Monday, June 13, 2011

One size fits all approaches to app development generally results in an ill-fitting media app of little appeal

However much I may dislike replica editions, or mobile apps that are simply RSS readers, the reality is that many media apps get launched that simply end up being ignored, and are easily replaced with better apps down the line. Sometimes launching an app that sinks like a stone is good for everyone involved.

The one question rarely asked by publishers about to launch new apps is what will be new about the app itself, what new content, or new service will it provide readers. The reason for this is that by being completely print centric, the goal of the mobile app ends up being simply to replicate the print product on a new platform.
One barrier holding back many new media apps is that the services and capabilities being offered the publisher by their own development teams, or outside vendors, is limited. I've looked at many mobile app services and generally see the same ol' widgets and RSS reader features. Many vendors come up with a list of options for their customers on the day they open up shop and they sell the heck out of their services, never bothering to update their offerings after they have started. One very good mobile app developer, one I've spoken to many times, hasn't even updated their own website in a year and half because they haven't added any new services in so long.

The mobile apps that I have enjoyed using the most over the past year have been apps that have presented a very different set of content options that what the publisher currently offers online or in their original branded app. The NYT app for iPhone, for instance, has an incredibly deep level of content, yet nothing that the paper's website can't offer me, just in a more readable format for my phone. It's The Scoop app, however, is certainly more fun and interesting in concept, though the paper doesn't seem very committed to expanding and improving it at this point.

Likewise, the Boston Herald Baseball 2011 app has proven quite useful, and now that the Red Sox are surging, probably is getting quite a bit of use from New England baseball fans. Meanwhile, the paper's main news app is a vendor created app that would have been wonderful in 2008, but looks dated now, and which sports a look that is consistent between apps developed by the same company, but does not give the Herald a consistent look with their own properties. Whose app is this anyways? The publishers or the developers?

This lack of imagination on the part of publishers is one reason that some of the most interesting work is being done by independent publishers – those are developing for the smartphone or tablet exclusively. Photography apps, historical apps, and book apps are providing traditional print publishers with plenty of new ideas that old media, because of the wealth of content at its disposal, could build on with their own offerings.