Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Are there still smartphone and tablet newbies out there? You bet there are, and media app developers would be wise to take them into account

It is an open secret that the publisher of TNM (that would be me) would like to launch his own digital magazine company. A few million dollars would get it done if you have some spare change. In the meantime, I hope to launch a series of eBooks into the iBookstore, though I'm certainly taking my time about it.

But when dealing with writers one of the things that constantly amazes me is how few actually own a tablet. It shouldn't come as a surprise, the market penetration of tablets is only now just reaching half of the country.

Because of this, I have found myself on more than one occasion having to explain very simple concepts of the iPad – where are books found, what Settings are for, etc.

Even the basics of touch controls are sometimes something that has to be explained. If one sees a photograph on the screen of a tablet there is, of course, the possibility that tapping it will make it go fullscreen. But how would you know this if you don't own a touch device yourself.

The lesson, of course, is that developers should not assume anything. Equally important is to not insult the intelligence of the audience – a tough balance to achieve.

This is one of the reasons that simplified digital products are often praised. Marco Arment's new digital magazine, for instance, has gotten boat loads of positive press for its stripped down approach. I, too, am impressed. But unlike other media observers, I do not believe that this approach is the future of digital publishing. In fact, I strongly believe it is not. It is simply one approach. Other publications will need to use all the bells and whistles available if they are to produce effective digital magazines. (Many magazines would benefit from animation and videos that show the reader how to cook, build, operate or fix something. Why return to plain text when the tools are there to better communicate with the reader?)

But we are not yet at the stage where the majority of potential readers out there will be guaranteed to be comfortable with apps on smartphones and tablets. Understanding this will help guide the choices made by both editors and art directors alike.