Friday, February 4, 2011

Another Super Bowl Sunday: expensive commercials briefly interrupted by some football

Well, Sunday is once again Super Bowl Sunday, and for half of America that means watching Super Bowl commercials. Green Bay and Pittsburgh, they will provide the entertainment between spots.

The Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial is considered by some to be greatest Super Bowl ad of all time, though I think this simply because people get tired of being reminded of Ridley Scott's 1984 commercial for Apple.

I, however, think the golden era of Super Bowl ads was about a decade ago when the first Internet boom was taking place. The one that broke things wide open was this one from

This year harkens back to 1999 with the late buy of Groupon, the Chicago-based deal-of-the-day website that recently turned down a $3 billion buyout offer -- silly boys. They will be throwing $3 million at the game in exchange for 30 seconds of fame (maybe). This will be their first TV ad, so it damn well better be good. Word is that it will be directed by Christopher Guest, better known for films "Waiting for Guffman", "Best in Show" and "This Is Spinal Tap." I found all these films mildly amusing -- emphasis on "mildly".

We will be watching.

Al Jazeera web traffic soars as events in Egypt continue

The website Mondoweiss had an interesting look at Al Jazeera web traffic, comparing the growth of these traffic since the events in Egypt increased in interest, and the web traffic of the NYT website.
The original post by Brian Dana Akers is here. Akers pulls up the web traffic report vis and compares the web traffic at Al Jazeera with the NYT in a chart. I have updated that chart myself to show the current information -- but clicking the chart will send you to the Mondoweiss (common courtesy since it was their original idea).

Earlier today (local time in Egypt) the Cairo offices of Al Jazeera were ransacked by "gangs of thugs". Al Jazeera issued a statement and posted on their blog about the attack:

It appears to be the latest attempt by the Egyptian regime or its supporters to hinder Al Jazeera’s coverage of events in the country.

In the last week its bureau was forcibly closed, all its journalists had press credentials revoked, and nine journalists were detained at various stages. Al Jazeera has also faced unprecedented levels of interference in its broadcast signal as well as persistent and repeated attempts to bring down its websites.

Update: Al Jazeera is not the only news organization being harassed by the government or pro-Mubarak supporters. The Guardian has an account of the experiences of its reporters -- what it is calling "hair-raising encounters with the Egyptian security forces and members of an angry mob."

CBS News reporter Lara Logan and her crew were detained by the Egyptian military yesterday and were only released this morning. The harassment has apparently been effective: Logan and her crew are flying back to Washington this evening. Brian Williams and Katie Couric have also left Egypt, according to the NYT's Brian Stelter's Media Decoder report.

More and more American media will be dependent on Al Jazeera for reporting. But still the Qatar-based news channel is absent from most US cable systems.

Morning Brief: Capital Times acquires local online property; Boston Globe uses augmented reality to spice up special section; Verizon is one happy company

The Madison, Wisconsin based weekly newspaper, The Capital Times, has purchased, a state politics website, along with two other web properties.

Jeff Mayers, president of, will continue in his role, and now the web properties will become a subsidiary of The Capital Times.
"With Capital Times Co. ownership, we hope we can help take WisPolitics to another level from its very solid foundation," said Clayton Frink, publisher of The Capital Times.

The Capital Times was a daily afternoon newspaper up until 2008 when the paper adopted a mostly online strategy along with a weekly print edition. The property, jointly owned by Capital Newspapers and Lee Enterprises, also produces a series of shoppers and specialty publications and websites in the Madison area.

The Boston Globe is partnering with Junaio to spice up its Winter Arts Guide which publishes this Sunday. The NYT-owned newspaper will use augmented reality to make select images come alive with animation.

Here is how it works: readers download an app from the Junaio website for either their iPhone, iPod touch or Android smartphones; then they go to the Boston Globe's channel using the app, this will enable their phone's camera; then they simply use the camera to look at the photos on the cover of the Winter Arts Guide to see the illustrations.

It is all free, of course. Here is a demo of the feature from the website.

It looks like sales of the iPhone 4 are going quite well at Verizon. They company's website shows that they have stopped taking pre-orders of the Apple smartphone and are instead directing people to come back online next week or to go to a Verizon store on the 10th.

Once again the critics of the iPhone have provided much 'claim chowder', as John Gruber would say. I'm really not too surprised: while smartphone sales remain huge, there is still a sizable part of the population still using 'feature' phones. This group, along with those who have waited until now to buy an iPhone, amount to enough people to create this huge demand. Looks like another blow out quarter for Apple, and possibly improved results for Verizon.

"In just our first two hours, we had already sold more phones than any first day launch in our history," said Dan Mead, president and chief executive officer at Verizon. "And, when you consider these initial orders were placed between the hours of 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., it is an incredible success story."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Late afternoon briefs: FT chief exec says iPad is driving 20% of new online subscriptions; Vodafone admits doing Mubarak's bidding; a blogger's guide to Egyptian events

We're still recovering here from one of the largest snow storms ever to hit the Chicago area. Between posts I've been trying to dig out. Finally, finally, it looks like I'm done shoveling . . . when a plow comes by and creates a new wall of snow between the street and my car.

Reuters: The Financial Times' Chief Executive John Ridding said today at an investor conference in NYC that Apple's iPad accounts for 20 percent of new online subscriptions for the financial newspaper. Reuters is reporting that Ridding said that the Financial Times iPad Edition has been downloaded 600,000 times since its launch. It was updated on January 25th to fix a series of bugs.

The Guardian: Charles Arthur writes about London-based Vodafone. The company has admitted that it sent out pro-Mubarak text messages to its mobile service customers in Egypt.

This will be seized on by people who already want to dislike Vodafone (hello, UK Uncut) as further evidence of corporate evil. Certainly, it's the sort of thing that will have executives in technology companies heaving a sigh and being grateful it wasn't them.
Sarthanapalos: A Guide: How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt
David Sirota tweeted about this post that strives to inform Americans about the situation in Egypt, calling it the "single best read on Egypt I've seen."
“The Twitter Revolution”. No, this is the Revolution of the Egyptian people. Egyptians resisted for decades. They were tortured, jailed and repressed by the Mubarak and Sadat regimes. Twitter and Facebook are tools. They did not stand in front of the water canons, or go to jail for all these years to get the credit. There were demonstrations all summer long and for a several years through out Egypt but they are rarely covered, because we are worried about what Sarah Palin said, or some moronic Imam saying something stupid. Does it sound a bit arrogant to take credit for a people’s struggle?
Mac App Store: I just don't keep track of the Mac App Store the same way I do the iPhone and iPad app stores. For one thing, Macs still represent a minority of computers out there, though Mac's market share is approaching ten percent. For another, nothing much is going on in the area of media.

The news category today has exactly nine apps in it. Nine apps after about a month. While the games category is broken down into 17 subcategories, the news category could be just as well eliminated by being made a subcategory of Lifestyle or Reference. I suppose this could have been expected, but I'm still surprised that more developers have not at least tried out the Mac App Store.

On the other hand, how many apps have I downloaded? Two maybe.

Livestation: proving absolutely essential for viewers without cable TV access to Al Jazeera English

Without access to Al Jazeera English I would find it nearly impossible to watch events in Egypt on US television without wanting to occasionally throw my shoe through my flatscreen. But thanks to Livestation, Al Jazeera English is available to those with computers or on their smartphones.

I have found the Livestation streams to be a bit buggy, but generally dependable. Livestation uses a dedicated app for your computer, which solves the issue of depending on the Flash player. Livestation has three iPhone apps (it really could use an iPad app), one is Al Jazeera English Live, the other two, Al Jazeera Arabic Live and Al Jazeera Mubasher Live, are obviously not for the English language market.
I especially like the data warning they have included with their app description: Please check with your operator for additional data charges you may incur using this service if you are not on a flat rate data package, in particular when using your iPhone abroad, as every 10 minutes you spend watching the channel will require roughly 7.2MB.

It is good to see that iPhone users appreciate the app and the work of Al Jazeera as reviews are very positive in the iTunes App Store.

There is an Android app equivalent here. The developer is listed as Sufi Studios, but I am sure this is the Livestation feed.

Currently Al Jazeera is having extreme difficulty broadcasting images from Tahrir Square, Cairo due to the government seizing video equipment from the Qatar-based network. But before this happened, most images from Tahrir Square seen on CNN and other networks originated from Al Jazeera broadcasts.

Let me add: I consider the fact that I do not have Al Jazeera English through Comcast a scandal.

Plans for the new iPad and iOS update come into focus: Verizon iPhone reviews consistent in praise of service

There were two must-read stories today about the new Verizon iPhone -- one from David Pogue of the NYT, the other from John Gruber on his Daring Fireball site. Both agree: the iPhone 4 on the Verizon network will be heaven for iPhone fans.

The real importance of both stories is that they seem to bring more clarity to what Apple plans on doing over the next two weeks. The original Pogue review mentioned, according to AppleInsider, that the date for the next iOS update would be February 13th -- a strange day to release an update because that is a Sunday. Any mention of this date is no longer in the story online, but the date does make some sense when you realize that The Daily's two week free period will end around that time. Apple will want to update its iOS then to include new subscription services needed for both The Daily and any other publication wishing to take advantage of the changes.
This date also gives Verizon a two week jump start on AT&T. Verizon has, and will continue, to play up the Personal Hotspot feature that it currently holds a monopoly on. As Gruber points out in his post, the Verizon version of the iPhone is running a slightly different OS than what is publicly available otherwise. Apple likes to have consistent OS releases, so this has to be rectified.

That will give AT&T the Personal Hotspot feature, which it is said to want to charge $45 a month for -- versus $20 a month on Verizon (though AT&T will give you twice the data). But based on both posts, anyone who lives in San Francisco or New York, and who currently has AT&T, will want to jump ship as soon as is possible. It will be nice for iPhone users to be able to once again make, you know, phone calls.

For many publishers, this update date -- cute, huh? -- is important because it may lead to some clarity concerning app guidelines for both subscriptions and in-app/out-of-app purchases. Clarity is good. and mocoNews release RSS reader iPad apps through Handmark

As I've said here before, the reason TNM does not have an app for the iPad (and any other app, for that matter) is two-fold: TNM's goal of covering the media pretty much is a dead-end, business-wise; and I refuse to release one of these RSS reader apps that I find, well, embarrassingly bad examples of tablet publishing.

Of course, that hasn't stopped companies like Freedom Communications and others from releasing iPad apps that are essentially converted iPhone apps. These apps can be OK (barely) on your smartphone, but on the ten inch display of the iPad they seem like the lazy man's way to iPad app development.
So what to make of the fact that The Guardian owned properties and mocoNews have released iPad apps through Handmark? Both the for iPad and mocoNews for iPad apps are free to download and contain the same networked ads as the Freedom Communications apps -- that is, the same Zagat To Go house ad.

I suppose is this proof that ContentNext Media, which Guardian News & Media acquired in 2008, is still being allowed to be run independently. And maybe the folks at these good media news websites had gotten frustrated with the slow pace of tablet development at The Guardian -- after all, we are still waiting on The Guardian's first iPad app to be released.

But, really, this? OK, guys, time to reboot.

Update: Rules to live by: Rule 1 -- don't release an app that is not an improvement over your website. Example: on my iPhone the NYT website can be read, but it is difficult -- by contrast, their iPhone app is an easier read. Is the current NYT iPad app a better reading experience than reading the website using the iPad's Safari browser? Tough call. But then again the NYT says it will release a new iPad version soon.

(By the way, Rule 2 states "never release an app unless you know how you will make money at it" -- house ads are a poor business model.)

In praise of The Daily, and a cautionary note

Between that time when I started to wake up, and the time my iPhone alarm would go crazy, I drifted in and out of sleep, having all sorts of crazy thoughts. One of them involved Rupert Murdoch and his new team at his iPad-only news product, The Daily.
I dreamt Murdoch had gathered Jesse Angelo, Greg Clayman and Jon Miller together after yesterday's event at the Guggenheim. Murdoch turned to Angelo and Clayman and said in that familiar voice of his "now guys, I have great faith in you. I am leaving The Daily in your hands because I know you can get the job done. Now go back to your offices and get to work. And remember this: if you fail, you'll never work for News Corp. again. In fact, I'll make sure you never work at any media company again in your life times. Now good luck."

Off went Angelo and Clayman, a bit shocked, and more than a bit concerned that they better make The Daily a success. Miller turned to Murdoch and smiled: "wow, that should motivate them!" Murdoch revealed a small, wry smile, then turned to leave. But he stopped, turned, and pointed his finger at Miller and said "and that goes for you, too!"

It is very doubtful that Rupert Murdoch has burned the ships of The Daily staff, but that would probably be a very good idea. It may be there best chance at success.

Unlike many media writers who will want, and may already have, passed judgment on the new iPad-only digital newspaper, I feel that there is no way I want to fall into that trap. I know that I won't be held to my opinions -- just look who Postmedia brought on as consultants and you'll know that being wrong about all things related to the iPad isn't a drag on one's career -- but why bother passing judgment too fast on a daily product that will no doubt evolve quickly over the next few weeks?
No, at the moment I am just grateful that the folks at News Corp. realized that spending $30 million or more on The Daily is chump change in the greater scheme of the corporation -- about the cost of the first ten minutes of the next James Cameron movie.

Face it, us media types come pretty cheaply now-a-days. So rather than continue to bemoan the state of the newspaper industry News Corp. has taken the plunge in a major way -- and unlike the RSS driven and formatted tablet editions put out by the NYT and others, this one feels more like a native iPad news product, one specifically designed for the iPad.
While others may predict the ultimate success of The Daily, Greg Clayman and his team will be out there selling ads. Look at this one at right for Land Rover. There are also ads for Verizon, Pepsi, HBO, Macy's and Virgin Atlantic, as well as plenty of house ads for Fox. (What a great buy by Verizon! Today is the day Verizon customers can start ordering their iPhone 4s, and wouldn't an iPad owner who uses Verizon be the perfect prospect?) How many of these ads are in your publication this morning? (Rhetorical question.)

And that is the point here. Someone needs to be in the new land without their ships. Jesse Angelo is probably pretty sure that there will be a soft landing for him somewhere at News Corp. if things don't work out. But a little demon in me thinks it might be better if the team at The Daily is a bit scared this morning. Excited, adrenalin flowing, but still a little scared.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Honeycomb (Android 3.0) gets a workout at Google's developer event; waiting on Motorola XOOM's launch

In an interesting, and sometimes strange, juxtaposition, Google decided to demonstrate it new Honeycomb version of Android for developers on the same day News Corp. rolled out its iPad-only newspaper, The Daily.

Watching the presentation on YouTube presented challenges as my Chrome browser kept crashing. In the end I used Safari and turned off Click-to-Flash in order to follow the presentation. Previously News Corp. had streamed its own event using Flash on its website, but also decided to stream the event with QuickTime for those watching on their iPads or iPhones.

← Google's own version of coverflow, demonstrated today at the Google' Honeycomb developer event.

The biggest problem for me was that as impressive as some of the new features and the performance of the OS is one can't help but notice the lack of an established Android driven tablet. Without this, it will be extremely hard to judge the platform. Not surprisingly, mention was made of Motorola's XOOM, scheduled to launch in about two weeks, and costing around $700.

Without the XOOM to demo Honeycomb, the issue of scalability will remain an issue -- that is, how well do older app scale for tablets. When the iPad launched Steve Jobs took great pains to say that all existing iPhone app would work well on the iPad; well they may have worked, but it was quickly clear that developers would have to create universal apps or stand-alone iPad apps to truly utilize the iPad's display potential. The presentation today featured a demo of the game Fruit Ninja displayed on a tablet, but demoing a game is much different than a media app.
There were a few hiccups, for instance the attempts to do a video chat, but they were minor and insubstantial. More importantly for Android owners was the news that the web-based version of the Android Market is now live. This was highly anticipated by Android fans, though I still find that the new online store pales in comparison to the iTunes App Store -- and I'm no fan of that one thanks to the clutter and lack of drill-down indexing!

Louis Gump, the former veep of mobile at The Weather Channel, represented CNN as Google's media partner. Gump demoed their Android app and their news-social networking feature called iReport. Along with Bart Decrem from Disney Mobile who demoed their new Android versions of games such as Tap Tap Revenge, one was struck that Google was still playing catch up: here were apps ported over from their iOS equivalents, while earlier in the day Rupert Murdoch was setting up to demonstration a brand new tablet only news product that will be available exclusively on the iPad for at least six months if not longer.

That being said, there is no doubt that Motorola's XOOM will benefit mightily from running Honeycomb rather than an older version of Android. Two weeks from now early owners of this new tablet will finally start to compare and contrast Google's tablet OS versus what Apple has been able to offer since last April -- no more canned video demos, it will be the real thing, on a real tablet.

The Daily is launched in the App Store: a first look at News Corp.'s iPad-only digital news product

At an event at the Guggenheim Museum, News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch unveiled The Daily, the first iPad-only news publication designed and backed by a major media giant.
While The Daily will eventually cost readers 99 cents per week, or $40 per year, thanks to sponsor Verizon readers will have two weeks of free access.

Although the new publication takes advantage of all the bells and whistle familiar to iPad owners, the app itself opens up in a very traditional way with a front cover and tablet of contents. An introductory video helps readers navigate the stories.

Sections include News, Gossip (yes, this is the second section), Opinion, Arts & life, Apps & Games (!), and Sports.
Although the app can be used in both portrait and landscape modes, some news stories must be turned to portrait to read the story. Other stories can be viewed in landscape, however.

As for the actual layouts, this app is not in the NYT style of iPad publications. Instead, the publication has a more magazine feel and style of design. We'll look deeper into the app as the day goes by and will write a new post for tomorrow morning.

The Daily was introduced into a super charged news environment as events in Egypt spiraled out of control. Major news organizations will have to put The Daily back into its business and technologies sections as they grapples with quickly developing stories coming out of the Middle East.
The event at the Guggenheim Museuam was kicked off by News Corp.'s head Rupert Murdoch. After a short speech the stage was taken over by Jon Miller, digital chief officer at News Corp., Jesse Angelo, who will serve as The Daily's executive editor, and Greg Clayman, who will head business operations as publisher.

"I'm convinced that in the tablet era there is room for a fresh voice," Murdoch said. "New times demand new journalism. Simply put, the iPad demands that we completely reinterpret our craft," Murdoch told the press gathered for the event.
Also at the event was Eddy Cue, Apple's VP of Internet Services, and head of all things related to the iTunes store. He was stepping in for Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, who recently announced was heading to a second health related leave of absence.

Although the News Corp. team made clear that they would create different versions of The Daily for the new Android and other platform tablets that will be announced, Murdoch said that "This year and maybe next year belongs to Apple."

News Corp. will stream event of The Daily unveiling in iPad-friendly video format, as well as Flash

Yeah, that was smart. You can watch The Daily unveiling on your iPad's browser because the company has made sure that its website will sniff out your browser and stream Flash if you are on your computer, and a more iPad friendly format if you want to use your tablet.
PhotobucketThe stream can be found on The Daily's website.

The event starts at 11am EST, and the app is supposed to appear inside the iTunes App Store by noon EST today. We have a first look at the app later this afternoon, of course.

Based on the demonstration it appears that The Daily will have all the bells and whistles contained in many natively designed iPad publications: social network integration, embedded video and audio content. They are also utilizing News Corp.'s broadcast properties to include kind of pseudo-newscasting content.

Morning Brief: Digging out; Google to demonstrate Honeycomb today, as News Corp. launches The Daily

There is quite a bit on the calendar today, but the first task is digging out. It is still snowing outside, but so far we have received around 20 inches, with drifts in the three to six foot area.
Waking up this morning the good news was that I could see my wife's car: it could be seen perfectly from an upstairs bedroom window -- downstairs, not so well.

While I, and my family, will be fine, quite a number of Chicagoland residents did not heed the blizzard warnings and have spent the night in their cars scattered around the city and outer county areas. Police and county officials are using snowmobiles to find and rescue those who need help. Lake Shore Drive remains closed and all schools and government offices will remain closed, at least through the rest of the day today.

Meanwhile, Cyclone Yasi is set to make landfall in Queensland, Australia. According to, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is reporting that Cyclone Yasi is "likely to be more life threatening than any experienced during recent generations".

Stay safe.

Two important new media events are on the calendar for today.

Google will be conducting a Android 3.0 presentation today at 1pm EST. By then Rupert Murdoch will be off the stage as News Corp.'s The Daily unveiling is scheduled for 11:00 am EST at the Guggenheim Museum.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Comcast updates its Xfinity TV apps to include watching movies, TV shows directly on iOS device through WiFi

These updates are hardly as important as events currently occurring in Egypt this evening, but I thought I'd post about these media updates, nonetheless.

Comcast has released an update to its universal iOS app which will now allow subscribers to its cable TV services to stream tv shows and movies directly to their iPhone or iPad. The app still does not allow watching live television on your mobile device, however. The new streaming content requires a WiFi connection.
Content that is available to Comcast customers include premium movie channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz, as well as a limited number of networks such as TBS and TNT.

A number of other media apps were updated late today, as well. The BBC News, the Sunday Times, The Guardian for iPhone, Al Jazeera English Live, The Economist for iPad all were updated today, for the most part to fix bugs. (It is a shame that Al Jazeera has not launched an iPad app in time for the events taking place in Egypt.)

Short takes: If its ugly in print, might as well make it ugly on a tablet, too; still waiting on some storms

The Huntington herald-Dispatch has released a replica edition iPad app for its print newspaper yesterday. No word on why they would want to do this, but they did it anyways. Yeah, it ain't pretty.
As you can see by the screen capture, it truly is a replica edition, though I see that they included links on the page jumps -- that was nice of them.

Both the app and the access is free. The Herald-Dispatch is owned by Champion Publishing, based in Huntington, West Virginia. It has a daily circulation of around 29K and 35K on Sundays.

The same major news stories that were dominating things this morning continue today with very little change: Protesters showed up in the millions in Cairo, but nothing still no word on Mubarak -- though rumor has it that he might speak tonight (local time) and announce he will not run for reelection; A terrible cyclone, now at category 5, is bearing down on Queensland, Australia -- land fall is estimated to be at 10 pm tonight (local time, Wednesday); A major winter storm continues to move towards the midwest with blizzard warnings due to become active at 3 pm CST -- 12 to 24 inches of snow is forecast.

Then there is the big story or non-story concerning Apple changing its app store policies. The NYT this morning reported that Apple had rejected the Sony Reader app because it included the ability to buy books from within the app while bypassing Apple's App Store -- that would be a violation of developer guidelines. That's simple enough, but the story goes on to say that this would also effect Amazon's Kindle iOS apps -- something that seems unlikely as Amazon takes you outside the app to its own online store to buy books.

Now Jay Yarow, writing for Business Insider, says that yep, this would include all apps and even gets a quote from Apple spokesperson Trudy Miller: "We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase."

I still don't buy it. Attacking Amazon so directly would seem to be counterproductive -- after all, the Kindle app helps sell iPads. But then again, after I learned that Amazon has designed its Kindle Publishing solutions so that the new Kindle products could not be read on Kindle apps, but could only be read on actual Kindle devices, well, that seemed like a bit of an attack on all other tablet makers.

I would really like clarification from Apple on this. Then, if this proves to be much ado about nothing ... well, let's say that a few writers will have some 'splainin' to do.

NYT says Apple has dramatically changed its app store purchasing policies, but evidence for a change is lacking

Two reporters for the New York Times have written a story that claims that Apple has changed its application development policies concerning in-app AND out of app purchases. If true, it would construct a Berlin Wall around iOS devices, if not it will only be another example of speculation gone awry.

The story by Claire Cain Miller and Miguel Helft states that Apple has told "some applications developers, including Sony, that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store." The move supposedly would effect applications such as Amazon's Kindle app which jumps from outside the app to Safari so that owners can navigate the Amazon online store to shop for material that can be used in the Kindle app.
The reporters, however, did not get any comments directly from Apple or Amazon. As a result, the story speculates that this is a dramatic change in Apple policies. And it would be, if true. If Apple is closing their iOS devices completely to content bought outside the device it would be an incredible move, and one that I think most developers would consider the end of the line for cooperation with Apple.

Having read the section of the iOS developer agreement that is at the center of the debate I see that the section makes clear that all in-app purchases must go through the iTunes App Store. This doesn't represent a change in policy -- developers have known that you can't try to bypass the app store within your iOS app. If the Sony Reader app would allow users to buy books through the Sony Reader Store from within the app itself this would be an obvious violation of the terms of the developer agreement.

Of course, all this could be cleared up if Apple would comment on the story, but we all know Apple is slow to respond to stories in the press -- and there are certainly plenty of those. But in this case, especially if the NYT has gone a bit far in its reporting, it would benefit the company to make clear if there has been a dramatic change in its application development guidelines.

Morning Brief: Weather, here, weather there; 'The Daily' to launch into a unique and fortuitous news environment

While the Chicagoland area braces for what may be one of the worst snow storms in its history, the folk down under are bracing for even worse. Residents of Queensland in Australia are today facing Cyclone Yasi, described by Premier Anna Bligh as "one of the largest and most significant cyclones that we have ever had to deal with."
Forecasts are for torrential rain -- possibly up to 1m or rain in some areas, according to

For those of us under a blizzard warning, expecting up to two feet of snow, suddenly things are put into perspective when on considers the effects of a cyclone. But between events in Egypt and weather news here in the States, it is unlikely much print or airtime will be spent on Cyclone Yasi, sadly.

"Australia, Queensland still needs you," the premier was quoted as saying on ABC Radio yesterday. We wish the people of Australia all the best today and tomorrow.

Today one million Egyptians are expected to demonstrate for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. But already I am seeing signs of media news fatigue: that condition that occurs when the US media simply can speculate on the news no more and are visibly urging the story to come to a conclusion.

Unfortunately for the on-air personalities, revolutions do not occur on a news producers time schedule. Life's a bitch, huh?

All this International news swirling around and what is being launched tomorrow? The Daily, News Corp.'s iPad-only digital newspaper.

Usually a publication wants to come out with a bang, something big like an investigative story, for instance.Likewise, by calling an event at the Guggenheim Museum, one would also expect a lot of hoopla.

But maybe it is just as well that The Daily is getting launched in this environment. Instead of the publication getting by with celebrity, marketing, hype, it will launch having to show its journalism muscle, if it has any. Will The Daily be clearly able to handle the weight of news events, or will it appear a lightweight at a time when the public needs real journalism to deal with fast moving, and momentous events? For the news teams involved this will be a real test, and an enormous opportunity. We'll all be watching.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The trials and tribulations of Kindle publishing, and the other joys of publishing apps, mobile sites, and the like

As part of my efforts to educate myself on many of the new publishing platforms available to publishers, I have been busy creating mobile apps, a mobile website and other little projects. It has been very educational, but mostly frustrating as hell.

My efforts to create an Apple developer account was a trip through hell -- but it was totally my fault. I already have an Apple ID thanks to years of purchasing Macs, iTunes downloads, and the like. But when creating my Apple developer account I decided I wanted to keep things separate. Big mistake.

My problems started shortly after registering with Apple. Everything was OK right up to the time I went to pay the $99. For some reason I paid with the wrong. Then I tried to validate my contact information with the wrong e-mail address. In short, I made a royal mess of things.

Thankfully, Apple has the best support people in the world. Yes, the people behind approving apps may be invisible technocrats, but the actual folks on the other end of the phone are almost always the best in the business. I called the support line and about two minutes everything was straightened out.

The process Amazon has set-up is easy enough: create a publishing account, fill out the blanks, upload some artwork, and presto, you've got a publication in the Kindle Store. Well, sort of.
I completed the forms OK, uploaded masthead and screenshots required, pressed "Preview" and everything looked OK. Then I hit "Publish" and waited for my new creation to be approved. I stopped there for the day. The next day I got the flu.

Two days later I returned to my desk to see if Amazon had approved my work, I had received no confirmation e-mail. Sure enough I noticed that they had. Great, my very own Kindle Publishing product: Talking New Media [Kindle Edition].

But I wanted to check out the preview again to see how it would look. Suddenly the preview was not working. I noticed my masthead was missing, and the RSS feed was not the full length but the shortened version. I uploaded a revised version of the masthead to make sure I was complying with their specs, but it still didn't show up and the feed still looked wrong.

I pulled the product from the Kindle Store and contacted Amazon. They responded back that I needed to "publish" it again so they could see it themselves -- I found that strange, but whatever. So I did. Another day went by, then they responded that it looked good to them.

The reason I can't check it out themselves is that I don't own a Kindle. And it makes matters worse, I found out that Amazon has created a Kindle publishing product where the end results can not be viewed in Kindle apps, only on actual Kindle devices. Who designed that? All those Kindle apps on iPhones, iPads and Android phones and tablets, and they have created a publishing product that can't be used with a Kindle app? I almost fainted.

So, as of now, the preview still shows no masthead, and the RSS feed is wrong . . . but Amazon says it looks fine to them. But hey, if any of you would like to purchase Talking New Media [Kindle Edition] go ahead -- you get two weeks free before they ding you for $1.99 (boy, am I going to get rich). If it looks good to you let me know.

Of course, the other option would be to buy a Kindle and check it out myself.

Then there was the saga of the TNM mobile site. That will be a tale for later this week. But if you want to know how that one is progressing all you have to do is type in this URL into your mobile browser.

More on this subject, including iPhone apps, iPads and mobile sites, in the days and weeks ahead.

Dutch publisher Weekbladpers releases seven tablet editions: one app was specifically designed for the iPad, the others using PDF to tablet conversion

The Dutch publishing company Weekbladpers Tijdschriften recently released seven new media apps for the iPad. While its app for the news weekly Vrij Nederland was specifically designed to be read on Apple's tablet, the other six were the result of converting the print magazine's PDFs for use in an iPad app.
"The iPad is the best of two worlds: the qualities of the journal and the possibilities of new media," Karin van Gilst, managing director at Weekbladpers Tijdschriften said online. Through trial and error we will see some tablets for publishers, but most consumers will do. We want to be there early to serve our customers around."

How you feel about each app will no doubt be influenced by a comparison with the natively designed app for Vrij Nederland. The app for the news weekly is free to download, but forces non-subscribers to purchase individual issues.

The natively designed app has easily recognizable feel to it as it is designed using Woodwing publishing tools. Layouts are in both portrait and landscape, and both accomodate their space with ease. Readers swipe to move from story to story, and scroll to read multiple pages within the feature. The app also contains audio and video material.

The other six new apps, though, use a conversion tool from the Dutch software company The Saints called Publishers simply supplies the PDFs and out comes a digital tablet edition that can be distributed using WoodWing´s hosted Content Delivery Service.
PhotobucketIt all seems so simple until on realizes that creating a tablet edition of a product specifically designed for print might not be optimal.

For instance, the magazine Hollands Diep forces readers to buy issues at $7.99 (US iTunes App Store) for a magazine that sometimes looks right, sometimes not. One sees this immediately as you start in on the issue. The issue uses three pages for the TOC -- the first two look good in both portrait and landscape thanks to the fact that the two-page spread design has a natural halfway point. The third page looks right in portrait, but in landscape the reader gets one page of TOC on the left, and an ad on the right. That's OK, I suppose.

But the first feature shows off the problems: specifically designed to be a two-page spread by the art director, the pages look fine in landscape, but make absolutely no sense in portrait. The left hand page is acceptable, I suppose, in portrait, where one sees all the text and one-third of the artwork; but swiping to the next page all one gets is a partial picture.

This really becomes apparent when one looks at the two-page ad in the inside front cover: the ad makes sense and is attractive in landscape, but again makes no sense in portrait.

With PDF conversion navigation, everything is swiping to go from page to page -- while in native design, scrolling and other techniques can be used.

Interestingly, I think this PDF to tablet conversion still has potential. If one designed the publication specifically for the tablet in one's favorite design software, taking into account that each page would have to stand alone, this could work fine. The designer could either design every page in a portrait template, or double their work by designing for landscape, the experience could be good for the reader. But, of course, this defeats the whole purpose of these conversion methods: to easily convert print to tablet. I remain skeptical -- and at the very least, I would think such conversion products would be sold at a steep discount to the newsstand price.

Morning Brief: Egypt as test case for Internet freedoms; Murdoch's 'The Daily' arrives on Wednesday at NYC event

As the protests continue in Egypt this morning, and Egyptians are experiencing life without consistent access to the Internet and their favorite social networking sites for almost a week, some are beginning to think about the lessons to be learned for the rest of the world. Is it good that most Western governments have the same abilities to turn off the Internet spigot?

Here in the U.S. we have seen companies like Amazon, Visa and others only too willing to do the government's bidding by denying services to WikiLeaks in retaliation for the embarrassment of recent diplomatic cable leaks. I expect that the domestic conversation will be steered to issues of civil liberties and unimpeded Internet access, free from government control and tracking, in the weeks to come.

Al Jazeera is reported earlier today that six of its reporters have been arrested by the Egyptian government. "With this new incoming cabinet he [Mubarak] may be saying that he wants this dealt with from a security perspective," an Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo is reporting.
The reporters were later released, but their audio and video equipment was taken.

The English language cable channel and website of Al Jazeera continues to be a major source of information and pictures for other U.S. news outlets.

As someone who has Comcast as their cable provider, Al Jazeera's English service is not available. But the Doha, Qatar based news network does stream its content on its website, though I have found the service spotty. Instead, by using Livestation I have been able to continue to monitor their broadcasts.

This Wednesday News Corp. will unveil its tablet newspaper at an event at the Guggenheim Museum. Evan Britton, writing on BusinessInsider, seem sure the iPad-only newspaper will be a success. I, myself, have my doubts that any of these early efforts will succeed, simply because so much had to be worked out -- from the design and content to the business model. But I am also not necessarily a skeptic, either. Rupert Murdoch, after all, has enough resources to fund and sustain this launch through the weeks and months ahead.

The question will soon turn to whether any other major media company will be willing to launch a tablet-only product in direct competition to The Daily, or continue to simply port over their existing print products.

'The Daily' won't be the only thing I will be anticipating arriving Wednesday. It appears that an epic snowstorm is also due to arrive here in the Chicago area that day -- oh goody, and I'm still trying to recover from a pretty ugly bout of the flu. Forecasts are for up to two feet of snow, something we have not seen here since another epic storm that hit January 2, 1999.

Oh yes, lest we forget, Verizon customers can begin pre-ordering iPhones this week, as well.