Friday, January 7, 2011

Wrapping up the week: Verizon announces mystery event for Tuesday; buyers of PlayBook better own a BlackBerry

Am I the only one who actually was disappointed in the announcements coming out of CES? Yes, lots of tablets, but most only have vague launch dates and no ship dates. Yes, I know, patience.

So what does Verizon have in mind? Engadget says they have just announced a media event for Tuesday of next week hosted by Lowell McAdam, president of Verizon Wireless. You don't roll out your president unless it is important, right? The speculation, of course, is that Verizon will announce that they will now have the iPhone. Apple usually holds their own events, but this isn't really a new product so why have an event in Cupertino or at Moscone when they will be having one soon introducing a new iPad? See ya Tuesday.

Gizmodo says the new BlackBerry PlayBook only comes with BlackBerry integration, no separate email and calendar apps not tethered to a Blackberry. Everyone's first reaction has been "ya kidding, right?". No way they ship this thing without an app for email and a calendar. No way.
Not many interesting media apps were released this week, though I did think the tablet edition of Self Service was worth downloading.

Christianity Today released their first iPhone app for the website and publication. No third party seller is listed as the developer. The app is free; usually with free apps developed by third party is listed as the seller, not in this case.

Another interesting new mobile app is from Quantis. Bordeaux Wines is another in their line of video content based mobile apps. It's a strange portfolio of apps from the Japanese developer: all contain lots of YouTube video content, but the subjects range from Brahms Library to iAir Shows.

None of the apps have generated much buzz which makes you wonder about the motives of the company behind the apps and whether they are simply trying to make money from the content uploaded by others to video and photo websites.

As CES winds down, tech world begins thinking about the next big event, the Mobile World Congress in February

Just as Apple no longer considers MacWorld to be the essential event at which to introduce new products, not all mobile phone and tablet makers reveal all at CES. The Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona and starting February 14th, will have its share of announcements.

Samsung, in particular, uses the event to introduce products to the world -- especially the world outside the U.S. Engadget reports that the company will talk about dual-core smartphones and new tablets at the event, for instance.

Last year's MWC was where Samsung announced that it would enter the tablet field, as well as where they introduced the Samsung Wave smartphone.

Last year at MWC manufacturers were first responding to recent Apple event that introduced the iPad. At that time the expected launch date was late March, though it slipped back to April 3rd. But for the most part, last year's event was all about companies focusing on the iPhone. Now, with Android as big a player as it is, the focus may be more on tablets.

For a good recap of news from last year's show go to the Bloomberg Business Week MWC 2010 page here.

Just askin' . . .

OK, let me get this straight: the federal government just passed a reduction in the FICA deduction and extended the Bush era tax cuts as a way of "stimulating" the economy. At the same time, Blue Shield of California is seeking rate hikes of as much as 59 percent, the Illinois legislature is looking at raising the state income tax by 75 percent (and has already passed a bill that require online retailers to collect 6.25% tax on purchases if the companies have affiliates in-state), while in anti-tax Texas, legislators have filed more than 900 bills as of yesterday, many of which would slash services and revenue to cities.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke says “We have seen increased evidence that a self-sustaining recovery in consumer and business spending may be taking hold."

So, is this what economic recovery looks like? Just askin'.

Morning Brief: CES brings tablet announcements, but few tablets; Disney Publishing hits 1 million app downloads; Internet retailers raise hell over new Illinois tax legislation

Writing on CNN's website, Mark Millan complains that while CES has had plenty of new tablet announcements, very few of the new devices can actually be handled by the public or the press, and few have solid launch dates.

So far, we've seen plenty of iPad rivals but have gotten to touch only a few. Various breeds are on display at conference booths, some of which we in the tech media expect to get our hands on this week.

But some of the most anticipated tablets are so far apparently too precious for CES attendees to play with in person.

Many of these devices are encased in glass and not touchable yet -- a potentially a distressing sign for the development progress of these devices, industry experts and analysts say.

Look, but don't touch!

Well, he certainly has a point. While some of the new devices announced, such as the Motorola XOOM, seem to have impressive specs, the fact that few of these devices will be seen in retail stores soon is a bit of a disappointment. What must make Apple haters even madder is knowing that it is only a matter of weeks before Apple announces that it is ready to hold an event to introduce iPad 2.

Lost in the rush of CES news was a press release put out by Disney Publishing stating that the book division had reached the one million mark in Disney Book Apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.
Disney currently has nine book apps available: Cars Lightning Was Here: My Puzzle Book, Disney Epic Mickey Digicomics, Mickey’s Spooky Night Puzzle Book, Princess and the Frog Read-Along, Princess Dress-Up: My Sticker Book, Toy Story Read-Along, Toy Story 2 Read-Along, Toy Story 3 Read-Along, and Winnie the Pooh: What’s a Bear to do? Puzzle Book. Disney Publishing also has a couple of other apps available that are not in the Books category such as Toyhopper for iPad and Disney Epic Mickey Digicomics.

The Disney Publishing apps range from Free (Toyhopper for iPad) to $8.99 (Toy Story 3 Read-Along), though most are between 99 cents and $3.99, meaning total revenue driven so far is only a couple million dollars -- virtually chump change for the entertainment giant.

Finally, last night I received an interesting email from Amazon that warns that because of a bill passed by the state of Illinois legislature Amazon would be terminating its Associates Program with any Illinois residents taking part. Here is part of that email:
We regret to inform you that the Illinois state legislature has passed an unconstitutional tax collection scheme that, if signed by Governor Quinn, would leave little choice but to end its relationships with Illinois-based Associates. You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Illinois. If our records are incorrect, you can manage the details of your Associates account here.

Please note that this not an immediate termination notice and you are still a valued participant in the Amazon Associates Program. But if the governor signs this bill, we will need to terminate the participation of all Illinois residents in the Associates Program. After that point, we will no longer pay any advertising fees for sales referred to, and nor will we accept new applications for the Associates Program from Illinois residents.
As the letter states, the issue here is a bill that passed the Illinois legislature Thuyrsday that would force online retailers to collect a 6.25 percent tax if those same online businesses have commissioned affiliates in the state.

For Amazon the solution is clear: cut ties with those people in their associates program who live in Illinois. For online business that actually reside in Illinois, it gets a little trickier and several companies have begun to howl.

"I feel like I've been completely flipped the bird," Tim Storm, chief executive of FatWallet, based in Rockton, illinois told the Chicago Tribune yesterday. "Essentially, 30 to 40 percent of our revenue gets shut off instantaneously."

"Our customers don't care whether we're in the state of Illinois," Storm warned.

Currently, only online business that have brick and mortar stores in Illinois, such as Apple and Barnes and Noble, must collect sales tax on web-based sales. The new law changes the definition of a physical location to include affiliates residing in the state.

Not surprisingly, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association supported the bill. A similar bill friendly to Illinois retail merchants was passed in 2009 that forbade out of state liquor retailers from shipping into the state. The law is easily bypassed by using third party shippers, however.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association endorsed Republican Bill Brady in the recently contested governor's race. Pat Quinn, the Democratic incumbent, won the election, however. Now this new bill now goes to the governor's desk for signing.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Paris based fashion magazine, Self Service, releases Issue #33 in tablet edition; creative ads are a highlight

The English language, Paris-based, fashion and luxury magazine Self Service has released its first iPad app for its Issue #33. The free app gives readers complete access to the biannual issue.
The new tablet edition comes with both portrait and landscape modes, though there is really no reason to use the landscape mode other than convenience. The layouts which contain editorial copy are really designed for the printed page, so landscape mode simply gives the reader a look at two pages.
But the ads contained in the iPad app do make allowances for separate portrait and landscape modes.

The ads are the fun part here -- but what would you expect a former publisher to say -- as the agencies or clients involved here have done their best to take advantage of the iPad's display and animation qualities.

All this adds up to the app weighing in at 280 MB -- not nearly as large as some magazine apps, but certainly large enough to consider downloading the app when connected via WiFi (as the app description itself recommends).

If any improvements were to be recommended for the next edition, it would probably be to make the thumbnail pages, seen at the bottom when the reader taps the page, a bit bigger. But all-in-all a good (and fun) first tablet edition.

Some credits: Ezra Petronio serves as both editor and publisher of Self Service, with Stephanie Morel as advertising director. Joe McKenna was the guest editor for this edition. Petronio Associates is credited with Digital Advertising Art Direction, and Autreshere with programming.

Here is the magazine's promotional video:

Holiday retail sales numbers come in lower than projected

Every year retailers and their association say that holiday sales numbers will be fantastic -- it's all part of the holiday shopping hype. In good times or bad, the hype is the same.

That is why today's report that retail sales were up 3.1 percent was no surprise -- the forecast was for higher sales. Nonetheless, growth in retail sales has got to be better than a decline, right?

Speaking of no surprises: it's not much of a surprise that those retailers that are on the higher end of economic scale did the best -- Saks sales were up 11.8 percent and Nordstrom's sales were up 8.4 percent. The Gap, American Eagle Outfitters, AĆ©ropostale were among those reporting lower sales as compared to 2009 (Abercrombie & Fitch, though, said sales rose 15 percent).

And now for something completely different

How about a little distraction from all the technology news being generated by Apple and the Consumer Electronics Show being held in Las Vegas this week?

The Guardian posted a slideshow this morning with satellite pictures showing weather patterns and other interesting overhead shots of features on the Earth. This one goes a long way in explaining the weather Californians have been experiencing this Winter.
(The entire slideshow can be seen on The Guardian website.)

All this rain should mean great skiing this year in the Sierras, right? Here in Chicago all the snow melted prior to New Years Day. Having said that, the skiing here under the best of circumstances is, well, lacking.

Mac App Store opens; store contains a "News" category

The Mac App Store opened this morning, delivering apps in the same manner as the iTunes App Store, but this time within the Mac OS (Snow Leopard) as its own dedicated application.
Just like the iPhone App Store when it first opened in 2007, the pickings were rather slim, but of interest to publishers is that their is, in fact, a "News" category for apps.

Only six apps were available today in the News category, and only one from a media property -- the website Mashable! was offering its own free app (Mashable! for Mac) that delivers its online content in an app format.
In addition to Mashable, there is a "Headlines" app (99 cents), as well as an app called miniRadio ($4.99).

In all there are 21 different categories in the Mac App Store, as opposed to 20 in the iPad store. Books and Navigation are missing, while Developer Tools, Graphics & Design and Video have been added.

Games, no surprise, looks like the category with the most apps offered, and Angry Birds is already the number one paid app -- it costs $4.99 in the Mac App Store. The store app itself appears to have been written have scratch because it is very quick and easy to navigate. Whether Mac users actually end up using the store is open to question, but they should have no complaints about the store app itself.

Morning Brief: Motorola unveils Android driven tablet with 10.1" display; new Amazon Appstore for Android soon, while the new Apple Mac App Store opens today

With a 10.1 inch display, and running Google's Android 3.0 OS (aka Honeycomb), Motorola's newly unveiled tablet could be the product that convinces publishers to develop for tablets other than Apple's iPad.
Introduced with its wireless partner Verizon at CES yesterday, the Motorola XOOM will launch as a 3G/WiFi enabled device in sometime in Q1, while a 4G/WiFi version will release in Q21, according to the two companies.

"Light, powerful and fundamentally different than anything else on the market, Motorola XOOM leverages the very best technology available today to redefine what a tablet experience can be," Bill Ogle, chief marketing officer of Motorola Mobility, said in the product press release. "The first device to feature software designed specifically for tablets, Motorola XOOM goes everywhere you do and delivers everything you need."

The specs of the new tablet are impressive: a 3 meg front facing camera with a 5 meg rear-facing camera; built-in gyroscope, barometer, e-compass, accelerometer and adaptive lighting, and the ability to display Flash content. The tablet will support 1080p HD video and has an HDMI port for output to a HD TVs. Maybe just as importantly, the tablet will house a dual core processor, needed for running Honeycomb, the latest version of Google's Android operating system.

This week's CES announcements, particularly the bevy of tablet introductions, will bring it memories of last January's iPad introduction by Apple. But it is worth keeping in mind one thing: while there were many media critics who did (and some who still do) doubt the success of Apple's new tablet, there were few questions about the ability of developers to create and sell their apps for the new device -- the iTunes App Store was already well established, and launching an iPad App Store was always seen as an easy transition.

Sorting out the Android marketplace will be a major task in 2011 as manufacturers jump on the Android tablet bandwagon.

Update: A CNet video appears to show that the XOOM isn't really ready to be unveiled, with only demo videos on the tablet -- as opposed to allowing users to experience the tablet themselves as a finished product. This continues the trend of lots of tablet announcements, few actual tablet launches.

Yesterday Amazon announced that it had launched the Amazon Appstore Developer Portal (Amazon account sign-in required) which will allow developers to submit apps to a new Amazon Appstore for Android.

The new Amazon store will be much more like Apple's iTunes App Store than Google's Android Market. Google store allows developers to launch their app immediately without going through an approval process. While developers love this, and hence are huge promoters of Android, apps the number of junk apps that get through is much larger than in Apple's store where apps must get approved.

Amazon's store will resemble Apple's model of requiring apps to be approved -- no porn or illegal apps will supposedly get in.

Amazon's pricing policies, though, may cause some confusion, however. Developers will set a list price for their apps. Amazon then is free to discount the app to whatever price it wants to sell your app at. If the app is sold at full price you get 30 percent. If the app is discounted, the developer is guaranteed to receive no less than 20 percent of the list price.

This strategy will allow Amazon to discount apps and hence undercut the Android Market.

Will this approach and the launch of a new Android app market further fragment the Android side of the mobile market? Or will it continue to speed up the growth of Android overall? One thing for sure, users of Android phones won't appreciate having to update their apps through multiple app stores.

Then there is Apple . . . Apple's Mac App Store opens today -- at noon Eastern time to be exact, according to a post on The Loop website.

It will be interesting to see what apps will be available at the time of the launch. More than likely the apps available will be the usual suspects: iWork individual apps and the like. Can the Mac App Store entice developers to develop desktop equivalents of their tablet media apps? (My guess is "no", but we'll see.)

Update: This Morning Brief was written late last night as you can tell, as both the top and bottom story are already a bit out of date.

The Mac App Store is already live. Mac users will need to install an OS update, after that they will be able to access the new app store. Updating now.

Babylon: iPad-only magazine suffers from technical issues

As time goes by more and more magazines will be released for the iPad first -- print maybe later, if at all. The first thing these new tablet-only magazines will want to be sure of is that they are technically correct. That is, that their programming allows for a good user experience, like a printer that gets the color separations correct.
Babylon IT, released today in two versions, is an Italian tablet magazine that utilizes an adaption of the HTML5 ebook solution from Baker. The result is a product that reads very much like an ebook, with swiping used to go from story to story, scrolling to read within the story, and with embedded elements such as video. But, unfortunately, the navigation is very, very clunky.

Attempts to scroll sometimes makes the app move to the next story, sometimes it does scroll, but haltingly. It helps if you wait each time the page loads, then extremely carefully swipe in a straight direction. Any variation from this routine leads to mixed results.
As for the actual content . . . well, my Italian is not so good, so who knows. But the iPad makes the photos pop, and I certainly love the concept.

The app is free, as is the content, thanks to a single-sponsor (Campari). As mentioned above, the app comes in two flavors: a full content version which weighs in at 390 MB, and a "light" version which contains the shell but draws in the content from the web. These links are to the Italian App Store. For the full version in the US App Store go here, for the "light" version go here. You might want to try the "light" version to see if it performs any better than the full version -- though I don't know why it would.

(I should also mention that the link to the publisher's website brings up a site still under construction with the message to return on November 24, 2010. What's with that?)

Over time we will continue to see more of these tablet-only magazine released. One hopes that the vendors who provide these services to publishers can improve their programming to the point where publishing to the iPad becomes as easy, and inexpensive, as creating your own blog.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

While many publishers worry about the death of print, smart publishers are concerned about their websites

Is the web dying? Wired's controversial article notwithstanding, few media professionals are losing much sleep concerned that tomorrow no one will be surfing the web and finding their web properties.

But the reality is that the growth of mobile devices, and the soon to be exploding tablet market, will change the way most of us "surf" the web. While many publishers are only now finally comfortable knowing their staffs can sell leaderboards and tower ads, the usefulness of this kind of display advertising on a website begins to decline as readers begin reading your site on a mobile device or tablet.
Look at how this site looks today on an iPad. See that medium rectangle ad in the lower right hand corner? Barely, that's for sure. That is because this site is designed to be read on a computer monitor. I see TalkingNewMedia generally on a 20 inch display.

But on the iPad's 9.7 inch display the site generally looks the same. Pinch to zoom or tapping allows the reader to pretty much see the site the way it is intended. But the ads, coming in from Technorati, are not really as visible on a tablet screen as they would be on a computer monitor. But it still works, kind of.

Now read this site on a Samsung Galaxy Tab. A seven inch screen pretty much transforms the site into an eye test chart. Worse, your advertising no longer is effective and worth the price you are charging.

Both Samsung and RIM are bragging that their new tablets will quickly and accurately render the web, but a video that zooms into the display hides the simple fact that the displays are small and will not really be the same experience as many computer users, who currently do not own an iPad, are used to.

While creating a mobile site may appear to be a solution, the simple fact is that many publishers are making a mess of those supposed solutions.

I recently tested out the website of a B2B magazine I used to publish. That magazine currently says that it has a mobile website. But navigating to the site on my iPhone still brings up the old website -- there is no sniffer that detects that I am on a mobile device. There, on the page, incredibly small -- far too small to actually see on my phone -- was a bug that said "Mobile". Clicking it would take you to the mobile site, assuming you found the bug on the phone's small screen.

But even at the mobile site, the advertising is missing, and there are no network ads. What's the purpose of such a site, other than to increase the publisher's costs?

(TNM has had a mobile site with network ads since its launch last year. But as of yesterday MoFuse, the provider, no longer is giving away free mobile sites to bloggers -- so there went the site!)

But how many publishers are examining their websites on the various devices currently being used -- mobile phones, tablets, netbooks? The web may not be going away, but the way we all read on the web is changing fast.

Morning Brief: Gannett buys property, announces furloughs; WSJ says it's go digital or die for media

It may not have been the way folks would have liked the new year to start off, but I guess it's better than layoffs: Gannett announced last night that workers at its local newspapers will be forced to take a week off this year without pay some time in the first quarter.

"Furloughs, while difficult, do allow us to protect jobs. The staff reductions we have taken over the past few years have been very hard and further reductions are not our first preference," Bob Dickey, president of the division wrote in the company memo.

According to the APta, the division effected by the move is the community publishing group which includes over 80 daily newspapers. The division has about 17,000 employees.

The Gannett Blog, an independent blogspot site that keeps track of goings on at the company, reports that the staff at the Hattiesburg American were informed that they will not be involved in the furlough program, but instead will have their pay cut by 6.5 percent.

The blog quotes a memo written by Tracie Fowler, General Manager, which reads: "With the exception of the short-term gains we saw in for the 18 months following Katrina, our top-line revenue has not grown for ten years. We remain one of the least profitable business units in the company, ranking 39th among 67 sites in profitability. Until we can reverse our top-line revenue trends, we must seek expense cuts that are more permanent than a furlough provides."

Earlier yesterday Gannett's USA TODAY picked up a group of web properties which operate under the umbrella.'s 12 websites contain product reviews for such things as digital cameras, televisions, etc.

The WSJ contains a rather bleak evaluation of the media world. Under a headline of The Year Ahead for Media: Digital or Die a group of writers look at the different media segments and the impact of new digital formats and products, as well as many new business alliances that have begun because of the changes in the media landscape.

Space constraints limit the depth of the analysis, but it does look at a lot of segments, including music and film.

It was definitely a busy day at Gannett. USA TODAY President and Publisher David L. Hunke also announced yesterday that Tom Beusse was named to the newly created position of president of USA TODAY Sports Media Group.

“Tom is a seasoned media executive and we are excited about the experience he brings to Gannett,” said Dave Hunke. “His leadership will provide us with the vision to help grow our national sports initiatives.”

While I wonder why they have to create positions like this, it is good to see that Beusse brings to the company experience in advertising having served as senior vice president of sales and marketing for Broadband Sports, and having been in advertising sales management at Sports Illustrated for seven years.

Speaking of advertising: ProPublica said yesterday that they would begin running ads on their website, as well as their e-newsletter, mobile site and iPad app.

"We’re doing this for the usual reason: to help raise revenue that can fuel our operations, promoting what people in the non-profit world call 'sustainability'," Richard Tofel, general manager of ProPublica, wrote in an online post.

ProPublica, an independent, non-profit news organization, will accept advertising direct from clients and agencies, but will mostly rely on the the Public Media Interactive Network, as well as representation from web ad sales from National Public Media, an offshoot of NPR and PBS.

Translation services, a work in progress

Here is a recent translation care of Google:

If one day you want
Your Brain
You do what you already know:
dissolve the hair, salts with me,
Travel between lights in the sky of stars,
SWR dancing dumb
Let start your lift.
You then will see
Actually the whole shabby
of a taboo that humanity
has always lived without freedom
all the love reduced to nothing
lies between the old monsters of mold
Let start your lift.
Crushes on the wall without pity
Your morals that you still want to
caught between mediocrity
Let start your lift
Let him go and take power.
Thanks, that helps a lot. Yikes.

To listen to the original song and translate for yourself go here. The song is Consapevolezza by Area.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

That's it, tablet magazines are a failure -- let's all give up!

So according to the media critics out there the tablet editions of the major publishers have been a failure. It's the end. That's it. Give up. Back to print.

Wait a minute, let's do some math. If Wired sells only 23,000 iPad copies out of a possible 10 million iPad owners in the US that is a failure, right? After all, that equates to only 2 tenths of a percent! My God, if you translated that into the population of the US that would equal a circulation of only around 700,000. That's terrible.

So what is the print circulation of Wired anyways? 750,000. Oh.

Why oh why can't we have better media critics in this country?

New video for the BlackBerry PlayBook continues to play up web browsing experience

A new video was posted yesterday on the BlackBerry YouTube channel. The video is sort of a follow-up to the previously posted video that bragged about the soon to be released tablet's ability to quickly render web pages.

"Just in time for CES 2011, this BlackBerry PlayBook web fidelity video demonstrates rich multimedia, Adobe Flash games and social networking websites like Facebook running in the BlackBerry Browser," the video description reads.

Here is the video:

Recently a rumor was around about RIM might delay the launch of the PlayBook due to battery issues -- the company has since denied those rumors. Battery life, in my opinion, is a bit of a non-issue anyways, unless the battery life is ridiculously short. For instance, my iPad battery has never been below a 70 percent charge. But if the tablet got only half the performance it currently gets I would still be OK with it -- six hours is more than enough, isn't it?

For me, the reason issue here is the launch date: when the hell is it? The talk continues to be that the tablet will launch some time in the first quarter. Fine. But will we see lots of Playbooks at CES available for consumers and the media to demo, or only videos of PlayBooks?

(I still have my doubts about the seven inch display platform for the publishing industry. I recently demoed the Samsung Galaxy Tab and have to say I was not very impressed. But because this site is not about product reviews I have decided to hold off writing any posts until I can personally demo a tablet edition on the device.)

Amazon readies new Kindle app for flood of new Android tablets; Forrester Research raises tablet sales forecast

While media companies are notorious for being conservative about new formats and platforms, tech companies are not. Witness Amazon: it announced that it is ready to launch new Kindle apps designed specifically for Android and Windows-based tablets.
For Amazon it is about allowing buyers, no matter what device they choose to use, to access their e-commerce store and buy and read books through Amazon, rather than the competition.

"Many people are buying both a Kindle and an LCD tablet computer," Dorothy Nicholls, Director, Amazon Kindle, in the company's release. (For now, by "LCD tablet computer" she means an iPad, of course.)

"We're very excited to support the upcoming Android and Windows LCD tablet computers with free Kindle apps that we'll tailor for the particular devices," Nicholls said. "Our Whispersync technology makes it simple to move back and forth between devices. Read on your Kindle, read on your tablet, read on your phone. We'll keep track of your last page read, and make it easy."

Forrester Research today revised its estimate of US tablet sales -- way up, of course.
Writing on her company blog, Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research, admitted that while they had seen the introduction of the iPad as a "game-changer" they were still too conservative in their sales estimates. They currently project that Apple will have sold 10.3 iPads into the US market in 2010, and now project that sales will more than double to 24.1 units in 2011. (Couldn't they just round that number to 24?)

"As for Android tablets, Research In Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook, Microsoft's Windows-based tablets, and tablets that run on HP's and Nokia's platforms, they'll take a backseat to Apple, but in a market this big, there's room for more than one player," Epps wrote today. "By 2015, 82 million US consumers -- one-third of US online consumers -- will be using a tablet, and not all of them will be iPads."

The New Year brings new media apps and a few updates; OS updates, Honeycomb creates dilemma for developers

Things certainly slowed down during the holiday season, as they always do, but now that the New Year has arrived and the folks in Cupertino are back to work, new media apps are arriving in the iTunes App Store, as well as a few major updates.
One of the iPad's most popular paid media apps -- and there aren't that many of them -- is from the Financial Times. I've written many times about this app and it remains one of my favorites because it is a non-nonsense kind of app: simple layouts, good mechanics, logical navigation. It is similar to the NYT iPad app in appearance, but because it is a financial newspaper it forces readers to pony up to access the content. (When you first download the app and register with the website, the reader can access ten articles for free before being forced to pay.)

The update just released brings more content, a few layout tweaks, and some programming fixes.

As some media writers are beginning to figure out, some of the most useful new media apps are not coming from "media" companies but from developers who are using the content of news outlets and repackaging the content for the new platform. It was something I worried about last spring as publishers sat back and waited to launch their own apps, and at the same time failed to see that tablets would be a new format, not simply an extension of print (most publishers still don't seem to get this).
Johaina News for iPad is a very useful tool for journalists and others tasked with keeping up to date with news coming out of the Middle East -- both from Western news sources as well as news from Arabic language sources.

The free app toggles between Arabic and English, and also brings in content from French-based news sources, as well.

"Johaina News Reader is powered by Sakhr’s machine translation (MT) technology that translates current Arabic news content instantaneously," the app description says. "The resulting English translation is highly accurate and readable, helping users to obtain the gist of the news content. Sakhr’s Arabic to English machine translation is consistently ranked #1 by industry and U.S. government evaluations for human comprehensibility."

Some light testing shows the app is very quick and well done. I have not really examined the accuracy of the translations, though, and that will be the key thing, won't it?

I've almost posted something about the release of Maclean's Magazine, the new iPad app from Rogers Publishing. What stopped me was simply that there is nothing very special about the app.

Maclean’s is Canada’s leading news magazine so its release would seem to me to be pretty important, in general. Released on the 21st, the app hasn't garnered much attention -- there are only four reviews in the Canadian iTunes App Store and not enough ratings to register. But the reaction from readers, I predict, will be one of disappointment. Here we have one of Canada's most important magazines getting treated very poorly by its publisher.

The app is what I like to call an enhanced replica edition: a digital replica of the print edition with enhancements like video and such. But calling it a replica edition is probably unfair because it does give the reader layouts in landscape mode. But generally, this app was not ready to be released: there are no back issues in the in-app store, and for a weekly magazine it seems strange that two weeks after the launch of this app the only issue available for purchase is the special issue. It appears that the app was ready before the publishing staff was.

Brad Delong likes to write "why oh why can't we have a better press corps" on his website. For me the equivalent would be "why oh why can't we have better B2B media publications?" The media business is definitely ill served by its B2B publications and websites. None of the leading publications that cover the media in the US have launched a mobile or tablet edition yet (am I missing one?), and many of them seem to be trying hard to hide their actual hostility to the new formats.

The same can not be said of Europe. The Swiss B2B magazine for the publishing industry, Publisher, released an excellent tablet edition back in September, and now the Norwegian trade magazine Journalisten has started the new year by releasing its first iPad app. The free app gives the reader access to the first two issues of 2011 free of charge, but then will begin charging for access -- NOK 439 for 20 editions over 12 months, which translates to about $75. Single issus will cost 29 Kroners, or about $5 per issue.
The app gives readers different portrait and landscape modes -- I generally prefer reading my iPad in landscape mode, and these layouts are particularly good.

But Journalisten and their app really deserves to be praised for having one of the best written descriptions in the entire iTunes App Store. The description clearly tells the reader what the charges will be, what their currently thinking is in regard to charging (telling buyers, for instance, that they still haven't decided what to do about print and digital charges for 2012), and including both advertising and editorial contact information right in the description. Well done guys.

Yesterday I wrote a post about some of the events occurring in the first quarter of this year including a slew of new tablets expected from computer makers. But two other events will occur that currently have no public time table: the expected release of Android 3.0, otherwise known as Honeycomb, and an update of iOS from Apple.

Both OS updates will be both a blessing and a curse for developers: a bless because supposedly Honeycomb will be a leap forward for Android, and will make it tablet-ready (we'll see); a curse because all mobile OS updates force developers to relook at already launched apps to make sure they will be compliant.

It has been rumored that Apple will release an update very soon -- some even though it would appear weeks ago -- but it may make more sense to release the new iOS with the release of iPad 2 assuming it will ship shortly after the announcement (which itself should come in late January).

The Dallas Morning News will construct paywall along with newly designed website; will launch iPad and iPhone apps

The Belo owned daily newspaper, The Dallas Morning News, announced this morning that they are instituting a new pricing and digital publishing strategy early this year which will include charging for web access, a new iPad application, as well as an update iPhone app.
Beginning at the beginning of the year, the DMN raised print subscription rates by ten percent to $33.95 per month. Now the paper will create a new digital subscription package that will cost readers $16.95 for access to all digital content, as well as individual prices for web access and the mobile apps.

"These digital initiatives will enhance our ability to publish important news and information for our customers on the platform of their choice," Jim Moroney, chief executive and publisher, said in the story posted to the DMN website.

The DMN also has apps for both Android and BlackBerry in development and say they will launch these apps later in the year.

Speaking of paywalls . . . the student newspaper of Oklahoma State University has signed an agreement with Press+ to construct a limited paywall for its student newspaper website, reported College Media Matters yesterday.

The media website said that only "a fraction of the O’Collegian online readership base must scale the pay wall – individuals not currently attending or working at the school who live outside the university’s “immediate geographic area” and who wish to view content more than three times per month," the website reported.

Press+ is a service of Journalism Online, the Steven Brill founded company that offers publishers e-commerce services.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 will start by being all tablets, all the time: VIZIO the latest to say they will unveil a tablet (and a phone) at CES

As if serving as a prelude to the what the rest of the week will deliver, VIZIO announced today that it is getting into the smartphone and tablet business (because there are a dearth of cell phone makers, right?), launching the VIA Phone and the VIA Tablet. Both products are designed to fit into a unified "ecosystem" with the company's HDTV and Blu-ray products.
Both the VIA phone and tablet feature the highest performance coupled with innovative features that tie them into the media consumption experience," Matthew McRae, Chief Technology Officer, said in the company's release.

"And by integrating the VIA Plus user experience also found on our next generation TVs and Blu-ray devices, VIZIO is delivering the multi-screen, unified ecosystem others have talked about for years and never delivered."

The announcement by VIZIO will be just the start of product announcements this week as manufacturers try and get early word out on their new tablets and mobile products that will be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show later this week in Las Vegas. It's gonna get crazy folks.

VIZIO no doubt believes that by pairing its tablet and mobile products with their television offerings they will have a leg up on others in the field. Both new offerings will run on Google's Android platform, meaning media companies already developing for the platform will be able to get their media apps onto the new devices.

The Android tablet market look like it will quickly start looking like the Windows laptop market as the field becomes very crowded, very fast, and price begins to be a major differentiator. VIZIO, it appears, hopes its new tablet will appeal to video fans as it sports an HDMI port, and eight inch screen (still almost two inches smaller than the iPad's 9.7 inch display, but larger than the display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab). Users, though, will have to depend on the devices WiFi for connecting to the Internet as it will not come with 3G connectivity.

"As part of the VIA Plus ecosystem, the VIA phone and tablet are natural extensions of the HD entertainment experience that historically has centered around the TV," added Mr. McRae.

2011 Calendar starting to fill up: App Stores, Tablets, digital newsstands, and more in the works for this year

Got your new calendar ready? Well, here are some dates that you might want to make note of:

January 6: The Consumer Electronics Show starts on this day and runs through Sunday the 9th. Look for new tablets from Toshiba that run Google's Android platform. The theme of the show will definitely be "is there are iPad killer tablet?" -- a favorite topic of discussion among tech writers. Right now there are over a dozen manufacturers set to launch, or preview, Android tablets at CES so there is bound to be a good one out there, right?
RIM will no doubt be playing up its Blackberry Playbook tablet at CES. Will they announce a launch date?

This is also the day that Apple is launching its new Mac App Store on this date and while most developers of media apps may take a pass at developing for the desktop it will be interesting to see is anybody looks at this as yet another opportunity to distribute their content.

January 17: supposedly this is the day that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. launches its new tablet daily. I'm not as sure about this date as the WSJ but who cares, its coming, and its coming soon. The question on many publisher's minds, though, is will Apple modify its subscription policies at this time, as well.

Some time in January: the New York Times promises (threatened?) to launch its metered paywall in January. Does the paper regret making this promise? Will they regret it? This may end up being a non-event if the metered paywall ends up being so loose as to let virtually all its web readers continue to read free of charge.

Late January: Last year on Wednesday the 27th Apple unveiled the iPad. The event disappointed many media observers. I suppose it was hard for Apple's CEO Steve Jobs to outdo his legendary iPhone introduction of 2007. But the naysayers were proved wrong as it is estimated that Apple will have easily surpassed the ten million mark in sales for its new tablet.

While Apple is a very secretive company, it is pretty predictable in its product cycles: new iPhones in the summer, new iPods in the Fall, etc. Look for Apple to have an event sometime in late January to unveil iPad deux. Some think will say that the newest version of their tablet will be available for ordering immediately -- we'll see -- but it is unlikely that buyers will have to wait ten weeks for their new tablets to arrive as they did in 2010.

End of the first quarter: RIM promises that their BlackBerry Playbook will be ready by the quarter's end; look for the first Android tablet apps to launch from media companies; will Apple or Google launch a successful digital newsstand? what else?

Here are some things that seem to be missing: whatever happened to Penguin Books app efforts? Right now Penguin Group USA has only three apps for the iPad in the App Store; native tablet apps from mobile developers, the many developers of apps for newspapers for the iPhone appear to have punted on the iPad, or else have launched some pretty horrendous tablet editions; The Guardian launched an early (and good) iPad app, its photography app, The Guardian Eyewitness, but nothing for the newspaper itself -- well, its coming in 2011, as well as new version of its mobile app.

Morning Brief: 5K apps in 2 months for Windows Phone 7; who calls the shots when developing new media apps?

The first post of the year is as good a time as any to try and catch up with new media news that occurred during the holiday week.

CNNMoney reported late last week that Microsoft's new mobile platform, Windows Phone 7, now has over 5,000 apps in its app store. The company has shipped - not sold -- 1.5 million devices to retailers since the new smartphone was introduced a couple of months ago. All-in-all, 5,000 apps is a pretty good number, and many of those apps are pretty important to the platform's chances at success: Netflix, the Weather Channel,, etc. No media apps, however, are promoted on the company's app store home page.
In the end, of course, the question many media executives will ask themselves soon is should they develop for this platform, or just concentrate on iOS and Android. (Those using third party vendors will want to ask their partners what their plans are for Windows Phone 7.) The key may be whether tablets appear that use some form of the mobile OS.

I chose not to write a year-end round-up, or make any predictions in post written at the end of 2010. But if you seeking one of these kinds of stories this one is as good as any, and probably better than most.

Chris Clark, writing on his Release Candidate One site, wrote an excellent piece that talks about the new Facebook Messages -- an internal email feature. Clark makes several good points including that people simply don't use email the way early adopters used it -- sending multiple emails, at a quick pace, sort of like instant messaging. Because of this, Clark says that the new system is better than email for reasons that you can read in the post.

But he also wonders whether it is wise to have those who are "the people with the biggest investment in old technologies ... calling the shots in the design of their successors". Damn good point.
I was thinking about this as I downloaded the newest app from Tribune Interactive. The app is called, simply enough, Chicago Football, and it was released before the Bears played their final game of the regular season. Strange timing, huh? Who intentionally puts out a sports app pretty much after the season is over?

The app is definitely attractive -- I think the folk over at Tribune Interactive appear to have some excellent design and development talent in-house -- but it is still one of those RSS driven apps put out by people who have a hard time visualizing content outside the walls of their own newsrooms.

But content aside, what struck me was that here is a free app, put out by a major media company, that contains zero advertising. Was the ad department involved in the development of this app? and if not, why not? If yes, isn't there a client in football crazy Chicagoland interested in advertising here?