Monday, August 30, 2010

iPad Magazines

After much disappointment with Amazon, and their inability to offer a comprehensive magazine portfolio on the Kindle, I had high hopes for the iPad.  And while the iPad is still fairly new, the magazine experience up to now has been pretty disappointing.

Like so many others I tried the first issue of Wired in their iPad app and I haven't been back.  (I have a print subscription, btw.)  I've also tried Zinio and subscribed to PC Magazine in it.  Nothing remarkable.  I was optimistic when I downloaded the Sports Illustrated iPad app but there again, I'm sticking with my print subscription and see no reason to pay for the same content in the app.

Over the weekend I saw an ad in a recent issue of ESPN The Mag saying they're "going mobile in September."  More importantly, the ad says the products will be "available to everyone, free to ESPN The Magazine/ESPN Insider subscribers."  That's consistent with this recent article on Ars Technica.  Magazine publishers are wrestling with Apple to determine who owns the customer, whether Apple should get a cut of the transaction, etc.

I realize there are some dangerous precedents that could be set here and I admire the fact that ESPN is willing to reward their existing print subscribers with free access to the same content on their iPad.  In fact, according to that same Ars Technica article, it looks like Time is about to offer the same deal on many of their magazines, including Sports Illustrated.

That's great, but what's not noted in all of this is how long print subscribers will get free e-access.  I don't expect that to last forever and neither should you.  Here's why: Right now these iPad magazine apps are simple, quick-and-dirty conversions of the print format.  A couple have tried some clever tricks but I have yet to see one that's considerably different than the print edition.  That will change over time.  At some point the magazine publishers are going to realize they'll have to make the investment in richer content on the apps.  And when they do, they'll be able to charge for them, above and beyond a print subscription rate.

So although I refuse to pay Wired, Sports Illustrated or any of the other magazines more for the privilege of app access to the same content I'm already paying for in print, I'll gladly open my wallet further if they add more value to that app content.  For now, though, it will be nice to not have to lug some of these print editions on the planes I find myself trapped in every month!

Monday, August 16, 2010

MiTube: A YouTube Video Downloader App

The good news about the MiTube app is that it solves a legitimate problem by letting you to quickly and easily download YouTube videos for later viewing, like when you're not connected to the web.  The bad news?  MiTube is no longer available in the app store.

I was one of the fortunate ones who managed to download MiTube before it was yanked.  Although I haven't had too many reasons to use it yet, when I have it was nice to know it was there.  You simply search for the video you want to download, decide whether you want a hi- or low-res file and the retrieval process begins.

The fact that this one is already unavailable reminds me of a habit of mine that I recommend for all iPad owners: Look at what's new in the App Store each and every day.  MiTube caught my attention so I downloaded it the day it came out, and I'm glad I did.  Even though there are now 20,000+ iPad apps in the Store, it's very easy to quickly look at what was added today: In the App Store app just go to the Featured area and select the Release Date tab.  All of the day's additions appear there in alphabetical order.  Keep paging through till you reach one with yesterday's date and you'll know when to stop.  I do this every night and it takes less than 5 minutes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

App Layout: An iPad App Prototyping Tool

Everybody has at least one idea for a killer app, right?  So how do you go from concept to interface prototype?  App Layout is a tool to get you started.

App Layout comes with a variety of controls you can drop into an iPad or iPhone app design.  And if you can't find what you're looking for in the built-in control set, you can always import an image of your own (so you can quickly "borrow" user interface elements from other apps).  It's easy to select, drag and drop all your controls into place.  And when you're finished, you can save or email your work of art.

OK, now for the warts...  Saving/emailing is great, but how about reloading a project and letting me continue editing it?  Any prototyping you do with App Layout has to be done in one session.  There's no way to reload a previously-saved file and continue tweaking it.  That's a huge problem.  Also, there's no way to use typical iOS gestures (e.g., pinching) to resize controls.  You're forced to press zoom/shrink or contract/stretch buttons till your fingers hurt.  Why in the world didn't these guys implement a feature as standard as spread/pinch?!

All that said, I only paid $2.99 for the app, so I can't complain too much.  It now costs $4.99, so I must have benefited from an introductory price (the app was just released on 8/3).  For $2.99 it's not bad, but I think they could get $9.99 if they'd address these shortcomings.

Monday, August 2, 2010

iPad App Discoverability

Can someone help me understand what that image on the left side of this post does for me?  It's a screen shot of appstream, a free tool that I mistakenly thought might help me with the problem of iPad app discoverability.

As I write this post I see there are now more than 18,000 iPad apps in the App Store.  Wonderful.  Now how do I find the truly great ones?  The same problem exists for iPhone apps, only it's ten times worse because there are a lot more of those apps out there than iPad ones.

I was looking for some help uncovering some of the better ones when I recently stumbled upon appstream.  What you see on that screen shot is pretty much what you get though.  It's a largely unfiltered look at what's currently available in the App Store.  What I need is something that offers me a filtered look at all those apps, not a raw feed of them.

How about settings that let me see only those apps with at least an average of 4-star reviews?  Or how about only those apps with 4-star reviews in the utility category?  How about 4-star reviews, in the business category and released in the past week?

If these guys would go back and add this sort of functionality to appstream they could convert it from a free app that serves almost no purpose to one I'd pay five dollars for.  That's right.  Five bucks, which means it would join an exclusive club on my iPad.  I've only paid that much for Wired (initial issue only; no way I'll pay that much for newer ones...not $3.99 either, especially when I can get an entire year in print for $10!), The Elements (worth every bit of $13.99) and MLB's AtBat 2010 (an app that I'm unlikely to buy next year, although I'll continue buying the iPhone edition).

Discoverability is the largest issue plaguing the app ecosystem.  It affects both buyers and sellers.  Sure, Apple lets you filter apps in a few different ways and the Genius feature is nice on the iPhone (but where is it for iPad apps?).  Those are still minor attempted solutions at a major problem.  Something like appstream could be a better alternative, but not in its current state.