Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Politicians begin taking advantage of mobile and tablet platforms: Canada's NDP releases iPad app; first app from an official US presidential candidate released

Update: The Wisconsin Supreme Court race has, if you can believe it, tightened even more. As of 1:30 CT Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg now leads the incumbent David Prosser by 204 votes, according to the AP. All the votes, theoretically, are now in. Now it is on to the recount, I suppose.

Election time in the newspaper business used to mean a temporary revenue boost from all those print display ads from candidates. Radio and television, too, used to see huge bumps in revenue thanks to election time.

This is still true, but media fragmentation, combined with more direct marketing, has meant that the impact of an election cycle is now more muted.
With the rise of the Internet, candidates and their political parties could launch their own websites, but still have been dependent on the media to reach new and undecided voters by buying banners and buttons, and the like.

The growth of mobile media and tablet publishing doesn't significantly change things, only adds to the fragmentation. Political parties can release their own apps, as can candidates, but these are very much like party websites -- they generally reach those who are party loyalists.

The NDP, or New Democratic Party, if you will, of Canada has released its first app into the iTunes App Store. Called Jack Layton for iPad (can you "run" for "iPad"?), the free app is the official application for the Canadian political party, even though they are branding it with the name of their party leader. The app itself is fairly simple, but contains some good information. Not only does it give voters information on Jack Layton and the party's positions, but allows voters to input their district, or "riding" as it is called in Canada, to find their local NDP candidate.

As you expect from a political app from Canada, it is bi-lingual -- but for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to get the thing to display French. Since there are no complaints about this in the Canadian App Store I must be missing something here.
For those not caught up on Canadian politics, the next Federal election is May 2 and the Tories which currently run the government, are expected to win again as they are at 40 percent in recent polls.

For an American, one thing I can find refreshing about Canadian Federal elections is the mercifully short election cycle: no long primary season, followed by several months of solid campaigning. It is quite a contrast with the way things are done south of the border . . .

The App Store is not wanting for apps on political figures. There are several Sarah Palin apps,for instance. But none of these are "official" apps, possibly because as of today only one political figure has officially announced that they are running for president.

Well, that one candidate, the current president, has launched a universal app. Obama 2012 is a free (or course) universal app.

The app is not as useful as the NDP app, but part of the reason for this is that it has been released so far ahead of the November 2012 election. Because of this, the app can not work as support for other Democratic Party candidates -- since they have not been selected yet -- and the campaign would be hard pressed to start identifying specific issues it would like to stress.

But the app has other problems, as well. The biggest of these is that it is poorly designed, with text that does not fit onto the screen forcing the reader to constantly move the text around within its window.

I expect this app will either get a major update soon or be replaced by something altogether different. After all, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are still a long, long way off.

One question that always needs to be asked when looking at new apps, especially since my first search will always be in the iTunes App Store, is "is there an Android app?" In the case of the Obama 2012 app, the answer is no.

But a search in both stores will produce some interesting results and provides window into the world of both app stores.

A search for "Obama" in Apple's store reveals a lot of apps, as you would expect. But browsing through the list of apps a fairly inoffensive roster of apps.

The Android Market contains about as many -- I didn't count -- but the look and feel is different. There is the Hate Obama Sticker with its icon stating "I Hate Obama" -- probably approved because the same developer has another app called Go Obama Sticker! that simply says "Go Obama". In general, the tone is far more negative than in the Apple App Store.

Whether this is because the Apple store is more curated, or more censored really can not be determined by a superficial look like this. It will be interesting to see if a national election cycle exacerbates differences between the stores, or if both Apple and Google maintain a watchful eye on political apps submitted to their stores.