Blog Post

Media iPad Apps: Is That the Best They Can Do?

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Among the hotly awaited apps for the iPad are some media-related ones, including a few from Conde Nast — Wired magazine and Vanity Fair — as well as the New York Times, Associated Press and Bloomberg (be sure to take our poll and tell us which publication you’re looking forward to reading on the iPad). But I have to say that the initial prototypes I’m seeing are, well…underwhelming. Josh Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard has a pretty good roundup of the major media prototypes at the Nieman Lab blog, but none of them are really groundbreaking as far as I can tell, either in terms of their features or their design.

I was pretty excited when I saw the Wired app demonstration video — partly because the display is large enough to give a nice, broad view of the magazine’s pages, and really makes photos and video work well. Much better than trying to view that sort of thing on a tiny iPhone screen. But the more I thought about it, and the more I’ve looked at the other prototype apps that have emerged in screenshots and videos leading up to the launch of the iPad, the less excited I am. Articles and pages in a row that you can scroll through? Wow. Really innovative.

This is supposed to be a groundbreaking, world-changing device — the dawn of a whole new era of computing in which apps rule our lives instead of dumb computer programs on a desktop, where multitouch finally takes precedence over clutching some stupid peripheral device wired to a PC. I, for one, had high hopes for what the media world could do with it.

Sure, Wired showed some ads with rotating cars, and the New York Times showed some video playing in its demo of an iPad app. But apart from a couple of little filips like that, they all look pretty much the same as the web sites that they’re based on — and part of the problem with mainstream media web sites has always been that they replicate the same user interface metaphors that appear in the printed versions of their products. Paving the cow paths, that’s called. It sure isn’t a way to be creative or innovative, or to find new audiences. Let’s hope that some of these apps were rushed into production in order to make Apple’s deadline, and that more fully-developed apps will be forthcoming in the future.

So what could they do? Why not take some risks? Have the front of the New York Times app be just a video, or an interactive graphic — maybe something like this, or an interactive version of one of these. In the group Josh Benton put together, the slider-style horizontal layout of NPR’s app and the scrapbook-style look of AP’s app are what pass for radical approaches. USA Today’s app looks exactly like its web site, and Bloomberg’s more or less does, too. Why not do something that really takes advantage of the touch interface, and allows the user to interact in some creative way — like this? If there’s any of this going on in any of these apps, I can’t see any evidence of it (but of course I don’t have an iPad, so I can’t actually try them out).

I’m all for sticking with a comfortable interface and maintaining brand identity and all that, but come on — the people who are buying these things are early adopters. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often — especially in the world of media.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Rego

16 Responses to “Media iPad Apps: Is That the Best They Can Do?”

  1. Hi Matthew. To quote “This is supposed to be a groundbreaking, world-changing device — the dawn of a whole new era of computing in which apps rule our lives”. It certainly is. And the other developers, as I understood, are in a wait and see attitude. They are looking as to what apps make it to the top and then ship from there. Just playing safe most probably.

    Here’s a tip for puzzle game lovers though.If you have tried Tetris or Bejeweled, it might interest you to know that there is a better option for these – StarFaces – certainly one of the best iPad app. This game is lots of fun and is now my new top game!

  2. And why don’t you have a special version of all this content for the iPad? Oh yea, because it would take a LOT of time and money to produce special content for the device that no one had until a few days ago…

    Re-purpose what you have, then gauge response, then possibly do custom content. The New York Times is NOT going to go video on their main page – who would watch it? People who read the NYT want to READ – that is why it is a newspaper.

  3. Paul Calento

    Innovation rarely comes from big media. I’d look for a couple of left-field, innovative content approaches to “wow” the skeptics and, subsequently, for traditional media offerings to evolve accordingly and fast follow. Not sure, though, than an “it just works” philosophy is bad for a new device, considering the limited time content partners have had with the actual devices themselves. It does appear though that the digital magazine players (Zinio, Texterity) are attempting to repackage themselves as iPad apps and I’m not sure that media apps based on these technologies will be anything other than disappointing. The iPad may be the size of a magazine, but can be used much more interactively.

  4. I suspect what we are seeing is just the first iteration to get something out there. The innovative stuff will probably not be coming for a bit. I think that’s normal right? We must be patient, the thing isn’t even on the shelves yet! hehe.

      • One might say unrealistic. Not to mention that some of your ideas are just bad ideas. Have the front page of the NYT just a video? Why would a newspaper minimize the information content of their front page?

    • Unrealistic? Perhaps. I prefer the term “visionary” :-) As for my suggestions being bad, I obviously disagree. It’s a new device, with a whole new interface — why take the same boring old presentation from print and your ancient website and duplicate it on this new device? Makes no sense to me.

      • Anthony

        I don’t agree.

        If I intend to watch video, then I want video. If I intend to read, then I want static text. Some of us are still literate and enjoy reading. Video on the internet has become obnoxious to the point where I block it by default.

      • I totally agree. In my eyes, the iPad is a new medium. And new mediums often present the opportunity of new usability potential & constraints.

        Therefore, I fully expect someone to get creative and develop an app outside of the box.

      • This is a completely new medium with new metaphors for operating. Eventually I think you will see a new way of interacting with content, but do not expect this to be led by the large press corps, they are either unable or unwilling to break ground in this way. It is much simpler to rehash their existing content in a similar way that their employees understand and appreciate. The fact that the rest of us are eager for a new way of visualising that data flow is irrelevant, unless someone comes up with an aggregator app that transforms things. Still, I don’t think front page full video is a great idea, but an interactive multimedia screen may be :)

  5. I agree and disagree. First, I’m an early adopter. I’ve got an iPad on order (although I won’t see mine until end of April) and I am excited by it. Second, I’m a crazy app buyer. I have hundreds of apps in my iTunes library for my iPhone and am looking forward to seeing them on the iPad.

    But, and this is the kicker, I’m a firm believer in function over form.

    What’s important about this device? It’s that it gives users access to media on the go in a form factor that is much more “human friendly” than a phone or a laptop. This is small enough to stuff in a purse or satchel but large enough to get enjoyment out of consuming media.

    Remember too that once electronic, that media is much more readily shareable. I can copy things, email things, etc. The modality of access is far less important than the integration of the application with other apps (twitter, email, FB, etc.) so that the content becomes truly portable.