July 15, 2014 Last Updated 8:45 am

The Tribune Company updates the ‘worst app ever’ but fails to fix bugs readers complain about

Chicago Magazine gets update to add ‘Best of Chicago’ issue, but readers still complain about the app crashing

If there was a contest for the worst media app ever, Chicago magazine readers are quite sure their app would win, hands down. They are probably wrong about that, there are plenty of real clunkers out there, but they do have a reason to complain.

ChicagoMag-iPadOwned by The Tribune Company, the Chicago Magazine iPad app appears under the developer account of Chicagoland Publishing Company LLC. The magazine was founded by the local classical radio station WFMT as a guide to the station’s programming, then changed its name to Chicago magazine in 1975. The magazine was sold off by the station in 1986, and then was bought by Primedia during the time when that company was buying up properties as part of its roll-up strategy (which eventually collapsed following the end of the economic boom of the nineties).

The Tribune Company picked up the magazine in 2002. The company has had a hot and cold attitude towards its app making, most often being behind other media companies – and then, for short periods of time, launching interesting new apps such as its digital sports magazines, built using the Mag+ platform, but now all shuttered. Generally speaking, readers hate the apps from the company, with readers of the Orlando Sentinel, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times complaining about apps that app bugs.

The problem may be simply that the company really doesn’t care anymore. It will soon spin off its newspaper properties, and anything of interest, like digital media expertise, will probably be incorporated into the broadcast wing of the company. Its fairly new digital arm, Tribune Digital Ventures, currently has six apps inside the Apple Newsstand, none of which have anything to do with the newspaper properties the company still owns. Basically, the company is saying that if you are working for the print side of the media business, you are out of luck buddy.

So, is the Chicago Magazine app really that bad? Readers definitely think so.

“This app barely opens,” writes one reader.

“Haven’t been able to read any issue from my past years subscription as the (app) crashes constantly,” writes another in the most recently written review.

The publisher has issued an update last night and there is no mention of any bug fixes. The app description says the update is all about the addition of the 2014 Best of Chicago issue. (You might innocently wonder why an update was necessary to add the issue. The answer is that the app is not a Newsstand app, but is stand-alone.)

I tested out the app to see if the publisher quietly fixed the bugs in the app. So I updated the app and downloaded the latest issue, which cost me $2.99. Upon tapping “read” the app immediately crashed (somebody owes me $2.99).

I reopened the app and was able to eventually access the issue: a very hard-to-read replica edition of the print magazine, with side-by-side pages that do not match in size (caused, one can assume, by the fact that some pages feature ads that bleed off the print page).

The app, which was originally launched in Novermber of 2012, combines the magazine’s web content with access to the print magazine. In this regard, it is one of those apps produced by publishers that believed readers would want to access the website content through an app, rather than through the iPad’s browser. This thinking is mistaken. In reality, the magazine’s website is very attractive on the iPad’s Safari browser, and a far better reading experience than this app. (Recommendation: dump the existing app, and concentrate on creating a good, native tablet edition – then launch it into the Newsstand.)

I wouldn’t call Chicago Magazine the worst app in the world, despite the complaints of the magazine’s readers. But it is the product of a time when publishers were confused as to the approach they would take when launching their first tablet apps. Most likely building the app cost them a few bucks and now they are reluctant to admit they made a mistake.

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