Friday, April 13, 2012

Top mobile iOS news apps tend to be simply universal versions of the tablet app

If tablet editions designed for Apple's iPad are moving in a direction of native tablet design (see below), the situation on the mobile side is more confused, with some developers pushing the platform forward, while many others apparently more interested in the tablet side of iOS.
It is important to point out, of course, that news apps can appear under both "News" and "Newsstand" if the publisher has utilized that distribution method. For the iPad, many publishers have moved their apps into Newsstand, while broadcasters don't have that option and are to be found under News only.

Apple opened up third party apps for the iPhone back in 2008 and they began appearing in the App Store that fall. The iPad was open to news organizations from Day One. As a result, many of the first apps for the iPad were simply ported over versions of the mobile app, optimized for the larger display. But this began to change as more and more magazine publishers began to launch apps.

It made very little sense for, say, Vogue, to launch a magazine app for the iPhone. But once the iPad appeared it became almost mandatory that an app be produced. Now Vogue does have two mobile apps, but neither of them try and port over the print or tablet magazine (Vogue Wish List and Vogue Stylist).

I don't mind seeing Wolfgang Puck on
my iPhone, but Wolf Blitzer?
It could be argued, however, that this is a more imaginative use of mobile than many of the news apps that are popular in the App Store. The majority of those at the top of the charts in the App Store are not that different than their tablet cousins.

These apps progressed very quickly from simple RSS feeds of news from the organization's website, to offering live television – such is the case with CNN's mobile app. But few take advantage of location services or notifications in any creative way. Two years ago there were tech sites discussing the possibility of apps pushing notifications to mobile owners as they shopped – some of these launched via experimenting developers, but the trend never was picked up by local newspapers or television stations. AOL owned Patch has a decent news app for its products that uses location services to send you to the most local Patch property, but it does nothing else creative with the technology (and even the directory is pretty useless since one can only find businesses by name or category, not keyword).

The cell phone has turned from a feature phone into a smart phone; the device itself has turned from a way to make calls, to a communications device that is also a media player, navigation tool, etc. etc. The possibilities remain endless and creative developers have been jumping into the space for the past four years. But media companies seem to be stalling out. The New York Times Company, for instance, has six total mobile apps, the most recent being NYTimes Election 2012.
One of the earliest mobile apps released by the NYT was their real estate app, NYTimes Real Estate. When it launched I was quite sure we'd see every classified department in the country jump on the bandwagon. But classified managers don't care the weight they once did when many were driving the lion's share of the revenue.

The Hearst newspaper in Houston, though, just launched this month its own real estate app, Houston Homes. It's a nice app that uses location services to help you find homes (just as the Zillow app has been doing for quite some time). Whether this is the first such app for the Hearst Newspapers is something we'll track as the months go by.