Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday afternoon app launches and updates: Tribune Interactive launches tablet edition for the L.A Times

It's the Friday before Memorial Day, that means people are wrapping up work and gettin' out of town. I'm heading up to Milwaukee to see the Giants in what was supposed to be a celebration of their World Series win but now feels like a funeral after the horrible injury to their star catcher Buster Posey.
So before heading off for the long weekend let's clear some things off the TNM desk:

Tim Moore has released an update for the latest edition of his tablet magazine. Letter to Jane: Moral Tales is also being discounted - a Memorial Day Weekend Sale – so you if want to download his latest tablet-only magazine it will only cost you 99 cents if you do it now. (Do it now!)

Other updates include Nomad Editions which issued its an update which they say fixes some bugs, has new settings panel, etc.

The Oregonian's app for Homes & Gardens of the Northwest was updated last night, as well. The app description says the app update features general improvements and bug fixes. You can now access the second edition of the newspaper's special section that will appear in print tomorrow.

Finally, the BBC updated its mobile app, that claims to fix some bugs.

Tribune Interactive released its second iPad app in support of the company's Los Angeles property. Los Angeles Times app for iPad is a free download, and once you have signed into your account or created a new one, content is free, as well.

There is no warning inside the app description that the company plans on charging for the app anytime soon (another winning business strategy from the Tribune Company, right?).

The app description also states that "The LA Times App for iPad works best with iOS v. 4.2+. We recommend upgrading to the latest iOS version prior to using this application."

This gives you a clue that there have already been users who have noticed problems with the app. In fact, an update has already been issued on the app that claims to offer "stability and performance improvements."

But because iTunes has been acting up all day I have been having a problem downloading apps or getting updates. In the end I downloaded this new app directly from the iPad rather than from the version of iTunes on my desktop computer, something a almost never do. It turns out that the version of this app I downloaded was the original release – and boy was it buggy. In fact, I created a video of the app that I even loaded onto YouTube for embedding here. Then, seconds before posting this story I was able to download the app through iTunes and discovered that I didn't have the updated version.
All time producing the video was wasted as I quickly deleted it from the TNM YouTube Channel. So much for Plan A. Plan B was to take some screenshots which is what you see here.

I had a slew of complaints about version one of this app starting with the registration process which didn't seem to work for me, strange navigation in landscape, etc. But it appears most of these issues have been worked out, though it must be said that blaming them on the users iOS sees a bit much since I was experiencing problems with the first version of the app even though my iPad is fully up-to-date.

In the end, the app seems to be performing now and I assume we will soon see one for other Trine Company properties like the Chicago Tribune.

French online news site Rue89 launches its own tablet edition, created using PadCMS digital publishing solutions

Important update below which adds some details from the developer.

Here is a bit of a more in-depth look at the new tablet edition released this week by the French online news site Rue89. The new iPad app, Rue89 avec les doigts, is a free app that gives you compete access to the content.
Rue89 was founded just four years ago by former editors of Libération, the newspaper founded in 1973 by Jean-Paul Sartre and Serge July. Currently the directeur de la rédaction (managing editor) of Rue89 is Pascal Riché, while Pierre Haski serves as directeur de la publication (publisher), both former Libération editors.

Opening the app one finds that PadCMS is credited with being the developer, while the app description lists Thomas Duc as the "seller" – whether they are one and the same is unknown. The PadCMS website is not much help as no names are mentioned, only a Paris address. But it appears that the company is related to Adyax, which is a company dedicated to open source technologies, and is listed as the "seller" of two other iPad tablet editions, du côté de chez vous and Air le Mag par McDonald's, which believe it or not is said to be "le mensuel culturel des restaurants McDonald’s" – the cultural magazine of McDonald's, really.
In any case, PadCMS's website states that "PadCMS is the first Open Source for digital magazine publishing on an iPad or Android tablets. Totally free, this solution allows any editor to publish magazines on tablets, despite any functional challenges they may present."

Further, the site claims that their digital publishing solution "allows the display of a simple PDF, sure, but it also allows the publication of new generation digital magazines, including, for example, Interactive Games, Videos, Sounds or any other media present in the Rich Magazines."

So what to expect from Rue89 avec les doigts? Will it be a simple replica edition?

Because of my low expectations I waited a day or so before opening up the app following downloading it. I was pleasantly surprised as the new tablet magazine looks more like what you would expect from efforts using Adobe or WoodWing publishing tools.

I can't comment on the editorial quality of the product, as it takes me a long time to struggle through French publications (I used to be better) but as an app this one has me incredibly curious about the publishing solutions offered from PadCMS (I have contacted them and hope to hear back at some point).

In the meantime, here is a very poorly produced video that shows the app in action. Since the app is a free download I would encourage readers to check it out, and I promise more information on PadCMS should they get back to me.

Update: Maxime Topolov, cofounder and CTO at Adjax responded to my inquiry concerning PadCMS. He explains their new system this way:
• On client side there are two libraries / example applications: one for
iOS (iPad) and other one for Android 2.2 & 2.3 (Galaxy tab, for example)
• On back end side, it's classical LAMP solution running on Zend Framework.
Topolov emphasizes that the big difference between the solution they have introduced and other digital publishing solutions is that PadCMS is free and open source.

"In our solution, there are pre-built interaction templates, and it's a
totally plugable and modular system, so many others could be created by the
community," Topolov told me.

I will be extremely interested to get input from those TNM readers who have been desperately looking for a new tablet publishing solution. This certainly sounds interesting.

Morning Brief: The austerity cult must have its pound of flesh; the sad state of McClatchy; money for Broadway

Holidays are a time when one can getg a good sense of the economic conditions: when times are good media folk are usually busy trying to clear their desks of projects, finishing up publications, scrambling to get ad copy, during bad times there is usually a question about whether one should take a few extra days off.

Thanks to the austerity crowd, a cult really, many economists see the US economy sliding back into recession. The Congress, both parties, appear to have joined the austerity cult, as they search for ways to pull another trillion dollars out of the economy – growth through contraction.

For some, austerity is a philosophy, the government should only be in the war making and corporate subsidizing business. For others, it is what one does when one hasn't a clue how to create growth. Which leads us to . . .

McClatchy said it has sold its building which houses The Miami Herald for $236 million to Bayfront 2011 Property LLC, a unit of Genting Malaysia Berhad (a Malaysian company which is in the gaming and resort business).
"This property, located on Biscayne Bay, has been home to The Miami Herald for many years. While locating newspaper operations on the bay may have made sense in the past, it no longer is the best fit," Gary Pruitt, McClatchy's chairman said.

The money will be used to contribute to its pension plan and to pay down debt.

No word on where the paper will relocate to after it ends its two year lease of the same property it has just sold. Maybe they will just home office everyone, assuming they can find an employee willing to have printing presses in their living room.

“I’m sure the Globe’s for sale,” James Boyce, founder of Common Sense New Media Strategies, a Boston-based consulting firm told Jessica Heslam of the Boston Herald.

“The problem is," Boyce continued, "if the buyer pays a fair market price, I doubt the seller is going to want to sell it for that. It’s a matter of, is there someone who is going to overpay for it, or is the New York Times Co. going to sell the Globe for what it’s actually probably worth?”

The Boston Herald no doubt loves such talk, but the rumor that the New York Times Company would love to dump the Globe has been around a long time. I feeling is that the NYT won't sell the business until it needs money to launch a new Broadway production of No, No, Nanette.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Slow posting ahead; in the meantime, what do you know about PadCMS, used to create the iPad edition of Rue89?

On the road most of today, so posting is difficult. But one app I will be writing about tomorrow (I hope) is this new one from Rue89, a French news site created by former editors from Libération.
The free iPad app, Rue89 avec les doigts, was creating using PadCMS. That new Parisian company has a rather spartan website that doesn't give you a whole lot of information about their service, and what is there is not that encouraging:

PadCMS allows the display of a simple PDF, sure, but it also allows the publication of new generation digital magazines, including, for example, Interactive Games, Videos, Sounds or any other media present in the "Rich Magazines".
But Rue89 avec les doigts (Rue89 with fingers) is not just a PDF at all. The app contains an opening animation, and layouts with floating text boxes generally seen in tablet editions made using Adobe or WoodWing tools.

Check it out, and if your French is better than mine maybe you can tell us more about PadCMS and what they have to offer.

Bloggers using Google's Chrome browser find themselves locked out of their own websites (find the solution here)

One of the fastest growing browsers is Google's Chrome, both for PCs and Macs. Chrome's market share is almost 12 percent of all Internet traffic.

The browser uses the same Webkit layout engine used by Safari, which is why I exclusively use just these two browsers. In general, I still prefer Safari for some things, but two things make Chrome a great choice: the browser does not get hung up on my Mac (the spinning volley ball effect) and its built-in translation engine is hugely useful when looking at non-English media websites and tablet and mobile apps.
But if you are someone who uses Google's own Blogger service AND a Chrome user you may have been locked out of your website the past few days. Users trying to log into their accounts have been kicked out endlessly, complaining on Google forums that nothing they do seems to help, except using any other browser other than Chrome.

It turns out that there is a solution, but like many things related to computers, it is sometimes frustrating to discover, even if ultimately easy.

If you are one of those suffering with Chrome right now the solution is this: go under Preferences, then "Under the Hood", and then "Clear Browsing Data". When you reached this point you need to clear out all history, empty the cache and delete cookies (or at least the Blogger cookie). Restarting the browser then returns it to a functional state.

The worrying thing is that Google continues a complete lack of customer service savvy. In the case of a problem like this one, it is often the case that users find and distribute the technical solution quicker than the company. This is often the case with Apple, as well, as any look inside their discussion boards will point out. But Apple customer service has always considered to be top notch, and their developer customer service I find really responsive.

Unfortunately, if Android is to be as reliable a platform as iOS, then Google needs to radically change their attitude towards their customers. I have at least three outstanding, unresolved problems with Google's platforms that date back well over a year – none of which have been resolved, and two of which are resulting in no business being conducted at a loss for both TNM and Google. I do not expect any of these issues to be resolved simply because when it comes to Google there is simply no one there, no one to contact, no obvious solution.

I think this lack of individual customer care is a symptom of the way Google wants to do business: lots of volume, little time or energy wasted on individual accounts. It makes sense when you consider the business the company is in: lots and lots of small transactions adding up to an enormous business.

Apple, however, needs to maximize profits from a smaller user base, something it has lived with concerning its Macintosh business of years. As a result, developers have generally found iOS to be the easy platform to develop for (leaving aside all technical issues). But where Apple encounters higher volume it starts to bog down, its app approval process being a good example. That is why I have argued that Apple needs a better, more responsive media-app team to smooth out issues between media firms and Apple.

What the solution for Google is I don't know. It would difficult for customers to convince the company to invest in more customer care when it looks like something that would only add costs. But ultimately, if Google doesn't want to end up being perceived simply as the new Microsoft it will have to improve in this area.

Morning Brief: Publisher of Daily Mail reports decline in newspaper revenue, but growth in B2B events; Condé Nast 1 World Trade Center lease pegged at $2 billion

Northcliffe Media, the British publisher of the Daily Mail, said advertising revenue performance in 2011 is suffering at its national and regional newspapers, but that B2B was performing strongly thanks to events.
"Despite continuing momentum within our B2B operations, we remain cautious about the outlook for the full year due to the volatile and uncertain market conditions faced by our UK consumer businesses," Reuters reported chief executive Martin Morgan as saying.

While ad revenue fell three percent at its national newspapers which include the Daily Mail, revenue fell nine percent at its regional papers, with operating income falling 35 percent despite staff layoffs.

Bloomberg put a number on that lease that Condé Nast signed with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey: $2 billion.

That is what the magazine publisher will be paying to lease about 1 million square feet of space for its new headquarters at 1 World Trade Center.

“The entire landscape changes downtown forever,” Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said at the press conference for the announcement.

"We hope Condé Nast, at long last united into a single building, will be the catalyst for the rebirth of the downtown area,” Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. said.

After a decade in hiding from UN prosecutors, Ratko Mladic, accused of being responsible for the killing of at least 7,500 men and boys in Srbrenica in 1995, has been arrested. Serbian President Boris Tadic said Mladic will now face extradition to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

According to the BBC, Mladic had been living under an assumed name in Vojvodina, a northern province of Serbia.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Postmedia Network says it will launch metered paywalls using Press+ system at two of its properties 'immediately'

The Financial Post reported this afternoon that Postmedia Network Canada Corp. will put two of its newspaper property websites behind metered paywalls, à la the New York Times. The two newspapers, The Gazette in Montreal, and the Victoria Times-Colonist on Vancouver Island, will use the Press+ system developed by Journalism Online.

“Our newspapers as well as publishers around the world have been watching various paid content models be attempted. We’re not alone. In fact, I think everybody is watching to see how to monetize this model,” the Financial Post quoted Postmedia spokesperson Phyllise Gelfand as stating. (The Financial Post is a Postmedia property, as well.)
The two newspapers, according to the report, will take slightly different approaches to the metered paywall: The Gazette will allow print subscribers unlimited access to digital content, while non-print subscribers will be charged $6.95 per month, or $69.95 per year for complete access. (Need I say that these prices are in Canadian dollars?)

Meanwhile, the Victoria Times-Colonist is charging non-subscribers $9.95 per month and are offering print subscribers only a "preferred rate" for digital access.

"A number of other U.S. papers closer in size and content to The Gazette have also started asking online readers to pay for unlimited access to all their content, which previously was largely underwritten by readers and advertisers of the print product," Alan Allnutt, The Gazette's publisher and editor told readers today in an online post. "We at The Gazette have decided to follow suit, starting today."

Neither report mentions how, if at all, the new metered paywall will effect the two newspaper's iPad editions. Postmedia launched a series of iPad apps for its newspapers in December of last year.

The Oregonian releases its first iPad app, a replica edition of its weekly Homes & Gardens of the Northwest section

Late last week the first app from the publishers of The Oregonian was released into the Apple App Store and the decision to release the app may bring about some second guessing now that the app is live.
The app, Homes & Gardens of the Northwest, is a replica edition of the daily newspaper's weekly magazine that used to appear in the Thursday newspaper but is now distributed on Saturday (which may be why the app went live on May 21).

At first the app looks like it may offer both portrait and landscape layouts, but in reality it is only the splash page that has been customized for the two orientations. After the splash page has gone away you are left with a replica edition of the print product, and not an easy one to read, either.

The cover page fits uncomfortably within the frame of the tablet's display. At first I could not understand why the pages didn't automatic conform to the display. Then I realized that there was button that needed to be pressed to make the page reduce in size or zoom to fit the display. After that it was the usual flipbook stuff (the app even uses the word "Flip" as one of the display options).

I was quite frankly confused by the app until I got to the "Articles" section and saw that this app is "powered by Technavia", the same company that has been issuing newspaper flipbook apps for many media properties from the Los Angeles Newspaper Group to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It was definitely a "ah ha" moment.

The Oregonian is, of course, owned by Advance Publications, owners of Condé Nast, but the urge to create tablet apps has not really taken hold of the newspaper division.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, have been launched for many of the newspaper properties, with the help of Verve Wireless. The app for, for instance, does incorporate home and rental listings, as well as other classified categories – something missing from far too many newspaper mobile apps.

Hopefully the newspapers in the chain will decided to take tablet publishing more seriously in the future, and will shy away from cheap and easy solutions such as this flipbook effort.

NYT updates its iPhone app to add AirPlay support

The decision to launch its metered paywall, and to price access to its iPad application at a premium has left the newspaper more dependent on its mobile apps. Today its iPhone app finally got an update that brings AirPlay support for streaming video between the iPhone and Apple TV box sets.
The update to NYTimes also adds some text customization ability to the iPhone app, as well as the addition of AirPlay support.

The app has evolved slowly since it was first launched in July of 2008. Over the years the app has added content and occasionally tweaked its look.

Overall, however, the New York Times Company has not become a major app developer. As of today, the NYT only has one iPad application under its name in the App Store, the same conservative looking app first launched one year ago. Additionally, the NYT has not embraced mobile app development either. NYTimes The Scoop, which showed promise when it was first launched in June of last year is a rare example of the company embracing app development. As a result, the Times has become more a symbol of the industry's lack of New Media savvy rather than as a development leader.

Boston Globe launches group-buying discount program, powered by NYC start-up Group Commerce

The Boston Globe has launched its own branded group-buying service yesterday named Boston Deals. The Groupon-like daily deals site is powered by Group Commerce, the same company that is also working with the Globe's owner, the New York Times own group-buying service, TimesLimited.
“We’re eager to offer shoppers the power of group buying,” Lisa DeSisto, chief advertising officer for The Boston Globe and general manager for said in the company's announcement. “Boston Deals is fun, exciting and built around the quality products and services relevant to greater Boston consumers.”

Group Commerce, the company powering the new program, recently announced that it had secured an additional $10 million in funding from Spark Capital, Carmel Ventures, Lerer Media Ventures, as well as Bob Pittman, chairman of media and entertainment platforms at Clear Channel. The comapny was founded by former Google and DoubleClick executives and has so far picked up Thrillist, DailyCandy and Meredith as clients, in addition to The New York Times Company.
The move by the Globe is an obvious attempt to both cash in on the group buying phenomenon, as well as attempt to compete with such major players as Groupon and Living Social. The concept behind Group Commerce is that more targeted deals, ones more consistent with the target audience will be successful for both the provider – in this case the Boston Globe – and the businesses making the offers to consumers.

The idea is an answer to at least some of the objections people have to the group-buying concept: that merchants lose because they have to too deeply discount the offers, that too much of the money goes to the company that powers the group-buying system, that buyers may grow tired of buying offers they never end up using, etc. etc.

For me, the company I most have sympathy with is Group Commerce. As someone who has been on the other side, the newspaper management, team, I know the two pitfalls that can arise after the company has made a deal with the daily newspaper to create a group-buying program: the program is not supported with sales, and the paper eventually marginalizes their new venture.

Sales: Groupon employs a massive sales force that generates its $760+ million in revenue. In fact, I would call Groupon a sales force with a product stuck on it. Newspapers, on the other hand, are not known for creating aggressive telemarketing operations anywhere near the scale of what these new companies are creating. Newspaper execs have scoff at that assertion, but it would only be a sign of their own naïveté.

As a former classified manager, I know that the vast majority of any phone room used to be devoted to incoming calls, with only select teams doing outbound calling. Those teams were then broken up into contract sales (often recruitment, for instance) and a small group calling small businesses and consumers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Portrait or landscape? Each users has their preference, but the iPad's 4:3 display allows users to enjoy both

I prefer my iPad sitting in landscape; Chris Cartel, publisher of Hoodgrown has told me he prefers portrait. Luckily for both of us, Apple created the iPad a bit square – 4:3 to be exact. Other manufacturers, perhaps sensing an opening, have created their new tablets in 16:9, perfect for viewing videos, but not necessarily better for publications.

John Gruber, writing today on his Daring Fireball website, posted about his own preference for keeping his iPad in portrait, echoing another post from Tim Bray.

This got me thinking about the screenshots I use here at TNM. So I conducted a little experiment: I grabbed some shots from some media apps that have been seen here during the month of May and strung them together into a video without any special effects other than dissolving between screenshots. The result, as you will see, shows the obvious: somethings work well in portrait, others in landscape.

Thanks to the iPad's rather square appearance, designed in 4:3 rather than the more HDTV-like 16:9, both orientations can work depending on the situation.

Apparently Gruber agrees because by the time I had gathered together my shots and loaded them into iMovie he had already amended his post writing "Lots of feedback from iPad users who strongly prefer landscape. OK, so let me try again: 4:3 is a good balance for a device that’s meant to be used in either orientation."

I totally agree with that!

Barnes & Noble launches 6" touch screen Nook

While still running Android 2.1, Barnes & Noble has released a new touch screen version of its Nook eReader. The company is accepting pre-orders now on its website, and promises to ship on June 10.
The device is still a monochrome E-Ink device, so the obvious comparison will be with the Kindle, Amazon's popular device. The new Nook will sell for $139, the same price as the same WiFi model Kindle.

Meanwhile, rumors continue that Amazon will launch an LCD version of its Kindle and it, too, would be driven by Android – whether that is a positive or negative is up to you, I suppose. Once again the problem will be apps written for whatever flavor of Android is used – presumable Honeycomb.

Like all tablet rumors or even announcements, we'll believe it when we see it at a retail outlet near you.

Discounted iPad subscriptions arrive for Condé Nast's Wired Magazine app; 1 year sub priced the same as print

Like other Condé Nast magazines with iPad applications, Wired has now updated its app and is now offering subscriptions through in-app purchases. It took a lot of complaining by iPad owners, lots of negative reviews, but finally tablet owners can subscribe to Wired without feeling ripped off – we'll now see how many actually buy.
iPad owners who have downloaded the WIRED Magazine app can still buy individual issues at $3.99 per pop. But now the magazine offers two kinds of subscriptions: a one month subscription for $1.99, and a one year subscription for $19.99 – both subscriptions are self-renewing until cancelled by the iPad owner.

Print subscribers get free access to the iPad edition – and right now the magazine is also $19.99 for a one year subscription.

Wired has yet to update their website to reflect the new ability to subscribe through the app, though that will probably happen by the end of the day as the updated app has just appeared in the App Store.

Newspaper reading study by French consulting firm claims that readers are 'more likely to skim over articles on an iPad'; study compares print to a replica edition

Readership studies centered on the reading habits of iPad owners are just now starting to appear, and executives at cautious, bureaucratic media firms are anxious to get their hands on data that will support their own positions vis-a-vis mobile and tablets.
Miratech, a French consulting firm, released a study a few months ago that claims that "people read articles in a printed newspaper and only skim through them on an iPad."

Using eye tracking technology, Miratech observed the reading habits of print newspaper readers and iPad newspaper readers and compared the comprehension and retention of information. Their conclusion was that "reading on an iPad is more superficial than reading in a printed newspaper."

The findings appear to be explosive and have recently been picked up by some media outlets including US based Editor and Publisher.

Sadly, when looking at Miratech's own videos of the study one immediately understands the problems with the research. The study video shows a study participant reading an edition of 20 Minutes, a French media tabloid which issues a number of regional editions. The readers actions reading the print paper are then compared to the iPad version.

Those involved in media app development will immediately start to see the problems: what kind of app is it? what is the reading environment? Are we comparing two different products in their own native environments or are we comparing apples to oranges?

The iPad version of 20 Minutes appears to be the app developed by Visuamobile – a replica app that is a free download in the App Store. The reader of the iPad version must pinch-to-zoom to read the issue, and depending on the edition chosen, often is faced with blurry text and difficult navigation. The app does offer text version of the articles in the different editions, but the video does not show them using this feature.

So what the study appears to show is that if you compare the reading comprehension of some reading a product that was natively designed (print) it will outperform a product that was not designed specifically for the platform (a replica edition). Not only should the results, see in this way, not be surprising, one should be encouraged that the replica editions did so well.

In face, the study showed that readers spent about the same amount of time reading each article, whether in print or digital.

I don't know if the Miratech study was organized by researchers unfamiliar with the different forms of media applications, though it certainly looks that way. It is also possible that there was more variation in the study than what the videos show – the company's website is very short on information concerning methodology.

What I would like to see is a study that looks at the same information presented in print, replica, natively designed tablet form, mobile form, and PC form. My own guess is that both print and native designed apps would perform well and possibly very similarly. Mobile, PC and replica editions would underperform. This is my own judgement, but I am willing to change my beliefs as soon as I am presented with data from a study that appears to be well designed.

Other studies I have seen have appeared to have been designed to prove a conclusion desired by the sponsoring company. But even those studies appear to show that reading off a PC seems to be the quickest but most shallow, while print and tablet (or eReaders) perform best. But again in these studies I've seen there was no indication of the kind of apps being consumed on the tablet.

Morning Brief: WoodWing adds Newsfeed Publisher to Content Station; TweetDeck goes to Twitter for $40 million

Digital publishing solutions provider WoodWing has announced a series of upgrades to its digital publishing solutions palette, including Newsfeed Publisher (see screenshot below) which allows publishers to integrate feeds into their iPad digital publications.
WoodWing also announced that it has released iPad Reader App 2.0 which brings support for hotspots on hotspots.

"Hotspots on hotspots is going to be a big thing,” Erik Schut, President of WoodWing Software, said in the company's announcement. “Ever since designers started to use our nested interactivity, we have had requests for hotspots on hotspots. The problem has been how to offer a creation UI for this that is still easy to use. We’re very proud how we have implemented this in Enterprise 7.4 in a way that allows us to open the door to the next level of interactivity. And it’s all under total control by the designer without the need for coding."

Last night CNN reported that Twitter has acquired TweetDeck for $40 million. The long rumored purchase finally has finalized yesterday.

The race to turn the iPad into a full fledged cash register is on. Yesterday I was looking at, a company that currently offers register services for the Mac and PC but will soon be offering an iPad solution, as well.

The NYT, however, wrote yesterday about another company, Square Inc., that is already launching mobile payment solutions through iOS devices. The company launched their own apps into the App Store, Square, which when combined with a free card reader that the company will send you, allows you to begin accepting credit card payments. The fees are 2.75 percent when using the card reader, 3.5 percent when you are forced to enter the numbers manually.

While these products are interesting, retailers will be looking at whether these new vendors offer a complete package of POS services as they are already squeezed by costs associated with register sales, inventory, etc.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday afternoon bits: Apple sends letter defending app developers; a look at some newly launched mobile apps

Faced with increasing frustration at its silence, today lawyers for Apple finally spoke to the Lodsys patent dispute, sending a letter to the company threatenting individual developers.

“Apple is undisputedly licensed to these patents and the App Makers are protected by that license,” Bruce Sewell, Apple Senior Vice President and General Counsel, claimed in his letter to Lodsys.

"Because Apple is licensed under Lodsys' patents to offer such technology to its App Makers, the App Makers are entitled to use this technology free from any infringement claims by Lodsys," Sewell wrote, according to the full letter posted on the MacWorld website.

"...Therefore, Apple requests that Lodsys immediately withdraw all notice letters sent to Apple App Makers and cease its false assertions that the App Makers’ use of licensed Apple products and services in any way constitute infringement of any Lodsys patent."

Now the ball is back in the patent troll's court.

It's been a while that TNM looked at any mobile apps (opposed to tablet apps), so I thought a a quick look at three new ones is in order:

PC users who are deaf, hard of hearing, or simply want to hear rather than read the news on a website can use their computer's speech capability to have the news read to them. This ability of your computer to speak to you goes back at least as far as the introduction of the Mac, as far as I am aware. But if you ask me, things haven't really progressed as far as one would have thought – text read by the computer is still fairly artificial.

One company that was trying to contract with newspaper websites to add audio news reading was Newsworthy, but judging by their website they haven't made much progress as their latest press release announcing a deal with the Washington Times is from 2006.

Now Newsworthy has released a mobile app, Wash Times, that promises to deliver the user the news in audio form.

The app (below left) has at least two major things going against it: one, it costs $3.99, and it is news from the Washington Times, the newspaper founded in 1982 by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon. Oh well.

I would think that the vast majority of mobile app developers have started with iOS and moved to Android. Moving Average Inc. is a small Austin, Texas-based developer that looks to have gone in the other direction, starting with a couple of Android apps before launching their first app for Apple's platform this past week.
Keep Austin Dog Friendly is a free app (above middle) that works on both the iPhone and iPad, though it definitely feels more at home on a mobile device.

Finally, I've been searching for a decent equalizer for my iPhone/iPad for a while. It has to have about ten bands, and most not cost me a fortune. I downloaded a couple but am still on the look out for something that will work.

One that I downloaded, 10 Band EQ, is a 99 cent app (above right). The EQ part works fine but the player portion of the app is of no value. Tracks must be played one at a time without moving forward or skipping to the next track.

The good news is that the developer, David Ross, promises in the app description that an update is coming soon that will add these features. If true, then this app will be worth more than 99 cents, so buying it now will have been worth it.

Pedro Monteiro's interview with Joe Zeff, the creator of the iPad book 'Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz'

Three weeks ago TNM posted a look at Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz, a new book app from Joe Zeff Design. A week later Pedro Monteiro conducted an interview with Joe Zeff for his new website Digital Distribution. Here is that interview, reproduced courtesy of the publisher:

Joe Zeff needs no introduction and neither does his work. I’ve been a huge fan of Joe’s work for some time now and it has been with great interest that I’ve been following Joe Zeff Studio work designing and publishing iPad apps.

In the last weeks Joe’s studio launched two new applications that are getting some great reviews. Since I was writing my post Designing for the Touch Interface, I thought it was a great excuse to ask Joe about his views on the subject. Please refer to my article in order to better understand the questions I made to Joe. Most important, don’t forget to check Joe’s latest apps The Final Hours of Portal 2 and Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz.
Digital Distribution: As someone who studies tablet apps, what are the most common mistakes you find on app’s interfaces?

Joe Zeff: I see a lot of apps that confuse users by using every conceivable orientation, without clear signals about how to navigate from one screen to the next. Just because the iPad can flow pages in two directions and present layouts in two orientations doesn’t mean the user wants to continually swipe and turn their device to move from the beginning to the end of an app.

DD: Since the launch of the iPad, early last year, Apple has told developers to take into account that the size of a finger is much bigger and less precise then that of the mouse pointer. When you design your applications UI, how do you take into account this kind of specifications?

JZ: Oversized buttons and ample spacing between tappable elements. We generally make those areas much larger than what’s shown on screen to ensure that each tap delivers the intended result.

DD: From your experience, what other sort of UI constrains are to be taken into account for designing for touch powered navigation devices?

JZ: The best interfaces are intuitive and transparent. “Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz” is an example of this. We did include a How To section, even though the interface is self-evident.

DD: Developers tend to design their apps both for vertical and horizontal orientation of the device’s screen. Do you think that one orientation is more comfortable (hence more used) than the other? Do you also take this into account when designing apps?

JZ: I’m a strong believer in single-orientation apps, most often horizontal. Rather than spend twice the effort to create the same app twice, I’d rather create two different apps. I prefer horizontal format because it allows for bigger images while maintaining a solid text-to-art mix at the top of the screen. But every publication is different. Time seems right as a vertical, while Sports Illustrated seems more comfortable as a horizontal. Go figure.

DD: I’ve been consuming lots of content with my iPad, every other night. By doing this, I have found that, after a while, my arms ache a bit. Even if it’s a lightweight device, the iPad will take its toll when you spend a couple of hours reading on it.
Do you think this should be taken into account, when designing the app UI? How?

JZ: The iPad 2 is far better than the original when it comes to portability and usability. I’m writing this now while laying in bed, and its very comfortable. That said, I find that all of the swiping gets tedious at times. Better to tap an edge to advance screens.

DD: Regarding my ‘aching arms’, I’ve come to think that the more a interface ‘makes you’ hold the tablet with just one hand to tap into content with the other, the more it gets ‘uncomfortable’. Do you think we should refrain our UI design from asking too much interaction from our users?

JZ: Interaction is what makes the iPad special. Rather than limit the opportunities, I’d argue that its more important to ensure that each opportunity delivers a sufficient payoff to the user. The best content is active, not passive, and the emphasis on quality is what matters most.

DD: Any final thoughts you want to share with us?

JZ: Thanks for the opportunity to present my opinions. There are no rights or wrongs – every app is different, and should be designed to best suit its content, purpose and audience. What works for one app doesn’t necessarily make sense for another. The danger in establishing standards is that everything begins to look alike. Best practices are a starting point, not a destination.

DD: Joe, thank you so much and all the best for your next projects. We look forward for what you’ll do next.

– Pedro Monteiro

Update: On Friday Joe Zeff Design released an update to the Above & Beyond app, making some subtle changes in response to user feedback.

Sutro Digital releases its own magazine, Technode; for print via Magcloud or for the iPad through branded app

Social content agency Sutro Digital launched its own quarterly magazine, Technode, using content generated by its own websites Shiny Shiny and Tech Digest.
The new magazine can be accessed in print from Magcloud, HP's print-on-demand service, where it is a $8.20 purchase, or through the App Store where the app, Technode, is a free download.

The whole production is a lesson in outsourcing involving at least three other companies besides Sutro Digital:, which is credited with designing and preparing the magazine, Alligator Digital Magazines, which I assume took the files and converted them for use in an iPad app, and Magcloud, which was the vendor chosen to produce print copies.
It is pretty clear that magazine was designed to fit into the Magcloud system first. This creates portrait oriented pages which would then be put into an iPad app. Added to the print content was then added embedded YouTube hosted videos.

Because issues created using Magcloud are so expensive for the consumer to buy, the publisher here was forced to limit the content to 36 pages. This shows that the model just doesn't work: the print edition will cost you $8.20 but is limited, but the iPad version is free and contains more content.

This new magazine, while it holds some lessons for publishers in how to produce inexpensive products, is really a promotional piece for Sutro Digital – an expense they obviously considering paying.

The real point of interest for me in tablet magazines such as Technode is the concept of gathering up content from multiple websites and creating a magazine. Here, with Technode, the magazine is not simply copy taken from the websites, but additional material, as well – long form rather than short posts.

This idea can not only be used within the same media company, but as a way of creating a third product from two or more separate websites – say, for instance, websites that cover the same topic but from different regional perspectives.

WEKA Media Publishing releases new tablet edition for hifi tech magazine Stereoplay

I can think of at least two types of magazines that should be on the iPad immediately: those involved in video content, like movie magazines, and those involved in music. Both types of magazines can be instantly transformed via creative use of tablet technology.
This idea is put to use by WEKA Media Publishing, the German magazine publisher of such magazines as PC Magazin, COLORFOTO and AUDIO. Ten days ago the publisher released its first tablet edition for Stereoplay, a hifi equipment and technology magazine.

Unfortunately for those looking for a real tablet magazine, the publishers of Stereoplay have decided to put their time into "enhancing" their print magazine with links to photo galleries and multimedia content rather than creating a true tablet magazine experience. In the end, what readers get here is a PDF with links, a very disappointing effort from such a large publisher.

Stereoplay is a free download in the App Store. The app gives readers access to one issue at this time which is also free, though the app certainly implies that future editions may require a purchase.

Immediately I was struck with the fact that the download prompt was in broken English, complete with a typo – since the magazine is written in German I was expecting German prompts, as well. The download was slow and quite large, though the app does not tell the reader the exact size of the download.
The reason the download is large, despite this being basically a replica edition is all the added content. No doubt this took the production team a fair amount of time to add into the app, wouldn't it have been a better idea to spend that time creating a more native tablet publication? Advocates of native apps, or at least Adobe/WoodWing-like conversion would say so, while vendors pushing replicas would probably applaud the effort.

Morning Brief: UK Prime Minister says current privacy laws need to "catch up": VYou gets $3M in new funding

The Guardian this morning reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested that UK privacy laws are putting the media at a disadvantage in comparison to social media as current laws prohibit the naming of celebrities involved in news events.

At the center of the discussion is the case of British footballer who is alleged to have had an affair with the model Imogen Thomas, with the name of the player widely known through discussions on social media, but not named by mainstream UK media out of fear of prosecution. The Sunday Herald, which is published in Scotland, is not bound by the privacy injunction and so was free to print the picture of the footballer (which will go unnamed here simply because of disinterest).

"It is rather unsustainable, this situation, where newspapers can't print something that everyone else is clearly talking about," Cameron said on UK television this weekend.

VYou snagged $3 million in funding from RRE Ventures and Highland Capital Partners and others, the Washington Post reported. The company has several big media partners such as Hearst Newspapers and Simon and Schuster.

VYou allows users to "converse" via video clips. The investment is consistent with the approach currently being taken by VCs to fund multiple tech investments in hopes of striking it big with the next Facebook.