Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A look at two new apps from Texterity: one in the app store, BtoB magazine and, another now gone

As readers of TNM know full well, this site comes down pretty solidly on the native design side of the debate between those who advocate creating apps specifically for tablets, or whether to let third party vendors create replica editions. But the choices are not simply this-or-that as other issues come into play when deciding in which direction to go: budget and production capability questions are important, of course, as is the quality of the replica edition itself.
One digital services provider, Texterity, has over 100 apps inside the iTunes App Store now -- many are universal apps that can be used on both the iPad's larger display and also on the iPhone and iPod touch's smaller display.

I find these replica editions totally unreadable on my iPhone and don't really understand the idea of trying to cram a tabloid sized publication down to three inches.

In the case of the universal app for BtoB magazine, a free app from Crain Communications, the Texterity iPhone app includes an RSS feed-like text version of the articles, making it a bit easier to read.

This text feature is also found in the tablet edition, as well, and it is really a question of the quality of your eyesight as to whether it is needed. The BtoB app offers a bit more than other replicas thanks to the partnership between Texterity and The Wonderfactory, a digital media design firm that is the company behind iPad apps for Time Inc. and American Express Publishing. By introducing some WoodWing tools, the app would have more native app features than other replica editions. One of those features found in the app from BtoB magazine is Live Feeds area that bring in news from the media property's website.
What these replica editions also have, though, is that annoying page floating found in so many replica editions. The page floating occurs when the reader attempts to zoom into the page using pinch-to-zoom. The page enlarges somewhat but then tends to float on the iPad's display. You definitely don't want to be reading one of these after having a few drinks.

The other problem is that text legibility is not good: the app is produced at too low a resolution to be a comfortable reading experience. With glasses, I had no real problems in portrait mode, but landscape was out of the question.

In fact, replicas don't really work in landscape, in general. I would think that Texterity, with its partners at The Wonderfactory, might consider creating hybrid apps that feature a replica edition in portrait and a more native design, driven by RSS in landscape -- and they may be doing this already, though I haven't seen one yet.

I should note here that there is some debate among vendors about whether the term "replica edition" is a positive or a negative. Some companies don't shy from using the term, while others will raise a ruckus if you call them "replica edition" vendors.

I see the term as somewhat neutral. Working with a company like Texterity means starting out with print and moving towards a native app experience. Creating a native app means starting out with print content and creating a whole new product. Both approaches have their challenges.

It should be noted that Texterity is emphatic that these are not simply flipbooks: "Neither a PDF nor a web page, Texterity's digital editions offer publishers the advantages of higher circulation, increased revenue, stronger brands and readers coming back for more."

Another app released late last week from Texterity was for The Boston Globe Magazine. Strangely, however, the app is no longer in the iTunes App Store as of this morning.
I called the Globe to find out if the app had been pulled or whether there was some other issue. (See update below.)

As a side note: it is always interesting for me, someone who left the newspaper business back in the nineties, to get reacquainted with the way newspapers organize themselves. Let's just say that my experience is that newspapers are an example of making less with more. The teams responsible for creating editorial content are generally left out of the decision making process when it comes to digital, and the digital people are not in communications with the content creators.

The situation is even worse when it comes to the ad folk: my conversations with digital professionals at both newspaper and magazine companies is that the ad department is not a player when the time comes to discuss digital strategy.

In any case, I am not at all familiar with the staff structure at the Boston Globe, having never worked there -- my background in the newspaper trade is with Hearst, Copley, Lesher Communications (later Knight-Ridder) and McGraw-Hill (yes, McGraw-Hill produced daily newspapers, bet you didn't know that).

It's hard, therefore, to know what the strategy here is now that the app has gone missing from the App Store. Unlike the BtoB magazine app, The Boston Globe Magazine for iPad (Google cached link) this one was much more of a traditional replica edition. While the BtoB app had a banner ad promoting "Texterity + The Wonderfactory", the Globe Magazine app is without this.

The app opens with a small video window that contains what I would call a random video. This makes me wonder if the app had been released prematurely: either the staff was caught flatfooted, or the app was never meant to go into Apple's system at all.

I called the Globe and both the magazine's editor and a representative at Boston.com were nice enough to call me back. They said they would look into the app situation.

Update: As I suspected, this app should never have appeared in the App Store at all, which is why you won't find it there now. It would terribly unfair to draw any conclusions about this app, its intentions, and the like, because it was not intended for public consumption. Having said that, I have it on my own iPad and I wonder how many others grabbed it before it was pulled?

1 Comment:

Marcus Grimm said...

Good post, Doug.

RE: the pluses or minuses of replica editions, it's really simple:

Publishers should enhance their product as much as they can afford to, based on an expected ROI from readership.

The #1 reason more publishers aren't optimizing content is that the cost to do so is too great when juxtaposed with the small number of readers who own tablets, when compared to the installed PC base.

Too many reviewers focus on publishers ignoring technology, but technology isn't the issue - the issue is whether or not it makes sense to dedicate the resources (money and/or time) to take advantage of the technology.

Marcus Grimm
Marketing Director
Nxtbook Media