Monday, November 28, 2011

Introduction of the Kindle Fire by Amazon does not lead to a rush of native apps from publishers, at least not yet

The news and tech sites continue to be obsessed with market share stories that involve Apple and other makers of smart phones and tablets. The latest stories surround a couple of research studies that go out of their way to ignore Apple's iPad so as to make it appear that their is a real battle for dominance in the tablet market. If you just ignore the iPad then things look pretty competitive apparently.
OK, let the online media have their fun, but what does the real picture look like for publishers? Has the introduction by of the Kindle Fire led to a rush of new Android apps from publishers? Well, it depends where you look.

As of this morning Amazon's Appstore for Android still only has 418 apps total under its News & Weather category. Worse, there are only 35 apps under Magazines.

But apps specifically for the Kindle are in a different area of – under Kindle. There the picture looks a little different with 178 different magazines in the Amazon's Newsstand.

But just like for the iPad, the digital editions being produced for the Kindle Fire vary considerably, though most are simply replica editions.

One magazine that is a good case study is Popular Science, the magazine from Bonnier. On the iPad the app uses Mag+ and is, not surprisingly, called Popular Science+.

But for the Kindle Fire the app is a simple replica of the print edition. Reading the magazine on a Kindle Fire is a real challenge, especially since the page images only fill up about 4 3/4 inches of the screen – so even on a display that is 7.5-inches in height, only about two-thirds of the screen is used to display the magazine. (It is then that the Kindle Fire's stuttering zooming comes into play as users struggle to read the pages.)

Apple's App Store will soon break the 700 mark for publications inside Newsstand, but Amazon currently has 81 newspapers available for the Kindle, in addition to the 178 magazines. But, but, but, this is again where it gets confusing as many of these are text-only products originally designed for earlier Kindles.

In short, the Kindle Fire has made the whole non-iPad tablet market only more crazy and fragmented. Do you design an Android app? a traditional Kindle app?

For me the market looks backwards: while the iPad's larger display makes replica editions easier to read than on a 7-inch display, most replicas are being produced for the smaller screens. As much as I dislike replica editions on my iPad, they are positively impossible to read on my Kindle Fire. Maybe if I were 20 years younger ...

So if digital publishing is the future why is it that publishers are not experimenting more with different formats, more native design? My own theory is that very few publishers consider programming an integral part of their production departments yet. Production still is limited to trafficking ads and designing print pages in InDesign or Quark, not creating digital pages for devices. This would not only take an investment in digital publishing solutions but a reinvention of the production process itself. Some are there, most are not.