April 12, 2010 Last Updated 4:01 pm

The iPad experience & publishing: one week and counting

Here are a few thoughts about the iPad and publishing after one week.

The reviews: Almost all the reviews and columns about the iPad have come from the usual suspects — David Pogue and crew. Frankly, I could care less about the opinion of the tech folk, what I think is important is what do editors, publishers and readers think of the tablet? If the iPad is going to be important to the future of publishing you’d think we’d find more editors and publishers writing about it. Instead, they are treating the iPad like any other tech device and leaving it to their technology writers to deal with.
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The killer app: There is no killer app. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone during the MacWorld keynote in January of 2007 he asked the question “what is the killer app?” He answered with the simple answer “making a call”. Jobs then went on demonstrate why the iPhone was so much easier to use than other smart phones.

So what is the killer app on the iPad? Of the apps Apple included at launch, only a hand full, the answer is “none”. Browsing is nice on the tablet, but it certainly isn’t better than my desktop — especially without Flash. It isn’t e-mail or contacts or any of the other standard iPad ware.

No, Apple has left development of the killer app up to . . . the developers — which makes their moves to antagonize developers all the more puzzling. The killer app, it seems, is some theoretical app still in development — maybe the Wired app that won’t end up making it onto the iPad because it was developed in cooperation with Adobe?

Newspapers and magazines: The New York Times app, it turns out, was a mistake. On Saturday morning I fired up my iPad, launched the Times app and the lead story concerned the Vatican. Missing was anything about the plane crash that wiped out much of the top leadership of the Polish government. I quickly shut down the app and fired up Safari and ended up reading the story on the Times web site. (A few hours later the Times app was updated to show the crash story.) Overall, newspapers are sitting back and waiting — what else is new. Now that the few newspapers that made launch day have their apps on iTunes it may be a few weeks before other newspapers join them.
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In the meantime, newspapers continue to launch iPhone apps, including student papers that like this one for North Carolina Central University, or this one from the independent student paper at UW-Madison. Student journalists don’t seem to have difficulty accepting the idea that readers will want their news on a tablet or phone. The Irish Times was among the many publications launching mobile apps for smart phones last week. (Abilene Christian University was one of the few iPad news apps launched last week after April 3rd.)

Thanks to Zinio and Pixel Mags, the magazine industry has been better represented. But the format restrictions of their formats locks limits what a magazine can do, and certainly commoditizes magazines, in general. Popular Science has gotten good press for its magazine app; but Time magazine has gotten a bit of flack for its pricing policy — though its app was fairly well received. Nonetheless, iPad owners eagerly downloaded all the apps — after all, they bought this as a reader and were not going to be deterred from reading just because publishers didn’t want to deliver the goods.

Books: Very few stand alone book apps appeared from publishers, so iPad users (for now) are forced to use Apple’s iBooks app, or Amazon’s Kindle app (universally criticized for its poor programming). Nonetheless, Steve Jobs said 600,000 downloads were recorded in iBooks in just the first few days. (It helped that Apple added 30,000 free books at launch, thanks to its partnership with Project Gutenberg.)

Other apps: if Apple didn’t provide the iPad with a killer app, and publishers didn’t create candidates, other developers were more than willing to step to the plate.

Right now my favorite app is Air Video, an application that allows you to watch videos on the iPad that reside on your computer, whether you are at home or at the airport waiting on a delayed flight. The best $2.99 app, no doubt.

Instapaper Pro is wonderful, of course, and will be especially appreciated by people who can not spend time reading at their desks at work, but who stumble on stories during the day. A quick click on your browser bookmarks the story for viewing on your iPad (or iPhone) later in the day.
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If I were a realtor I’d consider the Zillow app essential. The Zillow web site is already pretty vital, but the iPad app is very quick indeed. This one will be even better on a 3G iPad when out in the field, away from WiFi. Why a newspaper company like Gannett didn’t snap this company up early on is beyond me. Oh well, who needs a newspaper when looking for real estate, right? This former CAM weeps. (Zillow recently moved into the rental market, as well. You could see that one coming a mile away.)

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