Monday, February 6, 2012

Apple's Newsstand to cross 1,000 app mark for the iPhone (maybe today); majority of publications, though, are not really designed for mobile reading

Some time later today (or possibly tomorrow) the Newsstand feature for the iPhone will cross the one thousand app mark (the iPad did that in mid-December).
Like the media apps for the iPad, most of the publications inside Newsstand are replica editions released by such third party vendors as PageSuite, PixelMags, Tri Active Media, and others. Unlike the iPad apps, however, most don't appear to really be designed for mobile use, but are instead simply universal apps that can be read on the iPhone, as well.

Most use the standard business plan of offering the apps for free and then charging a subscription fee within Newsstand. The apps from Tri Active Media, however, usually charge for the app and then charge a subscription fee, as well. Needless to say, these apps rarely have any reviews on them as buyers avoid the double fees (the reviews that are written, however, are scathing.)

I'm long past advocating for native apps at this point, as so many publishers seem quite willing to have these apps released in their name. Well, actually, most replica editions appearing in Newsstand are actually released under the name of the vendor, not the publisher.

Good luck reading this without a magnifying glass.

It continues to be a mystery why publishers buy these apps, but the reason may simply be that these publishers are not smartphone and tablet owners themselves – in other words, they really are that technologically challenged. (Some tweets today concerning Dropbox have me pretty convinced of this.)

If Apple wants to change this they will have to supply a solution themselves, just as they did when they launched iBooks 2 and iBooks Author.

Now the fact is that there are already some very good digital publishing solutions out there for magazine and newspaper publishers. But most are geared towards mid-sized to large media firms that can absorb the costs. An iBooks Author for magazines, though, would change all this, however.

One could argue, though, that with so many publishers appearing in Newsstand that Apple would have no incentive to do this – after all, they are already getting their 30 percent fee for all those sales within Newsstand.

But I would argue that replica editions benefit the Android products more than Apple. One app is just the same as the next – all are hard to read. But Apple wants to maintain market dominance not so much for its App Store than for its devices. It wants the iPhone and iPad to remain the leading products in their categories. If all the best designed periodicals are on iOS devices then this would, like digital textbooks, translate into more hardware sales. At least in theory.

So while hitting the 1,000 mark for the iPhone Newsstand may seem like a great accomplishment, it might be seen by some inside Apple as a source of frustration, and even a threat.