This week, News Corp announced that The Daily – the world’s first iPad-only newspaper – will shut down after less than 2 years and this has sparked a big debate on why The Daily failed and, more in general, why magazine apps suck.
Beyond the specific case, most existing iPad magazine apps suck because they offer essentially static content, they suck because they are far away from being interactive. Creating interactivity does not mean embedding some multimedia “bells and whistles”.
Most magazine apps suck because they are basically heavy PDFs with just some interactive elements. Almost all the solutions in the market are PDF-based systems such as Adobe’s DPS (clearly) or Mag+. The reasons are obvious. Publishing world is PDF-centric, people know how to use InDesign, and publishers want to reuse the knowledge and the investment done. So the solution is to create interactive PDF files with InDesign (adding some Flash-like interactivity on the top of the standard format) and to pay for a service that packages them into a bundle suited for distribution through iPad (or to pay for a commercial library for PDF-rendering). Understandable budget reasons (I, too, have developed an app of this category). But in this world a magazine app is a PDF reader.
Another digital publishing world is possible. And just to be clear, not a HTML5-based world where a magazine app is a browser. A magazine app makes sense if it’s a true native app, if it adds value to the user experience in terms of usability and functionality, takes advantage of the capabilities of the device, and makes a clean break from the incumbents.
Many have commented that The Magazine is the model to follow, and it is evident. Everything becomes immediately obvious when you see it. It is certainly the best example of how to distribute publications via Apple’s Newsstand, it is intuitive and immediate, but memorable editorials can not be the only lever to succeed in all situations. When I think of an iPad magazine app, I think of something like an iBook textbook, or an interactive children’s storybook, for magazine publishing. Truly interactive publications with diagrams that readers can rotate and pan-and-zoom, with photo galleries, videos, maps. A magazine should bring articles to life. Readers should be able to truly interact with the magazine, manipulate objects with their fingertips, search for content, highlight text. Magazines should take advantage of the fact that they are always connected to the web, for example with newspaper-specific modules that support polls, comments, photo sharing.
Science fiction? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple releases a sort of Newsstand Author. Or allowing the download of XIBs? Or what? Well. When I think of this, I don’t think ad hoc iOS apps, but a framework in which an issue is a bundle of resource files and metadata and the app is a sort of runtime environment that dynamically renders magazine issues delivered via Newsstand. XUL? XAML? Something like that. But there is no need to define a new protocol, the rendering instructions can be expressed in HTML (or its subset). In this way you can have truly native experiences, but also issues easy to produce, and portability. Time to start-up?
What do you think about it? Any opinion or feedback from you are welcome.
The policy of rigor and transparency of Monti government has forced the Italians to make many sacrifices. After a few months, however, the Italian Prime Minister realized that an important area remained free of any cuts: public expenditure.
Italian public spending can be compared to a Swiss cheese: full of holes. We are accustomed to deplorable examples of wasteful expenditure such as unnecessary services, abandoned buildings, unemployed resources, invented jobs for relatives and so on.
The new government could no longer remain indifferent to all that is going on, especially in this period of recession. Whether for reasons of necessity, or to calm down an irritated public opinion, Monti has ordered a review of government spending and the operation will be supervised by a new commissioner, Enrico Bondi, who is known for restructuring severely indebted enterprises like Parmalat.
To help this process of spending review, Mario Monti solicited input from the public through the government’s website by asking citizens to highlight waste of public money of which they are aware. Anyone can send recommendations to the government staff through the official website and now through an app for iPhone, “Dillo A Monti” (Tell Monti). The app (designed by Enrico Angelini and Gabriele Di Lorenzo and freely available on iTunes App Store) allows users to send a “letter” to Monti and consult known examples of waste.
The numbers speak for themselves: over 130,000 ideas submitted. This shows how Italians are willing to collaborate and have taken to heart this campaign, and mainly, how crowdsourcing can be useful.
Written by Gloria Lattanzi
Open data is more than just transparency, open data is not just the latest buzzword, but the most democratic and meritocratic business opportunity. In many countries open data has turned into an effective anti-crisis measure because information freely available to everyone can become the raw material for the production of services for the digital world. Public information is like gold for makers. If governments provide open data then anyone who has an innovative idea can try to develop it and build a business model around it.
Even Italy has awoken, and AppsForItaly – the Italian Open Data competition – is the proof of this. Apps4Italy is a competition open to European citizens, associations, developer communities and firms willing to develop innovative applications based on the re-use of datasets published by Public Sector bodies and capable of showing how relevant is the economic and social potential of public information.
@tweelog and I have decided to participate with an engaging mobile application to allow citizens to have a concrete idea of the costs of the “Auto Blu” (government cars used for official business). It’s a hot issue in the Italian public opinion because represents the symbol of government waste and privilege politics. In 2011 Formez PA has conducted a nationwide survey on behalf of the Ministry of Public Administration to make a census of the car fleet and the data has been explicitly published as Open Data.
We started working on the idea, defining the screen flow, making mockups, but then we realized (naively too late) that the CSV file of the open data does not include all the information that you can find on the web page where you can do a search among the public bodies which participated in the monitoring and view the responses of the questionnaire. The CSV file contains only a subset of these responses. Some missing information, as address, can be derived while others not so much, as the number of km driven per year. The latter is an essential piece of information that allows to weigh the value of the annual expense necessary for the maintenance of the cars. They provide a data source on the “Auto Blu” expenses without conveying one of the two key elements to evaluate them. What’s the meaning of this? So what’s this for?
I wrote an email to Formez PA and had a response:
Sorry, but it’s not possible at the moment to update the CSV file that, as you rightly note, does not contain all the data collected from the monitoring
Open data? You’re doing it wrong.
Just putting some data online is not enough, data must be significant, reliable and regularly updated.
In the last month I worked on an important project for an important client about which I can’t write publicly for legal reasons (except to say that it has been quite a success in terms of downloads, rankings, users reviews on the one hand and client satisfaction on the other), but I want to talk about a lesson I learned about client work.
Product-based vs. service-based? No, I don’t want to deal with the pros and cons of working for clients vs. working for yourself. Anyone who’s done client work knows the inherent frustrations that come along with that and loves the creative freedom to design and develop projects his own way without any interference from client requirements.
When you work with clients, in any design decision you know that the main goal is to meet the client’s requirements rather than the needs of the end user. And you know that the time factor always win in the trade-off between quality and time. Quick-and-dirty? I guess you know what I mean.
I’ve often heard (and said) phrases like these: “if I had more time, I’d try to do this thing in a different way”, “If I did this thing on my own, I’d do it as I say”, ecc.
Well, I learned a valuable lesson during this project from a friend of mine: you can, you already have the power to do it! You can already apply your point of view.
There is no ideal condition to put your ideas into practice, each situation is the right one to do it!
You will always have to face some kind of constraints (even if you work for yourself), do not wait for the next project to follow this advice, do it now. It works!
Do not complain about your work situation, it falls to you to struggle free and use every available space to gain greater leeway.
“Words mean nothing. Action is the only thing. Doing. That’s the only thing.”. You will not be able to attract your manager by talking about how smart is your proposal, how modular is your approach, how elegant is your solution. Your manager will think only that it will take a long time, he’s attracted only by real things and your proposal is real only in your mind. Just do it! Make it real now!
Work hard behind the front line, surprise your manager and your clients! You just have to do it!
Stop complaining and work hard to change your job.
You can. You already have the power.
Launching an app? Chasing the secret of the art of the reveal? Promoting your app? Considering a form of promotion? Marketing is not the magic word that can transform your business, the key point is what strategy to follow to make some money and the right business model is specific of your own app. There are no universal rules here, just a small case study.
FreakyAlarm is my first app released on the App Store, an alarm clock for sleepyheads that forces you to wake your brain because you will have to solve a series of logical-math games in order to get it to stop annoying you. It also provides a means to control your own path of recovery, as measured by the iWake coefficient. You can monitor the trend of your progress and achive badges. I released FreakyAlarm on 28th July 2010 without any marketing action also because the initial version included only 10% of what I had in mind. Do NOT follow my stupid example. New & Noteworthy, anyone? The launch is crazy crucial and you have to try to make the most of the initial visibility so that you can push your app up the charts before losing momentum. That means that you’ve gotta have a big launch, which means you’ve gotta have a big build-up.
More than an update, FreakyAlarm 1.1 was a brand new application reprogrammed and redesigned from the scratch, it came out on 19th October 2010 with a good acceptance thanks to some reviews. Sales bounced around for a while and then they had stabilized at a few downloads per day.
Version 1.2 for free at launch
The best way to deal with sales is to improve your app, the best way to deal with piracy is to improve your app, the best way to deal with life is to improve yourself. After a few months of discontinuous work FreakyAlarm 1.2 was ready. Press kit, promo video, stylish screenshots, demo video, website update, iPhone blogs spamming… and four days of promotion as an experiment.
1. get as much visibility as possibile
2. enlarge the installed base of users
3. get numerical information in view of a lite version
Update 1.2 was released on 17th March 2011 – incredibly bad timing since it was St. Patrick’s day and there were so many apps on sale or St. Patrick special editions! I did not notice this coincidence, 17th March is just like any other day in my country, but however the experiment gave good results.
Check out here: http://spirales.it/freakyalarm/freakyalarm-free-promotion/
Downloads charts are generated from sales report data.
During its free period (17th – 20th March) FreakyAlarm was downloaded a total of 6,335 times.
Continental distribution by Day
The interactive intensity map displays total downloads by country as a color scale. The considerable difference between the United States and other countries is evident, in fact the US represented 41% of the total downloads.
Continental distribution by Day
The column chart below to represent continental distribution for each day of promotion. The United States is by far the country with more downloads, but it’s interesting to note that the whole Asia has gradually reached and surpassed North America in the following days.
Rankings charts are generated from MajicRank data.
During its free period FreakyAlarm was in the Top 200 Productivity list of almost all countries. Anyway the app didn’t appear in any Top 200 Free list.
Rankings of Top 5 Countries
The line graph to draw the ranking trends in the Top 200 Productivity list of the 5 countries with the most number of downloads
So? Well, it’s been a really exciting experience. I’m pretty pleased to know that such a large number of people have used my app and now other 6,335 people wake up in the morning with FreakyAlarm ;)
I’m sure an app in the Top 200 Free has MUCH higher numbers, but I’m very satisfied with the result. Unlike the launch of the previous version, this time I did get some press through only three sites (AppAdvice, iPhoneItalia and iPhoneFreak). But that’s nothing new! Blogs report all the same news and only want to write about popular stuff from people they already know.
This means that the obtained findings are largely due to auto-generated buzz and app finders like appbzr (on which FreakyAlarm was the hottest app in the entire Productivity category), and that’s great!
First of all it seems that the introduction of the French and Russian localizations yielded no effect. Only 90 downloads in France and 70 in Russia are too few, but this assessment is not significant without a some form of marketing campaign on the iPhone blogs of those countries.
Taking a look at the last 5 week you can see that there was an immediate affect on sales when FreakyAlarm get back to paid. After a transient phase the downloads has stabilized at a level slightly higher. Not enough even as part-time income, but that’s good. However this was not the purpose. The aim was to assess the numbers of a hypothetical lite version.
So what has this proved? Doubtless the need for a lite version. Probably the revenues from free + ads model would be greater than those from sales. I’d always planned to make a lite version with a subset of the features according to the art of product versioning and including ads (iAd banner when a new advertisement is loaded or full version banner when offline). But if it’s true that the business model is not complete without a lite version, the lite version must be the right lite. I wanted to make sure that the app is as good as possible before to launch a lite and for this reason the preparatory step is to further improve and polish the app.
What do you think about it? What was your experience with free? I’d love to hear your comments.
It’s a well-known story. In July 2008, Apple launches the App Store and everything really changes. An assay wouldn’t be enough to take a deeper dive into all aspects (mobile revolution / software-centric model / walled garden / user-focused experience / “right combo of empathy, vision and dictatorship”1 / …). What I want to talk about is a little consideration about mobile software development up to date.
It is fairly obvious, but should be noted that the scenario has changed. Four years ago there was a whole prairie to conquer and colonize. Once created the platform, Apple unveiled an uncontaminated new Wild West. Colonization and gold rush started.
A key point to highlight is that any developer — big, medium and small software companies, independent developers, students, nerds, spare-time developers, etc — can seek his fortune. Everyone has the same opportunities because the distribution channel is the same for all. Ironically a rigid centralized control has imposed an almost “democratic” system. Every developer can distribute his work in a way only giant companies could. Today the App Store gives them access to 150 million potential devices, 200 million iTunes credit card pool, a simple payment processing system, and all the hosting, bandwidth, transaction, delivery, reporting, and several incredibly valuable assets: marketing Apple provides, the App Store’s ease of use and its huge visibility. All included in a simple 30% fee2. But I have digressed too far.
The matter under discussion is that the scenario was a Wild West for each pioneer regardless of the resources, a Wild West without existing competitors (Indians), a brand new market with an explosive consumer demand. In this situation it does not matter HOW, but WHEN you hit the App Store. In this situation your intention matters more that the way in which you put it into practice. It was a gold rush.
Now, let’s get back to the present day. First of all, mobile software development is not a easy game. Many are convinced that the App Store is El Dorado and an app is a little more than an idea. Some success stories do not mean that everyone has become millionaires. “Some” means “a few” cases in thousands. And even when an app looks like an overnight success from the outside it always has years of working away unnoticed preceding it. Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game that they made. Once there was the Plato’s doctrine of ideas, today the development doctrine of ideas. All ideas suck, because they are just ideas. They’re worth nothing. Ideas are just a multiplier of execution.
Secondly (and mainly), there is no longer a borderless prairie, but a borderless metropolis. Buildings and skyscrapers are everywhere (more than 370,000 active apps and about 80,000 unique active publishers). It’s very difficult to find a building plot. Once there was a dozen of review blogs, today tens of thousands (as a parallel business). Once there was an enthusiastic user, today an exigent user who doesn’t care to bet on you and wait until your app improves. Given the way Apple’s ranking algorithm works, the launch (first four day period) is crazy crucial, that means you’ve gotta have a big launch, which means you’ve gotta have a big build-up3.
Now it does matter HOW you hit the App Store. Now it does matter how much carefully and attention to detail you put into execution. It’s a matter of quality. Nothing happens overnight, so you need patience, competence, passion and determination to keep going4.
That’s why software companies increasingly now dominate the ‘Top 200′ lists. Mobile development is not a game. It takes time and resources. It requires different skills (from psychology to engineering). It’s a matter of quality, a matter of high-profile skills, a matter of hard work.