Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Apple App Store check list for publishers making the leap into branded media apps

You would think that two years after the launch of the iPad, three and a half years after the appearance of the first media apps for the iPhone, that most publishers would be familiar with the rules of the app game, but it doesn't appear so by looking at many apps being launched inside the App Store. So let's create a handy little check list for publishers thinking of launching their first apps – in this case, your those thinking of outsourcing their app development.

The Third Party Vendor check list:

You've decided to outsource your app creation, great, there are lots of vendors out there happy to sell you their services. In fact, that vast majority of newspaper and magazine apps are created by digital publishing service companies rather than the publisher themselves. So what do you have to know, and what do you have to do?

First, remember that your brand is, well, your brand. Protect it.

The first way to do this is to tell your vendor that YOU will name your new app. If the name of your magazine is XYZ Magazine, you need to know that you can only name one app with that name. It might not be a good idea to waste that app name right off the bat. You vendor, though, has probably sold you on the idea that you need to get an app into the store under that name. But you have to remember that you own your brand name and any app that tries to sneak in there under that name can be pulled by Apple if they learn there is someone else who owns that brand name. TNM has pointed out apps to publishers that were trying to steal a media brand's name and each time that app was pulled.

Second, how is the "publisher", you or your vendor. Many media apps appear under the name of the developer not the name of the publisher. Take this new app released today for NERO Magazine. NERO is an Italian magazine on contemporary culture that publishes quarterly.

But the app appears under the name Other Edition, the company that developed the app. In fact, the app description link for support doesn't go to the publisher, but to the home page of the developer – providing neither support nor any way to communicate with the publisher.

So what to do? Get an Apple developer account - it only costs $99 and allows you to have apps appear under your own name. If a vendor doesn't allow this don't work with that vendor. It's your magazine, why are you giving away your brand?

This new app for NERO also gives you a couple of other lessons in the hard world of app publishing. Look at that app icon? Is that really an icon, or is it just a black box with white lettering?

The App Store allows you several ways you can promote your app: your app icon, your app screenshots, and your app description.

The NERO app has an excellent app description – it describes the magazine and clearly tells the reader the cost of a single issue purchase or a subscription. Make sure you either write the app description or sign off on it before it appears in the App Store. The good news is that a bad app description is easily corrected.

Likewise, you need to approve and sign off on the app icon and the app screenshots that are to be used for your app. The NERO app is a disaster as it contains zero screenshots from the actual app. How would a reader know they want to buy this magazine?

What will your app actually look like? Obviously, this is key. A publisher would never allow an issue to go to print without receiving proofs from their printer. Are there proofs in the app game? Absolutely.

A new app can be placed on an iOS device without it being live in the app store. These apps are placed on devices that have been registered with Apple int he iOS Provisioning Portal. As a licensed app developer you can load new apps onto your own device for testing.

However your vendor wants to handle this step may depend on them, but personal app testing is essential. If the company you are working with simple assures you that everything will be alright than a red flag should go up immediately. Test your own apps.

There are plenty of other things a publisher should consider but the last one worth mentioning today is brand customization. I think this is one area where many publishers fall down.
The Third Party Vendor check list
I spoke to a publisher who was discussing his interview process with vendors to me. He looked at their apps, tested and read them, and decided to go with a particular company. With a good app icon, good screenshots, a good app name, and a developer account so that the app would be published under their name not the vendors, everything seemed to be in order.

The final element, of course, was the app itself. Here things started to unravel. The vendor was creating app that looked identical from client to client – so much so that the screenshots were practically identical to those of other mobile apps (this is less common with tablet editions).

Sadly, I could not offer much help. This particular vendor was a one trick pony kind of developer – if you chose this company this was the way the app would look – period. App customization is sometimes difficult when you outsource your app development. My only advice would be to talk to your vendor about this issue before signing on the dotted line. Often customization comes with a high price tag, you'll have to decide.

(Looking at the apps of a particular B2B publisher that was said to be going digital-only, one should also ask the question is this app appropriate for the platform? In the case of this publisher, one of their iPad apps – which was not universal – has as its app description "introducing the first news application for your iPhone..." Too bad its an iPad app.)