Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Google brings translation to the iPhone; the pesky subscription and data issues gets another workout

I'm actually surprised that Google hasn't decided to not develop for iOS, but to instead keep apps like this for Android alone. Google Translate is pretty much the perfect app for smartphones.
The new app made its debut inside the App Store today, so what do you get for your money (oh yeah, its free)? The app will translate 57 languages when the user types in a sentence or two. It will also translate 15 different languages when you speak into your phone. In 23 languages, the app will speak the translation back to you.

The list of languages supported is extensive: Afrikaans, Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Arabic, Basque, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Filipino, Finnish, French, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Irish, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malay, Maltese, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Welsh, Yiddish.

(The Android version has been out for a while and included a conversation mode that is not on the iPhone version, though I don't know if that feature is still available.)

The issue of subscriptions continues to be the number one issue facing publishers working with Apple. For those few non-print publishers out there developing for iOS, the whole issue is, well, a non-issue: these tablet and phone publishers like the system the way it is, with Apple handling the billing. The issue of data sharing can be gotten around using surveys and in-app registration.

But print publishers have the many issues, and discounts for their print customers is probably tops on their list.

The current controversy surrounds Apple's apparent demand that all apps allow for users to purchase subscriptions directly through the app. For Amazon and other book resellers, this is going to be a problem. Amazon can either allow Apple to take a cut, or else turn the whole buying mode off. Then the app would turn into a simple reading app.

I'm not sure newspaper and magazine publishers are quite so against in-app purchasing as some other media sites think they are. For the ENPA and other representatives of media companies, the issues of concern center around control of data and pricing.

The easy way around this is to develop new products, ones that stand on their own. But if you have never worked for a print media company you might not understand how the mindset works against this. At far too many newspaper and magazine companies, the over arching goal is to drive the current product -- everything must support the print product, whether it is the website or new mobile products. Imagining their companies as developers is like imagining their companies growing: ain't gonna happen. As a result, those companies that have created subsidiaries, whether truly independent, or only somewhat, are in a better position to develop and launch new mobile and tablet products based on the content or data of the parent company. I thought Tribune Interactive was heading in this direction, but it appears not to be.

In the end what we have here is a disconnect between media companies and their customers: most print publishers want to make their print products more profitable by growing, or at least keeping steady their subscriber numbers -- they can sell print, everything else is a struggle; readers want to read their products on their new electronic devices, print is so yesterday -- but they don't want to have to pay twice, and they really don't care that publishers need to sell advertising to survive and prosper. It's a mess, but being completely focused on the profitability of the print product is not help matters. And worse, Apple really doesn't care about your legacy products, it sells hardware, and they are getting damn good at it.