Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oprah has an app: not exactly a replica edition and not exactly a native app, will O fans may feel a bit ripped off?

I don't know what to make of the new app from Hearst Communications for O, The Oprah Magazine. Billed as a "taste of the December issue" this app does not deliver the entire issues (and its ads), nor is it organized the same sort of way a magazine would be, but it will still cost you $3.99 nonetheless.
Hearst has been one of those companies that seemed eager to begin developing for the iPad, but instead most of its magazines are only available as replica editions through Zinio, with only Esquire and Popular Mechanics with their only native apps (Marie Claire has a special Fall Fashion app available in the App Store.

Now comes this app for Oprah Winfrey's magazine . . . or is it? This seems more like a product line extension than a real attempt at a tablet edition. A tablet edition would attempt to move the reader through the app the way an editor and art director moves the reader through the pages of a print magazine. Instead, this app takes the content of the magazine, adds in some interactivity, and then seems to throw it at the reader in a haphazard way.

But that's a critique of the app as content, what about the app itself?
The app, which was just recently released, has already received one update. The update only says "Enhanced functionality" -- I really don't know what that means, did someone leave something out.

The app uses swiping and a page viewer to allow readers to navigate around the issue. But once the reader reaches an actual article one sees that this is definitely a modified replica edition -- but without the ads.

An interview with Oprah Winfrey Tyler Perry is almost an exact copy of the print page with no pinch-to-zoom and no scrolling to read the rest of the story, instead one simply swipes to reach the next page, just as one would do with a replica edition. On the second page of the Oprah Winfrey Tyler Perry story there is a video feature Oprah Winfrey Tyler Perry in place of a photograph, but otherwise you wouldn't know this isn't a replica edition.

Except for the ads . . . or the lack thereof. Clearly, based on my snark above, it is clear that I am no fanboy, but I wonder if readers of O, The Oprah Magazine aren't like a lot of magazine readers -- they enjoy the ads as much as the editorial copy.

This is an interesting area to me. A lot of early app reviews in iTunes complain about paying for apps that contain ads. But a lot of research of magazine and newspaper readers show that the ads are part of the content. Would I really want a fashion or bridal magazine without the ads?

It will be interesting to see what app buyers think of this app after living with it a while.

Update: it turns out that I had downloaded the original app, not the updated version -- though it is hard at first blush to see the difference. Having looked at the app another time (my third look at it) I can see that the content upfront has a lot of 'native' features such as animation and such. The back-end features, however, are still pretty much 'replica' in nature which the addition of such things as video content.

I'm still pretty torn about this app -- and it doesn't help that the celebrity worship nature of O itself bothers me -- so I'll just repeat what I originally wrote: it will be interesting to what iPad owners themselves think of the app.