July 15, 2015 Last Updated 10:45 am

First look: Bon Appétit’s two ‘manual’ apps for iPad, iPhone

Two stand-alone apps from Condé Nast Digital have received good reader reviews, but poorly written app descriptions may possibly lower download totals

The Newsstand may be a very hard to discover new digital publications, but the App Store, in general, is not much better. So, it is not surprising that I should have missed a couple new apps released by Condé Nast Digital that were stand-alone apps (Condé Nast also does a poor job of promoting its apps, as well.)

BA-Grilling-devicesGrilling: A Bon Appétit Manual was released in late May, just in time for the start of the grilling season and is the second app released by the magazine along the same lines. The first was Thanksgiving: A Bon Appétit Manual, which was released in October of 2013.**

These are free apps that feel as if some team members are really enthusiastic about the projects, while others are not.

First, the apps are very good – designed for the iPhone and iPad, with separate designs for both. On the iPad, seen below in the walk-through video, the app is laid out in landscape – the perfect orientation for most tablet stands, and hence for cooking in the kitchen and outside at the grill. The apps collect recipes, tips and video material into the app, and deliver the content for free.

Because the app and content are free, and there is no advertising that I can see, the apps have to be considered a marketing effort for the magazine itself. The app does ask for the users email address (in exchange for receiving cooking tips), but other than that there appears to be no real business plan behind the apps.

Maybe the apps are an experiment (good idea, if true), or an effort to boost circulation databases, but whatever the idea behind the apps, readers are giving the cooking apps rave reviews inside iTunes.

If I have any complaints about the apps, it is just that the developer team really didn’t spend much time on the app description for these two apps:

101 recipes, plus tips, how-tos, and videos from the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen to keep you grilling all season long.

Wow, that must have taken a long time to write.

ASO aside, these are good apps, as is the Newsstand app for the magazine itself. Bon Appetit, the app, was built using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, a decision back in 2010 that was a very significant development because it meant that the chances that publishers would be building apps from scratch, like game developers, was not going to happen. (The Observer mistakenly thought this meant Condé Nast would be using Flash to build their apps.)

BA-coverI think we all missed both the significance of this decision (it meant digital publishing platform choice would be important) and overestimated the significance of it at the same time. Yes, platform choice would be important, but fulfillment would be, as well.

And here is where Bon Appétit’s Newsstand app seems to be failing. Despite the app being a well-designed, native digital edition, readers are giving the app bad marks due to issues not downloading, missing issues, and the like. While the app has received fairly mixed reviews over its lifetime, recent reviews are all negative. This surely will effect digital edition sales (and, in fact, the latest publisher’s statement shows digital subscriptions down slightly).

(One reader complaint was interesting, and certainly not the fault of the publisher. A reader complained that each month a new cover appeared inside the Newsstand but when they tapped the cover the old issue appeared. Well, yes, of course. The app will open on the issue the reader last read. But the reader found this confusing, after all, a new issue had appeared. With the release of iOS 9, issue covers go away, and app icons return.)

In the fall of 2010, what magazine publishers did with their digital editions was suddenly a priority – would they build native digital editions like Condé Nast and others, or wait, or launch replicas. Today, many publishers are letting their digital editions go to seed as they wonder if they should spend more energy on the web, aggregated content platforms (like Facebook’s Instant Articles or Apple News), or stand-alone apps. The result is that a number of magazine apps simply are not functioning the way they should (a good example would be the app for The New Republic, see here).

But we are still in early days when it comes to apps (believe it or not), and so we will continue to see publishers experimenting. If reader reaction is important, and it should be, the new app from Condé Nast Digital for Bon Appétit should be considered a success.

** Thanksgiving by Bon Appetít is also inside the Google Play app store, but the newer Grilling appears to be an Apple App Store exclusive.

Here is a brief walk-through of parts of Grilling: A Bon Appétit Manual:

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