Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Media app updates: Future plc and Digital First Media take opposite approaches to the new digital platforms; RetailMeNot adds AirPrint to coupon mobile app

A large number of media app updates were issued last night and this morning. One of the media companies updating its portfolio of app is Future plc. The UK and US magazine company uses its own platform, FutureFolio, to build and launch its magazine apps – the platform allows for both native and replica edition apps.

Today's updates fix issues with the library and with download errors. Future generally issues updates in large batches to fix issues caused by glitches in its digital publishing platform and today is no exception with updates coming from Mac Lfe Magazine, Cycling News HD and Prog Magazine, as well as others.

Future plc is handling its tablet edition needs in a very corporate manner, with all their magazines on the same platform. What makes their approach unique, however, is that they have built their own platform and developed that platform to give it flexibility in the digital publishing products created. The approach, while limiting options for individual publishers as far as the platform is concerned, gives its publishers options as far as final product (assuming management at the company allows its publishers this freedom).

At Digital First Media and its Journal Register and MediaNews groups, the approach is the ultimate in inflexibility: the company has chosen a third party vendor, Spreed, to build its apps across the company's portfolio. The result is that the company is locked into one solution, and that one solution is pretty primitive and unattractive. Digital First continues to show that is far behind other publishing companies in regards to digital publishing – Digital Last, if you will.

The app updates today for such newspaper apps as the Contra Costa Times for iPad (a MediaNews Group paper) and The Oakland Press for iPad (a Journal Register Company paper) fix issues with video galleries and event listings, as well as general performance fixes.

Spreed has been pretty good at issuing app updates, as it should be for such a large and important customer. But the apps are still an embarrassing example of the companies backward nature as regards to mobile and tablets. The apps for the iPad reformat the RSS feeds coming off the newspaper websites into standard layouts that often lack graphics. In some case, as with the CCT's iPad app, the front page is acceptable in appearance, though the idea of a standard layout for a front page is against basic newspaper design principals. The stories then are laid out in a Kindle-like fashion with little imagination, and no flexibility.

Other newspaper editions, though, look far worse due to poor graphics, or a complete lack of them.

These papers, though, are being destroyed editorially (the CCT's leading off today with the headline "Dancing With The Stars: Season 16 begins with sweet surprises, plus a..."), so it probably matters not what the company does on tablets. But it is sad to watch happen.

RetailMeNot today issued another update for its mobile app, and the company, which just changed its name from WhaleShark Media, has added yet more important features to its coupon app.

RetailMeNot Coupons will now allow shoppers to search for coupons at nearby malls, rather than having them merely sent to them via notifications. These coupons can then be printed using the iPhone's AirPrint mechanism. This will be especially useful for retailers such as restaurants which might not be able to accept coupons in any form other than printed.

A test of the system, for instance, showed that the coupon for Chili's needed to be printed, while others could be accepted via the app.

This coupon app has been strictly a mobile app, but with the update, the developers at RetailMeNot probably could justify bringing the app to the iPad. Now that search and AirPrint has been added consumers may want to use this app at home, at their leisure, as they would the Sunday newspaper. Bringing the app to tablets would make this type of usage easier and more enjoyable. At some point the company will also want to migrate their app onto a new developer account now that they have dumped the WhaleShark Media name.

This is a great example of how new digitally native companies are quickly stealing away the business from newspapers who continue to stubbornly resist change. While journalists continue to debate and cheer on the building of newspaper website paywalls, the real action is elsewhere. Soon news consumers will be faced with the prospect of choosing between free news websites that also contain the majority of digital advertising, and paywalled newspaper websites devoid of advertising.

Other media app updates includes AP Mobile, a universal iOS app. The app is now optimized for the iPhone 5 and iPad mini, and a fully localized version is available for Spanish readers (their device must be set for Spanish).

Other updates: The Economist for iPad update is for minor bug fixes; Facebook has updated its iOS app and added cover photos (iPhone only); Reed Business Australia has updated its recently released SMSF Essentials app to add Twitter integration and fix audio playback issues – you read this original write up on the app here.


Robert Brai said...

Agree that developing your own Apps allows you to standardize across titles. However, when reviewing the Mac Life App I did not see any special features like audio, video, slideshows, interstitial pages, etc. There weren't even links from the TOC page to the articles. Maybe this is planned for the future but standard functionality on most 3rd party Apps

Douglas Hebbard said...

The Mac Life app is a replica edition. Originally, back in 2010, a native tablet edition was released for Mac Life, but the current app was substituted later.

The platform Future uses, FutureFolio, builds both its native tablet editions. as well as its replicas. Why Future would not want MacLife to be more interactive is beyond me - if I were publisher I would be screaming at someone... anyone.