October 15, 2014 Last Updated 9:42 am

Apple’s focus on cosmetics a drag on iPad sales?; WSJ update fixes other apps, but not its own

Publishers beginning to find that creating stable digital editions just as difficult with iOS 8 as it was with iOS 7

Tomorrow Apple will introduce new iPad models, as well as a few other things such as a release date for OS X Yosemite (possibly that very day). But one thing that every agrees on is the Apple’s next iPad model will concentrate on being thinner, possibly lighter – two things consumers could care less about, but Apple seems obsessed with.

Apple-iPad-sales-Chart2biPad sales have been slumping. For the past two quarters, sales of the tablet line were less than the comparable quarter from a year ago. Few expect iPad sales to improve in Q3 (Q4 of Apple’s fiscal year).

The reasons for the slow down in sales vary, with many blaming the market itself, believing that consumers are willing to hang on to their tablets far longer than their smartphones, suppressing the need for newer models. The two year contract cycle in the U.S. encourages consumers to upgrade their phones regularly, while tablets, like PCs, have a longer shelf life.

But another reason for the slower sales also has to be that Apple is misaligned with its own consumers when it comes to the iPad. Apple is convinced that thinner models are more important that features, more important than storage and performance. While Microsoft (and to a certain degree Samsung) are betting that consumers want their tablets to have the same storage and accessory options as their PCs, Apple is betting that its customers want their tablets to act as larger smartphones: light, mobile, with no need for USB or HDMI ports. After several quarters of slumping sales Apple may be revising its thinking, but the production cycle is long enough that it may be too late to redesign its newest iPad models for a fall release.

As I’ve mentioned before, the single biggest complaint about digital publications and the iPad involves storage. Digital editions, especially those using the Adobe DPS, are file heavy and readers are finding their tablets filled up with content very soon after purchasing their new models. Digital publishing platforms have attempted to help out by incorporating issue archiving options, but issues over 300 MB soon fill to capacity iPads that on the low-end only have 16 GB in storage space. Apple previewed the iPad in 2010 as a media consumption device, then made it difficult to actually have much media on its device.

If Apple makes the low-end storage of the new iPad models 64 GB they will be going a long way towards solving the storage issue. But, ultimately, stopping the thinness obsession would be better. Apple finally relented and realized consumers wanted larger smartphones, beginning to listen to tablet owners and addressing their needs would likewise be a wise move.

If you missed this story yesterday you may have missed the craziest app update story to ever appear on TNM.

WSJ-iPad-screenThe WSJ updated its iOS app to fix a series of bugs, one of which prevented issues from properly downloading. Actually, the app description reads “Fixed a bug where WSJ would prevent App Store downloads.”

What the developer meant is that their app was preventing App Store downloads by other apps. That, at first, seemed crazy. But users of the app wrote reviews inside iTunes attesting to the fact that the WSJ app, once deleted and the device restarted, would then fix issues with other apps that were having download issues.

I was skeptical so tested this myself on the GIE Media apps that I found were not functioning properly. Lo and behold the reviewers were right, deleting the WSJ app fixed the download issues.

It would be nice to report that the update of the WSJ’s app brings to an end the story. But readers now report that the update itself is buggy, with universally negative reviews being written.

“This is a business newspaper,” one readers writes. “Certainly it can hire a business to design a new app. They need to scrap it and start over. Technically, it freezes and malfunctions more than any app I use. There is no way of telling if you are looking at the days’ latest news. At least put a date and clock on top of the page.”

“The latest update crashes and freezes,” another writes. “Plus it has less content than before. What content remains is harder to access. Loading times are a ridiculous… be prepared to spend a lot of time looking at blank white screens. And stock data? It’s gone. What is the WSJ thinking?”

As mentioned in previous stories, when there are many factors leading to slowing, and even declining digital subscription sales. The mismanagement of the Apple Newsstand is one factor, as is the monthly push notifications reminding readers that their subscriptions are renewing (if they have chosen the monthly option). But buggy apps are another major reason readers cancel or fail to renew their subscriptions to digital editions. Every day that goes by without a fully functioning app is another day of declining digital readership. It is hard to get this right, but thorough testing of app updates certainly would prevent the release of at least some buggy apps.

ENR-cover-10-2014Other media apps updated this morning include the two B2B magazine apps from the construction division of McGraw-Hill Financial – ENR Digital Edition and Architectural Record Digital Edition.

Both magazines are part of the division that McGraw-Hill has sold off to the private equity firm Symphony Technology Group. The sale brings to an end the over 100 year history of the publisher in the B2B media business. What the future of the two trade magazines will be is hard to say, though one can be pretty certain the purchase of the group happened because of the data services in the group, not its legacy publications.

Other media app updates include AJ+, the new iPhone app originally released in early September. Besides bug fixes, the update now allows users to mute videos using the ringer/mute button.

New York Magazine has also updated its iPad edition, their first iOS 8 related update. The app was originally released in March of last year and the new version is being called version 1.2.0. The previously update, released a week before Apple released iOS 8, was still trying to work out iOS 7 bugs. Will there be magazine updates next September still trying to work out bugs introduced by iOS 8? I dread the answer.

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