Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pre-event thoughts from a publisher's perspective

Why should any publisher really care about a Verizon event in NYC today? Well, you would be right if you thought this was no big deal, as long as you recognized that this is yet another little step towards a new media environment where mobile and tablets become as important to a publisher's brand as their website.

By adding the iPhone to their stable of cell phone products, Verizon will be dramatically expanding the iOS platform, great news for those companies who bet on iOS over these last few years. For those on the sidelines, time may not be running out quite yet, but we will certainbly no longer be at the beginning of the mobile media era.

For those who have been following the lifecycle of Apple's iPhone since 2007, it is sometimes important to be reminded that the majority of cell phones purchased are still not smartphones and that for all their troubles in the space Nokia remains the number one cell phone manufacturer and that Apple's total market share is still minuscule when looked at from a telecommunications perspective. That means there is still tremendous room for growth -- we are not looking at a mature market.

But looking at smart phones from a publisher's perspective, Apple's iOS has been the only game in town until the rise of Android. With its iTunes App Store, Apple has made it easy to enter the mobile media space, even if some times the experience has been frustrating. Even with only one carrier, AT&T, the iPhone has been the smartphone that has transformed the device from a simple communications tool to an interactive media consumption device (which, of course, is exactly what the iPad is, as well). The BlackBerry did what it did, but the iPhone really was a revolution.

Looking at where we are today in the mobile media space -- again, from a publisher's perspective -- my one big complaint would be that I am not happy with the options open to those publishers wanting to launch mobile products. Today there are three options: go into development yourself, work with a third party developer to develop a semi-custom app, work with a third party developer to launch a one-size-fits-all app.

My belief is that major to mid-major media company should have gotten into the development game by now, though most still haven't. I don't care, if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that publishers need to understand and develop the tools of their trade, and today that includes app development.

But for small to mid-sized publishers, the choices are still limited and not all together satisfying. Independent app developers rose up right from the beginning to sell publisher's their services. Unfortunately, I think many of these companies have developed templates and are now just pushing these templates on publishers. Publishers are buying these solutions simply out of budget constraints and a lack of imagination on their part. The best developers will want to constantly evolve their publishing solutions so that their customers feel like they are getting a custom product -- something different than what is being seen in the App Store now.

Finally there are those one-size-fits-all options. Even I am considering using one of these simply to experience dealing directly with Apple and the App Store. I'm not happy about it, and am certainly not satisfied with the options I have in this arena. The "lower end" of the market -- that's me -- desperately needs better mobile publishing options, and quickly.