Monday, June 20, 2011

DYI app making for publishers choices continues to expand along parallel path to native development

On Wednesday of this week OnSwipe will hold its launch event in New York and one shouldn't be surprised to hear once again that "apps are bullshit" as the company shows off in more detail its "insanely easy tablet publishing" solution.

For print publishers, especially small publishers, the holy grail of tablet publishing is an easy, inexpensive, and brilliant do-it-yourself solution that will allow the publisher to reach iPad owners (and eventually owners of tablets that don't run iOS). But the problem, though, is, and continues to be, that most DYI solutions just do not compare with native apps.
Because of this, most newspaper and magazine publishers who have not built their own development teams have opted to create tablet publications using tools from WoodWing, or Mag+.

The advantage of these solutions is that they can be integrated into the current print production workflow: any art director who is an InDesign expert can work with WoodWing, for instance, to create tablet editions that utilize many of the features of native apps.

Developers, though, look at many of these converted magazines and immediately scoff: 'they're just converted print!' some argue – and they are right. But readers do seem to like these tablet editions; they are easier to read that PDF replica editions, contain more interesting layouts, and often have embedded audio or video content that seems to make them more modern than print.

But there are others who feel even InDesign tools may be too much for them. Bloggers, for instance, may simply be interested in writing and don't want the bother of doing production like a print art director. OnSwipe has a plug-in for WordPress, for instance, that promises to created an "iPad compatible theme", giving the reader a native app feel to a website read through the iPad's browser.

For me, as a former newspaper and magazine publisher, the problem all DYI solutions suffer from is that the end products of each of these solutions tend to look the same. Familiarity with the digital publishing solutions offered by these vendors means that you can spot the vendor used the minute you open up the app. Open the Detroit Free Press mobile app for the first time and one immediately knows what app solution the publisher chose. Getting a vendor to add new iOS features appears to be far easier than getting them to build in customization tools that will help the publisher make their app look less than the other guy's app, and more like something the reader feels comfortable with.

Despite these negatives, and despite sitting in on countless digital publishing webinars, I'm still most interested in finding the right DYI solution for TNM simply because I know that investing in a more expensive, and likely better, solution is simply not going to pay out in the end.

This is probably why the folks behind Inkerro, whoever they are*, have chosen to launch their iPad app using the DYI solutions from Red Foundry. Inkerro Magazine, seen above, is a free app that, once you have played around with the Red Foundry interface a while one can see what choices the publisher decided to make.

It will be interesting to see what OnSwipe unveils on Wednesday, and their bluster of its founder, Jason L. Baptiste will be prove to be well founded, or merely hype. Stay tuned.

* For whatever reason, the publisher behind Inkerro have not included any contact information online, and their app only sends an email to "curious (at)".