Monday, October 25, 2010

Movies, Books & Battery Life

Today's blog post covers three iPad-related areas: Movie rentals, ebooks and battery life.  On the movie front, my beef here has to do with the rental model.  I don't ever see myself buying a movie from iTunes.  I'm strictly a rental person.  If I like a movie well enough I'll probably buy the DVD, not the iTunes version.  Why?  I'm worried about platform lock-in.  More on this in a moment.

When I rent a movie via iTunes I have 30 days to watch it and I have to finish it within 24 hours of when I start it.  I sometimes rent 2 or 3 movies when I have a stretch of back-to-back trips, just to make sure I've got something to watch on the road, in the airport (e.g., redeye's, delays, etc.) or during a long flight.  After all, downloading a movie isn't something you can do very easily on the fly and certainly not via wifi.  I don't have a problem with watching it within a 24-hour period from start to finish, but the 30-day limit is silly.  Why should I have to watch it within a month?  I've had one expire on me, only because I couldn't find the time to watch it in that 30-day period.  That leaves a bad taste in my mouth and will cause me to avoid future rentals.  Is that really the model Apple is trying to create?  If they can't turn 30 days into, say, 6 months, a better option would be to extend the rental period, just like my local library.  Even if I had to pay 99 more cents to get an additional 30 days it would be a better option that the current model.

Next up, ebooks.  As a Kindle owner I couldn't wait to start buying books on my iPad.  I figured I'd leave Amazon's platform behind and focus only on the iBookstore.  How wrong I was.  I've only bought one book in the iBookstore; all my other ebook purchases on the iPad were made for the Kindle app.  Why?  Again, it comes down to platform lock-in.  I figure there's about a zero percent chance Apple will ever offer e-reader apps for non-Apple platforms (like Amazon has done).  I'm looking forward to Google Editions getting off the ground one of these days as that's probably the only other place I'll go to buy ebooks for the time being.

Finally, battery life.  Maybe it's just my imagination but I'm not able to go as long between charges as I could the first few months of iPad use.  I'd often go several days without a recharge but now I find I can rarely go more than one or two days in between.  I don't think it's the mix of apps I'm using now but I do find it interesting that the battery meter drops faster when I'm reading a book than when watching a movie.  Either way though, I'm finding the battery life isn't as good now as it was 6 months ago.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The New York Times App

I used to pay $14/month to get The New York Times on a first-generation Kindle.  In fact, I subscribed to the Kindle edition of the Times for more than a year.  It took me that long to realize the service was never going to be as good as it could be; the Kindle edition didn't include all the print content and, of course, the visual impact of the photos in grayscale was less than inspiring.

I mention all this because I hoped it would be different with the iPad.  As you may already know, the NY Times app was available for the iPad when the device launched back in April.  It's a free app but it only included a subset of the Times content, hence the name "Editor's Choice."  The Times recently upgraded the app though to include all the sections of the paper.  It's still free but the word on the street is that a paid subscription model will appear shortly.

In some respects, I've found the new Times app to be a better experience than the one I used to pay for on my Kindle.  I see that the Kindle edition that used to cost me $14/month is now $20/month.  I'd pay $20/month for the Times app but only if they add a few key features:
  1. I want the content to come to me, without having to manually download it every day.  That's one area where the Kindle still shines.  As long as I was within cell range I knew that day's paper would be on my Kindle when I opened it up each morning.  My iPad, on the other hand, is almost always connected via wifi, so there's no reason the service couldn't be automated here as well.
  2. There's no way to save an article or an entire day's paper in the app.  Even the Kindle app used to hold all the editions till I deleted them, so the iPad app needs to do the same.  I can't be sure I'll have time to read the paper every day but I want the ability to go back and see if I missed anything.
  3. This app is little more than a quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversion.   I love it that I'm getting access to more of the Times content through it, but it certainly doesn't have a rich, digital-first feel to it.  I get the impression I'm just reading the same content that appears in the print edition.  That's an important part of the equation but far from the complete solution.  Just as a boring periodic table can be made exciting through an app like The Elements, the Times needs to think about how the news they report could become much more engaging and interesting on the iPad.
I'm excited to see the Times add so much content to this app but now they need to start thinking about the user experience.  If they can address these issues they'll win me back as a paying subscriber.  For now though, I plan to take full advantage of the free service they're offering with this enhanced app.

Monday, October 11, 2010

ESPN Magazine, the iPad App

I'm an ESPN Mag subscriber, so I was excited when they announced plans to release the Mag as an iPad app in September.  I was even more thrilled to hear the app content would be free for print subscribers.  Great idea.  The app arrived a bit later than anticipated, but now that it's here I've got to say I'm disappointed with it.

ESPN violated one of my biggest rules for magazine/newspaper apps: They don't include all the content from the print version.  You'll find the app editions only include the longer articles from the print magazine.  The app is also missing some of the great visuals I look forward to seeing in the print edition.  I absolutely love those full-page, oftentimes close-up, vivid images towards the front of the magazine.  They've also done a great job with some interesting visualizations in the last page article in the print edition.  None of those can be found in the app editions.  And can you believe there's no search capability in the app?!  How in the world do you offer a content app without search?  Unbelievable.

On the flip side, the app includes some content you won't find in the print editions.  That's nice, but I figured I'd be able to take my print subscription with me on the road with the iPad app and that's simply not the case.  Instead I'm forced to read through the app articles then flip through the print edition to see what the app didn't include.  Does that make sense to anyone?

Although the app doesn't cost me anything today (since I'm a print subscriber), in order to obtain full app content/issue access I had to give ESPN my credit card so they could charge me the "prevailing rate" for automatic print subscription renewal.  I interpret that to mean the inexpensive rate ($10!) I paid for this year's subscription will go up next year.  That's bait-and-switch.  They told me I'd get free app access as a print subscriber but what they're really doing is locking me in to a higher-priced renewal rate than I could probably get on my own.  That certainly leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I'm also wondering why the app editions don't show up before the print versions show up in my mailbox.  In fact, the latest print edtion arrived Saturday but it's nowhere to be found in the app.  Disappointing.

I'm a sucker for ESPN so I'll probably just bite the bullet if they charge me more next year.  I like the fact that they've built a model where app content access is free for print subscribers but I wish they would have been more honest about the missing content and the higher-priced subscription renewal requirement.  I'm also keeping my fingers crossed that ESPN will fix all of these boneheaded shortcomings in a future version of the app.