Friday, December 16, 2011

Apps from Suisse newspaper publisher AZ Medien get updated; combine replica look with native app features

For the past few weeks it has felt like every time I look at a new media app I am coming across as an old, curmudgeon, blasting the app for either being an unimaginative replica edition or else being completely without a business model. Believe me when I say it gives me no pleasure to be so miserable about the media world.

But every once in a while something new comes along and I feel completely differently. That's why I write these posts, for the rare occasion where I can say "hey, look here, this is interesting and different.
It's good to end the week with one of those kinds of posts.

The Suisse regional newspaper company AZ Medien has updated their series of iPad apps for their newspapers. Originally released in the late summer, they slipped by me at the time, but looking at them now, I find them very interesting, and enjoyable to read – something I haven't said many times recently. (The word "read" can't be taken literally, since I do not read German.)

az Aargauer Zeitung is one of the seven app updates released into the App Store over the past week – three of them earlier this week, four this morning. All but one of them leave the newspaper out of Newsstand, for some reason, with only Der Sonntag (The Sunday) utilizing Newsstand.

At first the apps appear to the yet another replica edition, but these have a definite twist.

Upon opening the free apps one immediately can see in the upper left hand corner a live news widget streaming stories to the reader (see below left). Oe this page readers can log into their existing accounts or can buy issues. The carousel library has a drawback in that one can easily end up buying the wrong issue, but I'm sure readers will quickly get used to this.

Once you have downloaded an issue you appear to be seeing a replica edition as the look and feel of the print newspaper is retained. One can read the headlines and text in this manner, I suppose, but tapping any story immediately takes you to a different layout, one more in keeping with tablets.

And that is what makes these apps special: they retain the newspaper look, but use the iPad's features to make for a better reading experience. Here you can adjust the font size so that you don't have to resort to pinch to zoom, one can share stories through Facebook and Twitter, etc. Tapping the front page picture at the upper left takes you back to the newspaper page (see below right).

For publishers who just can't get beyond the idea that their front pages might look differently on a tablet this is a perfect compromise: you get the look and feel of the print edition, but the functionality of native tablet design.

So, what do readers think? Well, that's hard to say because the reviews on these apps prior to the updates were pretty harsh. Most complained of instability in the app and other issues, so it is hard to see whether these updates will address reader complaints until new reviews are written.