Monday, December 6, 2010

Freedom Communications punts on tablet strategy, releases series of iPad apps modeled after mobile apps

Today TNM looks at three different visions of tablet publishing: from a native app from the Portugese news magazine Visão, to the converted mobile apps of Freedom Communications, and finally to the new mobile magazines from Nomad Editions.

After getting my "J" degree I left the cold of the Midwest and moved to California. I joined Hearst Newspapers in Los Angeles starting in the classified ad department to make the rent so I could stay in California. (Here comes a story.)
I remember one enjoyable weekend visiting the La Brea Tar Pits. At the museum visitors watched a short film that explained the tap pits and how animals used to come to the pits to drink the water but would become stuck in the tar and would sink in -- only to have their bones discovered thousands of years later. The tar pits are famous, of course, for the mammoths and pre-historic wolves who met their end in the slimy goo.

Strange how that this story came to me after viewing these new iPad apps from Freedom Communications.

The struggling newspaper company has released 13 new tablet apps following their first iPad app release in August for the Orange County Register. I wrote a post concerning that first app that was ... well, a bit dishonest. Frankly, when I first saw that app I was appalled. Surely, this was just a stop gap measure, something to be released and later modified?

The developer, Handmark, has been a leader in the developer of media mobile apps. Their apps are generally free of bugs, offer standard features, and serve the purpose of a generic RSS feed oriented mobile app. TNM has written a number of times about the company and their apps, and I have spoken to representatives there on a number of occasions including in March when Jon Maroney, Senior Vice President of Mobile Publishing, said the company was gearing up for the iPad.

"The reason you work with a company like ours is because the iPad comes out, and in six months there will be a software upgrade. And in the meantime there's also some new Blackberry's out, and that's going to break whatever works today. There's going to be new versions of Android coming out and more changes to the Android ecosystem. We take care of all that for you from a development standpoint," Maroney said at the time.

But then that OC Register app came out and I was taken aback. My post held back a bit -- even complimenting the app for being "clean and well designed" -- whatever that meant. Clearly I was working really hard to say something nice. I followed that part of the post with a section that talked about the "one-size fit all" apps, and how they simply could not compare with iPad apps that were designed "from scratch" like the NYT or Financial Times. I was making a point -- don't just take your iPhone app and just blow it up for the iPad.

That, sadly, is precisely what Freedom Communications has done with these apps.
These new apps for the Freedom portfolio of newspapers are not universal apps -- ones specifically designed for the iPhone that also offer iPad support -- these are actual stand alone iPad apps. The papers involved here are The Yuma Sun, The Odessa American, The Telegraph (Alton, IL), The Brownsville Herald, The Monitor (McAllen, Texas), The Gaston Gazette (Gastonia, North Carolina), the Northwest Florida Daily News, The Daily Press (Victorville, Calif.), the Burlington Times-News, and three prep sports apps. All are RSS readers -- plain and simple.

I don't what else to write. Look at them yourself. Is this your idea of a tablet newspaper?

It's been eight months since Apple launched the iPad in the U.S. and now Freedom Communications has released 14 iPad apps, all free, and all without any local advertising (the OC Register app has an ad for another Handmark developed app). This is no longer a stop-gap measure, this is now a strategy.

I suppose this is one vision of tablet publishing. But to me this is a scream from the muck: "Look, I'm a dinosaur, and I sinking fast!"