Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April 3, 2010: Some of the first media iPad media apps that began the conversation about the tablet platform

Today is the third anniversary of the launch of the iPad and a good time to reflect on some of the early apps to appear from media companies.

When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, it might be hard to remember now, but the new cell phone did not accept third party apps – there was no App Store, and certainly no Newsstand. That would come with iOS 2, introduced in July of 2008.

But when buyers got their hands on the original iPad on Saturday, April 3, 2010 there was already an iPad App Store ready for them. The store was launched on Friday and those waiting for the delivery of their first tablets could take a look, and even download, apps available that day.

Among the magazines already in the App Store ahead of the actual launch of the iPad in the U.S. (the iPad became available in Europe and Australia at the end of May), were Condé Nast's GQ and Bonnier's Popular Science.

For magazine publishers at the time, the big question was 1) whether to launch an app or not, and 2) whether to launch an app as a native iOS coded app, or to use a digital publishing solution.

Bonnier had been thinking about this for a while and developed their own solution, Mag+, which soon was spun out as a separate company. For some of the other major publishers the question was whether to use Adobe's solutions or build their apps like a game, using raw Xcode programming. The issue came to a head one year later when Condé Nast decided to go with the Adobe DPS.

If it was important for Condé Nast and Bonnier to have something to offer new iPad owners, The New York Times, too, knew they needed an app ready. The NYT had been included in Steve Jobs's iPad introduction event, so everyone knew the paper would have something to download. That iPad app was the first one I wrote about on TNM, and probably the only one ever labelled as a "review". (It was a bad idea to "review" apps and I've stopped doing it. I prefer to call posts on apps I don't like as "snark attacks" instead.)

That NYT was a disappointment to me, and it remains one today. But its appearance in the App Store was what was important at the time. If the iPad was to be a reading device, AND a news device, there needed to be something more there than just the browser (though many believe, and probably still do, that the browser is all that is necessary).

There were other early magazine apps that were important, such as the release of the first TIME Magazine app, and the very inventive one built for Mac|Life by Balthaser Studios, but these apps either contained major mistakes (TIME's decision to issue separate apps rather than one that offered subscriptions) or were withdrawn and replaced with dull replica editions (as in the case of Mac|Life).

Instead, I think the decision by Zinio to launch an app was more important long term. The Zinio app instantly brought hundreds of magazine titles to the iPad, which for Apple was a big sales plus.

The downside of the Zinio app launch is that it was one of the first ways a publisher could "be on the iPad" without having to launch their own native tablet edition. The Flash flipbook, which would not be allowed onto the iPad, got a reprieve in the form of the replica edition. Today the vast majority of newspapers and magazines available for iPad owners are, in fact, replicas.

(Although not a publishing app, I would be remiss in not mentioning the importance of Netflix's first app, as well.)

There might be some debate as to what the very first tablet-only magazine launched into the Apple App Store was, but for me the first one of importance was released by Timothy Paul Moore with his app Letter to Jane, launched about six weeks after the launch of the iPad. Moore is now the creative director at 29th Street Publishing and was recently interviewed by The Verge, but I'm proud to say TNM interviewed when his first app launched in May of 2010.

"I wanted to (bring the magazine to the iPad) ever since I heard about the thing, but wanted to see what the big magazines might do. Then I got a feel for it -- then got one in my hands and realized I'd really like my work to be on there," Moore said at the time. "I haven't really programmed anything since high school, so I kind of just sat down and got to work -- learned, went through some tutorials, went back and forth, and had some people help me."

After the first initial wave of media app releases there was a slight lull as developers got to work. Wired magazine, which many thought would available on launch day, got its app into the App Store in time for the launch of the iPad in Europe. Thus began the argument over file sizes as many of the early tablet editions proved to be enormous.

The appearance of Flipboard in July of 2010 began the rush of apps that aggregated content and repackaged them into native tablet designs. That trend also continues, though it should be said that Flipboard is the leader in the field still today.

In the area of eBook publishing for the iPad one need look no further than the work produced by Joe Zeff Design. But high quality eBooks, native apps, really lagged behind. The great app for Above & Beyond, for instance, appeared about a year after the launch of the iPad.