhone apps that bear their name as "Seller" in the iTunes app store. In this case, however, Freedom Communications is listed as the seller, meaning that the media company has its own developer account with Apple that would allow them to charge for their app, should they choose. In this case, the OCR app is free to download and does not require either registration nor a subscription.

I suppose that the fact that this is an app that is a variation of the iPhone app justifies, in their minds, launching the app as free. But I certainly would not have advised this strategy.
Unlike mobile apps, tablet apps do pose direct competition to the print product. I would have recommended that the company spend more time designing their first iPad app, and that they charge some sort of fee or subscription for the service. (This still could be done in the future, I suppose.)

As an app, however, the OCR iPad prooduct is clean and well designed -- Handmark apps have proven to be consistent performers. Additionally, some of the news features here are simply more enjoyable on the larger screen, such as the video content.

Back in 2008 when Apple opened up its iPhone to third party development, the NYT news app was a revelation. I truly enjoyed reading the latest news on my phone and understood that the smartphone would develop into a media consumption device.

But 2008 seems a long time ago now. Many of the news apps on my phone have been deleted, with only a few remaining. The reason is simple: reading the news on my phone is a short-term, immediate experience. I glance at a few headline, see if I've missed something and then move on.

Other apps have replace those early news apps: specialty news app for sports scores, for instance. Weather, games, maps -- these my most important mobile apps now.

The New York Times, as well as a select few other media companies, seem to understand where smartphone apps are going. Their specialty apps like The Scoop and Real Estate are probably only the first of many specialty apps they will launch.

AOL provides another example of this trend. AOL currently has 32 apps available for the iPhone, and a handfull for Android. Four of the iPhone apps can be found under News, but the others are scattered in other categories.

The iPad (and future tablets), though, are a whole other matter. Here the experience is more like print. No wonder, then, that the NYT decided not to launch a free iPad app that offered full access to the Times newspaper content. Although it is rumored that the decision by the Times irritated Apple, the decision makes sense looking back. The choice was not popular with iPad owners, however, as a NYT app was certainly one of the things buyers were looking forward to using with their new tablets.
The iPad app is as much a flagship product as the print edition itself. Unless a media outlet's content is head-and-shoulders better than anyone else's, the design and organization of content in a tablet product is vitally important.

I remain impressed with the Financial Times app because it allows for offline reading, video integration, and a more newspaper-like look and feel. The app was released by in mid-May, still the stone age of iPad apps.

The downside of one-size fits all apps for phones and tablets are that the ease of converting content is trumped by the reality that owners of these devices might want something else. Because of this, a few developers such as DoApp are including in their phone apps such elements as location-based weather, traffic through Google Maps, and social networking tools. These add-ons, in the end, may be more important to the end user than the latest headlines. Location-aware couponing and promotions are other phone app features you will see coming soon, as well.

As summer turns to fall, I think the real news in media apps will come from those companies that began their development from scratch, and who have rethought the whole notion of mobile media.