Friday, July 9, 2010

Charles Jolly leaves Apple to launch Strobe Inc.; the new company will work with publishers to develop native apps

Keep your eye on Charles Jolly, he has just left Apple to start up his own company called Strobe Inc. The new company will be working with publishers to develop multi-touch applications using the SproutCore standard he helped develop.

"Our first vertical is newspapers and online publishers. Right now we have a lot of interest from publishers - all household names. I will be sure to let you know as soon as I can announce something," Jolly told AppleInsider in an interview. "My goal is to substantially grow the number of publications available on the iPad over the next year."

"In many ways, the iPad is the perfect web device," Jolly wrote on his SproutCore blog. "It’s a lean-back experience optimized around consuming content. With HTML5 (which mobile Safari does better than just about anything else), the kind of experience you can create on these devices is just really spectacular. You only need to use the NPR demo we wrote earlier this year for a few minutes to realize this is obviously the future of software."

An online demonstration of the SproutCore work in action can be seen in the demonstration page for NPR -- found here on the SproutCore site.

This news, along with the recent launch of a mobile YouTube site, is the latest indication that a solid alternative to Flash is developing quickly. The YouTube mobile site works with all HTML5 compliant browsers, and that means that iPhone and iPad users will soon not have to worry about running across YouTube videos that will not stream.

If you haven't seen the demonstration video for the new YouTube mobile site
. . . well, here it is:

Hearst's Popular Mechanics releases iPad 'showcase' app

A few weeks ago Hearst unloaded its share of the start-up Skiff to Rupert Murdoch and (imo) may have decided that competing with Apple and Google in tablet technology was a pretty bad idea. Let Murdoch try his lock with Skiff, Hearst will move forward with developing tablet solutions for its print products.
One of the very first to appear on the iPad is Popular Mechanics. If this app is any indication, Hearst has made the right decision as this app is one of the very best examples of magazines for the device.

The new app is fairly priced at $1.99 -- a significant discount over the cover price of $3.99, but still higher than a print subscription will cost you. (The Popular Mechanics website lists a one-year print subscription at $12, a three-year commitment will cost you $28. If you want to read the magazine on your PC, phone or tablet, you can buy a subscription through Zinio for $12 -- you'll get a flipbook version of the magazine, far less than the iPad version has to offer, but you will be able to read the magazine on multiple devices, and Zinio's iPad app is at least well designed compared to some of the others being offered by third parties.)

The Popular Mechanics app features both simple animation (click on picture at left), as well as more complicated layouts.

The result is that the reader has a choice of three very different products: a print magazine that can also be accessed through Zinio, a website which is (frankly) not very attractive, and a new tablet magazine that combines the print edition with interactivity. My preference would be for the tablet version which tells you that this is a very well designed application.

Like the iPad magazine for Infiniti I wrote about earlier this week, the app does a good job with video and interactive animation. Here, however, the app is of a modest size -- only around 27 MB -- meaning that the reader will need an Internet connection to see the video content.

Left: Tech Watch feature with a video player embedded; Middle: Interactive Earthquake Finder forces the reader into the landscape mode to view the animation; Right: an ad for the History Channel with an embedded video.
need an Internet connection to see the video content.

My one big -- very big -- complaint about the Popular Mechanics app is that it is not a complete issue of the magazine. "This first Popular Mechanics app is not a complete issue of the magazine; it is a showcase for what will be produced monthly starting later this year," Hearst states in its press release. This is a bad decision in my view. Releasing a partial magazine may have taken some of the pressure off of Hearst as it tries to launch its tablet apps, but it is dissing readers who will expect that they are getting a real look at the magazine. It would have been better to present the rest of the magazine in a less interactive form. Publishers should not shy away from presenting text to iPad owners -- most books are being presented without any interactivity at all and this is not presenting iPad owners from buying them in large numbers.

I think Hearst was feeling a bit of pressure to launch something -- you get that feeling in their press release:

“Popular Mechanics lives in the tech world, so we really wanted to examine what’s already in the market in order to do ours right,” notes Jim Meigs, editor-in-chief. “While our first app is mainly a test issue to see how PM translates to the iPad, we believe our readers and the technologically curious will be entertained and informed by what we’ve created.”

As someone deeply involved in the media world, I can appreciate the idea of experimentation -- I just don't think readers like to feel like guinea pigs. Hearst is promising enhanced monthly issues of their magazines (or at least some of their magazines) by the end of the year. In the meantime we have this "showcase" -- a very good app, but not a complete magazine. One can only conclude that the company is staffing up for the new electronic media formats after previously moving in a somewhat different direction with its Skiff project.

Hearst has also released a YouTube demo video of their first app:

One interview that has stayed in the can because I've scaled back my activities here at TNM is my interview with James Sweeney, editor of the tablet-only magazine Sideways. You can find the first of three posts I did in June here.

Well, Sideways is out with its July issue. It is still $3.99 and you can find it in iTunes here. The issue appears to move the magazine towards being a more iPad-centric publications -- that is, what is the one thing all readers will have in common? Owning an iPad, duh. Good move.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Gannett outsources comment moderation

Although I am working on a new website, I will occasionally post something here when I come across something of interest. In general, I will concentrate on looking at new media apps for mobile and tablet devices, or short news items that caught my eye.

The Gannett blog, an independent Blogspot site that monitors all things Gannett, yesterday reported on the company's new outsourcing of comment moderation. The post links to a story on the Hattisburg site that claims that "we've made improvements to our comment moderation", as well this editorial from the Green Bay Gannett newspaper announcing a similar move.

In short, both papers will now employ a third party that will respond to reader complaints about abusive comments on their site. The third party, Pluck, will look at these reader comments only after being prompted by a reader complaint.

In other words, no one will be watching the store until the alarm goes off.

Someone in Virginia clearly thinks this is a great idea. Yikes.

(Pluck, by the way, is a Demand Media company.)

From the Gannett Blog: Given the guidelines' rather broad terms, however, it's unclear how Pluck employees hundreds or thousands of miles away will know to independently gauge local community tastes. Moreover, the Press-Gazette and Hattiesburg American don't say whether those Pluck staffers are based in the United States -- or offshore, where foreign employees might not grasp some of the nuances of what readers in Wisconsin or Mississippi find acceptable.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Infiniti's European division brings it magazine, Adeyaka, to the iPad and shows publishers how the game is played

Three months after the introduction of the Apple's iPad into the media world some of the best work for the world's first media consumption tablet is coming from the marketing world -- not media companies or commercial developers.
A month ago the Amsterdam based marketing and custom publishing firm Rhbm developed an iPad magazine for Volkswagen called Das that was far more interactive and just plain interesting than most of the media efforts then appearing in the iTunes app store.

Since the launch of Das we've seen apps for Wired and other magazines appear -- each moving the medium incrementally forward, but each failing to live up to the hype their publishers had generated when they announced their projects.

In the meantime, commercial developers continue to attract media clients and fill up the iTunes store with their apps. Some, like those from BlueToad, are solid though simple flipbook-type apps that get the product on the iPad, though add very little to the print experience. Others are simply crash prone messes that reflect badly on the publishers who chose to go the easy route and outsource their magazines to these commercial developers.

Adeyaka contains interactive ads such as this one containing video.

So it is a joy to open up an app like this one from the European division of Infiniti, Adeyaka. Adeyaka is the official magazine of the auto manufacturer and its print and website versions are available online in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian. The app is free and currently only available in English in iTunes store. (A quick look at the French iTunes app store shows only the English version available at this time.)

The digital magazine is a product of Infiniti and köckritzdörrich GmbH out of Reutlingen, Germany. Programming is credited to sophistes, a Munich based company that also develops iPhone applications.

Adeyaka features outstanding photography (top), as well as interactive layouts (middle), that lead to embedded text or video (bottom).  →

Christian Westenhöfer from köckritzdörrich is listed both as the Publishing Manager and the person behind advertising sales. If I had to guess, I would think this means that the project was treated as a custom publishing venture where Infiniti is sold on the idea and the custom publisher shepherds the project through the creative, programming and advertising sales process. (I can not determine if ad sales and this project is managed separately from the print product.)

From Infiniti's side, Andreas Sigl is credited with the title of Creative and Editorial Direction, while Lutz Suendermann is credited with being the Executive Creative Director for the magazine.

Press Release: „Mit dem Erscheinen des iPad haben wir zum ersten Mal die Möglichkeit, die Vorteile eines Print-Magazins mit der Erlebnistiefe bewegter Bilder zu verbinden, ohne dass der Nutzer dazu wie bisher vom Print-Medium zu einer Online-Version im Internet wechseln muss“, so Berthold Dörrich, geschäftsführender Gesellschafter von köckritzdörrich.

Rough Google translation: "With the release of the iPad, we have for the first time the possibility that to combine the advantages of a print magazine with the depth of experience of moving images, without the user's how far by the print media to an online version in the Internet has to change, "said Berthold Dörrich, Managing Partner of köckritzdörrich.

By thinking digital from the beginning, and then reprogramming the magazine for the iPad, the magazine app feels more native to the tablet medium, using the digital tools available to the developer without simply being eye candy.

The app, like the Wired app, requires a big download -- in this case, 455 MB. But the download allows the reader to have access to all the content without requiring an Internet connection. The app is the equivalent of 172 pages of magazine content, with around 30 videos and over 200 hi-res photos. There are animations inside the magazine and the app utilizes both portrait and landscape layouts -- though I will say that I preferred the landscape mode more because of the embedded video.

The only criticism I have of the app is that sometimes the type is rendered too small within photo layouts, and because the app does not allow you to zoom in and out using multitouch gestures (strange) it is a bit hard to read these rare layouts.  Swiping is smooth, however, as is scrolling. (Unfortunately, some developers who have launch multiple media apps are still not producing apps with smooth navigation.)

The app developer, of course, takes advantage of the fact that it is being produced for marketing purposes and therefore are not under the same deadline constraints that a monthly (or weekly) publication would be under.

The result is that the print, web and iPad versions of Adeyaka are all unique products. Going to the website you are brought into the Flash driven vehicle that looks great but doesn't provide the same leisure-time reading experience that both print and tablets can provide (nonetheless, the work is clearly outstanding).

The website also gives you access to a flipbook version of the print magazine, which is distributed at Infiniti dealers in Europe. For most publishers, especially in the U.S., bringing in a commercial developer to create a flipbook it the beginning and end of their digital media efforts. Once the flipbook is created the next question the publisher asks the developer is "how do we get the flipbook into iTunes so readers can have it on their iPads?"

But here we have Adeyaka available in three different formats: print, web, and tablet. Each format is considered on its own, each is best viewed on its proper device.

While publishers of print magazines may be hard pressed to create new products specifically for the iPad in a deadline driven environment, simply porting over their print products using a commercial developer will give the publisher predictable results. Just read the reviews in iTunes to see what readers think -- they are not impressed with these simple conversion products.

While some of the early apps from Condé Nast may have disappointed some iPad owners (I actually think they are pretty good first time efforts) this app from the team of Infiniti, köckritzdörrich and sophistes is a major step in the right direction.