Thursday, September 1, 2011

The New Republic launches its first tablet edition, a hybrid app that combines the print magazine with a news app

It's September 1st, a couple of days before the Labor Day holiday – not necessarily a good time to launch a new magazine app if you want to get people's attention, but maybe a good time to launch if you want to introduce an app and have time to work out its bugs.
Today The New Republic launched its first iPad app – it has an iPhone app that a few users have described as buggy. This app, too, has a major issue with it, but we'll get to that in a second.

The app takes a hybrid approach: it is a tablet news app, combined with access to the print magazine issues. I think this is an excellent approach for a lot of magazines, especially those media outlets that have bloggers, lots of news, politics, etc.

The app itself, The New Republic for iPad, is free to download and currently gives readers access to the content for 14 days. After that the publisher is offering monthly subscriptions for $3.99 per month, or an annual subscription for $39.99 per year. Current subscribers can also log into their accounts to gain access.
To be fair to this app, which really does look good, I will want to return to it after the Labor Day holiday. The reason for this is that the app's news app approach looks interesting, but the magazine part is a problem.

One accesses the magazines through the navigation located on the bottom-left of the app. That pulls up options for different section which include Politics & World, Books & Arts, Blogs, Slideshows & Video, Magazine, and Editor's Choice.

The problem is that the first magazine listed simply can't be downloaded. I think the issue is that it doesn't actually exist on their servers right now so it gives you a spinning wheel that simply never results in an actual issue.

But if you go on to older issues you see what The New Republic's approach is going to be. This app doesn't present the reader with a replica edition (yeah) but instead goes for a more eReader approach with adjustable fonts in lieu of pinch-to-zoom. Unfortunately, pressing the A+ button to increase the font size resulted in a blank screen. I then went back and tried a different story and found that the font size had changed. Pressing the button again, however, again resulted in a blank screen.

Unfortunately, that means the developer will need to be working this weekend to start fixing the bugs in this app. That developer is, the Paul Murphy led company.

As I wrote above, this app takes a nice approach and when the bugs are worked out, may end up being an excellent app. My first look was rather cursory, but I encountered enough problems that one hopes an update comes very quickly.

Last thought: this is another of those ad-free apps that will have to rely on enough reader enthusiasm to make it successful in any sort of business sense, so publishers who have ad-dependent publications won't find any new ideas here about how to incorporate advertising into their natively designed tablet publications.

Rutgers brags up its integration of the iPad into programs

This is a little follow-up to the story posted this morning about my "back to school night" experience last night. This is some excerpts from a press release just sent out today.

What is strange here is that this reads like an ad for Apple, but it is actually from Rutgers University. Clearly they are using their use of the iPad as a way of attracting students, but I found the playing up of the iPad 2 interesting:

Now in its second year of integrating the Apple iPad into its digital marketing executive courses, Rutgers Center for Management Development (CMD) calls the tablet a resounding success as a teaching medium. Rutgers CMD instructors incorporate Layar, Regus and WorkSnug augmented reality apps, Evernote and WebEx collaboration apps, Foursquare and Yelp location apps, and the Qrafter QR app into the curriculum.

The newest Rutgers CMD course to integrate an iPad 2 is Going Digital: The New Rules of PR, a joint effort of Business Wire and Rutgers CMD, to be held in New York City, September 19-22, 2011. The course fee includes all instructional materials on a pre-loaded iPad 2.

"We are constantly looking for ways to integrate new technologies, such as the iPad2, into our programs to deliver a unique executive education experience. Having spent the past year optimizing the iPad to replace printed binders and to enhance collaboration among participants, we are now moving into the more exciting areas of augmented reality and virtual worlds. The advances with the iPad 2 have truly brought the 21st century digital world into our Mini-MBA programs," said Eric Greenberg, Director of Marketing Programs, CMD, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Greenberg continued, "Our faculty and executives loved the original iPad, but the iPad 2, with its front- and rear-facing camera, allows us to be more creative in transforming the learning experience and untethering participants from the traditional classroom dynamics. And best of all, we find that the more innovative we are in integrating the iPad, the richer the experience for our marketing professionals."
You can read the whole release here.

The detail I would like to point out here is that the release isn't just talking about replacing books with tablets, but what the new tech device can bring to the table overall. In other words, they are not just treating the iPad as a reader (hint, hint).

Things I learned at school (yesterday): technology edition

Back to school night is the time when teachers and school administrators get to watch hundreds of parents wander aimlessly through the halls of their school looking for the right classroom, only to sit for five minutes and then get up and do it all over again.

Last night I got to attend one of these events thanks to my wife being called away for a company meeting at corporate headquarters, thanks dear. The experience wasn't too horrible and there were actually a few ideas I could take away from the evening.

For one thing, it is great to see teachers using websites and text messaging to remind students of homework assignments. But does each teacher have to use a different vendor? That makes for half a dozen website addresses to remember, and no one to go from one teacher to the other within the same website.

The other takeaway was how technology either is wasted in many classrooms, or else brings in a whole new set of skills.

The last class I visited last evening contained the most unique classroom set up I saw. rather than individual desks there were five or six larger desks where four students could gather around. On the desk was two iPad sitting on top of stands – they were most like NuGuard stands which you can see above-left.

The teacher didn't have much time to explain her class so she used a short video which she had created using iMovie – it wasn't impressive and the same thing information could have been conveyed with a couple of slides or even a few lines written with chalk on a board.

But the teacher was definitely using those iPads to advantage. Since it is impossible to require that each student bring in a laptop to class, the iPads are a way to allowing students to find information themselves, to teach them how to find information themselves.

This skill set is probably the most important thing students learn today. Is it really important to know what year Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo? Or is it more important to teach the student how to access this information quickly? (It was 1815, by the way. And that horrid Abba song of the same name came out in 1974.)

While tech people might see this little story as an example of how the iPad is winning the tablet wars (there is a war?), for me there is something more important going on. If that teacher was simply using new technology to teach the same lessons in the same way the iPad would be used essentially as a electronic text book. That would be a waste. Instead it is used to bring in new information, quicker and more interactively. Two iPads per desk, two students per iPad. It is easy to see the advantages here – no student can sit idly back and not participate, each student's pace of learning can be accelerated by joining with another student.

New technology, new methods of learning.

Now I know the same thing could be accomplished in other ways, and if money were no object every desk could have its own computer, but I don't live in Beverly Hills. No, those iPads were bought using a grant, but that grant needed be ridiculously large. How much does it cost to buy ten to twelve iPads? Unfortunately it doesn't appear that Apple is offering discounts on iPads for schools but my guess is that each iPad was the $499 model so the math is pretty easy to figure out. Those stands, too, were not bad: $15 a piece online.

One could go on and on about the advantages of iPads in education – no cords, long battery life, etc. – but that's not the point. New technology presents the opportunity for new ways of learning, new platforms, new products.

Or . . . one can simply continue down the same road with a new vehicle – like the farmer that buys a truck rather than a car because he can't figure out where the horse would go in the car. Publishers who only bring their products to tablets and mobile as replica editions are putting the horse in the passenger seat and end up wondering what the big deal is the new technology.

New technology, new platforms, new products.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Financial Times has its apps pulled by Apple from the App Store due to rules violations involving links

In the insular world of tech and media everything is a big deal. Sometimes the navel gazing ends up leading to some pretty bad decisions – but even those bad decisions are probably not as important as you might think.

Take the news that the Financial Times has had its apps pulled from the iTunes App Stores. The business paper has been a good example of the kinds of apps that can succeed on mobile devices and tablets.

But the apps ran afoul of the Apple rules that state that not only must subscriptions, if sole directly through the app, must go through the App Store, but that no direct links can go from the app to any outside purchasing site. Simply put: either your app is a "reader" app (that is, like the Netflix app, only of use to customers who have signed up outside the reading device), or else the customer buys the service through the App Store. It is simple to understand, but then again media people are not proving to be the brightest, are they?

The FT iPad app's outside link to buy a subscription
ran afoul of the App Store rules.

So the FT got huffy puffy and would not comply, even launching their own web app version and pointing readers in that direction. Apple got huffy puffy when it finally decided to pull the apps. This is a big deal, right? No.

As anyone who has launched an app will tell you, the biggest number of downloads come quickly when the app is first launched, then there is a trickle. For the Financial Times, they are banking on the hope that future iPad buyers will figure out how to access the FT through the web app and that digital subscriptions will continue to grow.

If not, they can always comply with Apple's rules and modify their apps. Not complying is not the same as never complying.

The FT now directs iPad readers
to their new web app.

For Apple, the acts of one media company is hardly a pressing matter. I would believe that while there were discussions internally about apps such as the FT's the matter was decided when someone said plainly 'well, if they won't comply, boot their apps'. And that was that. With Apple's app review team no decision is really final, as many developers can attest. These things are not done by machines, there really are people there, even if they are sometimes way too anonymous.

Unfortunately, the way these issues are covered one would think that there are huge issues at stake in this situation. For instance, much has been made of Apple's refusal to just hand over customer information to media executives.

“We’ve had a series of very cordial conversations with Apple about how we see the world and how they see the world," Financial Times chief executive John Ridding told earlier this month. "We can each see where each other is coming from. That’s fine; you can’t always agree on everything. They fully understand what we would need to continue.”

But if customer information really is so important there is simply no reason that the FT app couldn't have complied with App Store rules and eliminated its links and forced readers to subscribe through the website, just as other apps do. Which company here is looking out for its customers and which is forcing customer to consume their product their way?

The issue of customer information has always been a red herring. As a publisher, ad director and circulation manager I know the importance of customer data, but I also know how that is usually acquired. Newsstand dealers to not acquire and hand over customer data; neither do paper boys. What publishers are really asking for is for Apple to hand over information their other partners are incapable of delivering, making the whole demand silly. As for Apple, well, its customers like its privacy policies, if you haven't noticed.

In the end, though, both parties are heading in the wrong direction. For the Financial Times, there is no reason that they couldn't have complied and still moved towards a web app strategy. Since their own data shows the dramatic growth of digital subscriptions achieved since the launch of the iPad one senses that this is an unnecessary ego trip.

As for Apple, they continue to show that they seriously need to add new executives to oversee both its media partnership efforts in regard to its iOS devices, as well as to its mobile ad team efforts – both are areas that appear weak and a bit out of touch. This is easily accomplished, once the company realizes that it has a problem with a part of its business that, frankly, is very small compared to the rest of the company.

And that, in the end, is what media folk have to come to grips with: they just aren't that important, they are not the big players they imagine – deal with it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Retweet: The art of packaging when the physical product goes digital, the NYT looks at the music label Putumayo

The New York Times printed (and posted) an interesting story this morning about a music label's late move to digital. The story, by Ben Sisario, involves an interview with Dan Storper, founder of Putamayo World Music, a copy that sells most of their CDs through such stores as Whole Foods and other shops where their customers are usually found.

“I’ve built a business focused on creating compelling physical packages that combine music, culture and travel, that make great gifts and that sound very good,” Storper is quoted in the story as saying. “I’m 60 years old. I still don’t own an iPod or iPad. I like reading physical books, magazines and newspapers, and buying CDs that have interesting liner notes. I’m certainly not an early adopter.”

I found this interesting because as I, myself, have moved more and more to digital only purchases of music I have also found that I have also moved in the other direction, as well. That is, I appreciate the efforts some labels put into their accompanying material.

One label, that I have written about in the past, is Jordi Savall's Alia-Vox. The label created by the Catalonian musician, conductor and ancient music master produces CD releases that combine super high fidelity recordings combined with often book-like supporting material.

As an example, one of the latest releases, Dinastia Borgia, celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis Borgia, the last of the members of the "Borgia Dynasty". The 3-CD set includes a massive book that offers extensive text in six different languages.

The book accompanying a previous release, Le Royaume OubliƩ, was 564 pages with text available in seven languages.

One thing Apple has been doing that so far Amazon has not is including digital version of CD booklets with some iTunes "album" purchases. The practice is very irregular and probably is dependent on the record label's cooperation, but it does seem to be one way around the "packaging" issue that is at the heart of the NYT story today.