March 16, 2010 Last Updated 2:10 pm

Beta testers are waiting; three to six month window for publishers to test tablet apps, make mistakes

You gotta love PC World. The magazine — web site really — probably publishes more pieces on Apple’s iPad than any other on the web and they like to have it both ways.

Type in “iPad” on the site and the search results will hand you back 394 articles with titles like iPad for Movies? Call My Chiropractor … or Why iPad is the ‘Children’s Toy of the Year’.

The one that caught my attention this morning was iPad Pre-Orders: For Idiots Only. Clearly PC World wants to be the News of the World for the tech community as it publishes ever more outlandish opinions about goings on in the tech arena. Presumably it drives traffic, right?

For me, the idea that those that rushed to place their iPad pre-orders last week were “idiots” is . . . idiotic. They aren’t idiots, they are useful beta-testers.

My first computer purchase was an Apple 2e some time in 1983, about a year before Jobs introduced the first Macintosh. Since that time I have been a cautious computer buyer, always letting others be first in line to buy the latest and greatest. This is the way I was when I bought my first iPhone, I waited six months and then dove in.

These iPad beta testers are an amazing resource. The early iPad buyers will be able the ones that will make or break the iPad — their opinions will drive sales, force Apple to make changes to the product, and generally make my purchase worthwhile. God bless early adopters.
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Remember this chart? I posted it with a story about iPad sales and adoption rates. I think it is important enough to re-post here. It shows that early iPhone sales, despite all the positive press, were actually low when compared to the rush of buyers for the 3G models that were introduced one year after the initial product introduction.

In addition to introducing 3G to their phones, Apple’s second generation iPhone also came with the second generation of the OS. It was this development that introduced the app store and the rush that followed to create new applications for the device.

This time around, however, apps will be an integral part of the device from Day One. What this means is that those companies that can get their first iPad apps ready soon will have about six months to work out the kinks, to experiment.

For companies like the New York Times, Condé Nast and Hearst, the advantage of rushing to market is that they will have a nice length of time to have a large number — around 150,000 or more — of beta testers.

Of course, one could argue that the same philosophy that works for computer buying — waiting until others have tested before buying — will work when it comes to app building: let the NYT and others figure out what works and them create your apps when you have things figured out. I won’t argue against that, I can certainly understand this position. All I am pointing out, however, is that you better be right if your strategy is to wait.
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The NYT app is on version 2.3.2 ☞

Companies rarely get a chance to be wrong, and then change their products completely in a second version. Usually this type of product testing goes on behind the scenes. But one look at the iTunes app store tells us that things have changed. So many of the successful apps listed in the iTunes store have been updated more than once since their introduction: the NYT app is on version 2.3.2, for instance; NPR News just introduced version 2.0 and has received reviews like “Getting better” and “Big improvement”.

(Strangely, the CNN app, the best performing paid news app is still on version 1.0. But the app is getting nailed by reviewers for including advertising. Remember the golden rule of apps: free means ads, paid means no ads. Violate that rule at your peril.)

Comments included by the developers give a clue as to why introducing revised versions of their products is so important — “Fixed numerous crashes reported by users” is mentioned on the latest Times app — and this is one of the best out there!

Will iPad users be as forgiving as some iPhone users have been: downloading an app then waiting for better revised versions? I don’t know, but my gut tells me that consumers’ expectations will continue to increase over time. For publishers, their tablet content will be competing not only with their market competitors, but with the best Condé Nast can provide, as well.

For many publishers, this whole new environment must be frightening. Since when have publishers become software developers? Well, publishers better get used to it. At least if they want to use tablets, readers and mobile devices to distribute content. It is as much a part of the technology as misaligned plates and badly trimmed folios is part of the world of printing.

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