Monday, February 28, 2011

Consumer Reports, the guys behind those iPhone 4 death-grip articles, dares to launch an iPad edition

It will be fun to see whether Apple decides to promote the new Consumer Reports iPad app in their New & Newsworthy section. It was Consumer Reports, of course, that published the famous reports that said the iPhone 4's antenna had a design flaw that could cause a loss of signal strength and dropped calls -- eventually Apple responded with a free bumper program for owners.
Now the magazine published by the Consumers Union of US, Inc. has released its first iPad app, the Consumer Reports Digital Edition. The app is free to download and wisely includes a free preview issue.

So what is the center of focus of the free preview issue? Why of course, a review of tablets! Considering how few tablets there are currently on the market -- we're not counting the tons of "announced" tabs that have not launched yet -- it is not a surprise that Consumer Reports rated the iPad as the best large tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab as the best small tablet, what else could they do?

As a tablet edition, the Consumer Reports preview issue is pretty good: it offers both portrait and landscape modes, and appears to be designed specifically for the tablet -- but since it is a preview issue rather than a tablet version of an existing print edition, it is hard to know whether future issues will be designed specifically for the iPad, or whether they will be replica editions.
Future issues will be available as an in-app purchase through this shell app, though the publisher is currently not users know the price. I assume they will will offer both individual issues as well as an annual subscription through the app, but we'll have to wait to see.

The Consumer Reports tablet edition has a couple of interesting features to point out: one, it has a thumbnail view that includes a view of the entire article, making it a bit easier to navigation; also, the in-app library has both portrait and landscape views of the cover depending on which orientation you are holding the iPad -- admittedly a minor detail, but it seemed unique to me.

What the app lacks, though, it just as important: no pinch-to-zoom, and no font controls. This is important because I found the articles a bit fuzzy and hard to read. With the rather thin preview issue already weighing in at 128 MB -- mainly because of containing both portrait and landscape -- these features would add to the size of future issue downloads.
In the end, I think the idea of launching an app as free, with a free preview issue, is an excellent idea. This encourages downloads, and gives the reader an idea of the magazine.

It is clear from Kimberly C. Kleman's Editor's Note that this was the idea -- use the app as a marketing opportunity to reach new readers. It will be interesting to see if they build in a sign-in feature so that they can offer their existing subscribers free access to future issues.

This iPad edition is the second iOS app to be released by Consumer Reports. The first was Consumer Reports Mobile Shopper, an iPhone app that costs $9.99.

The idea for the app is pretty good: offer consumers an opportunity to check out what Consumer Reports says about various products such as digital cameras, etc. But the reviews inside iTunes have been brutal. Customers have complained about the app crashing, and that the app only offers limited access to information, not the full CR website. One might say that if the app were reviewed by Consumer Reports it would not be recommended.