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Do I need an app for that?

If your news organization hasn’t issued an iPhone app yet, you’re late to the party. You should be working on something forĀ  Google’s mobile operating system (Android) as well.

But before you gear up for your own iPad app, you need to ask a few questions:The Huffington Post iPad app

What can we do with an iPad app that we aren’t already doing on the website?

The answer to this question is critical. If you can’t come up with a good answer, you can stop thinking about investing any effort in an iPad app right now.

Many news organizations built apps for mobile phones because the functionality of their website was severely limited on the smaller screens.

But calling that same website up on the iPad with its 9.7-inch diagonal screen is different. In many cases, this will be enough for many news operations to take a pass on developing a new app. Plus, if their iPhone app was done well, it looks fine on the iPad, especially with the option to use it in its original size or a 2X version.

If you can’t come up with a way to use an iPad app to enhance the user experience you’re already offering on the website, you might want to rethink the project. Creating templates and sending updates via RSS probably isn’t going to provide a better user experience.

It’s also very possible that you’ll be providing less functionality in an iPad app if you’re not prepared to find substitutes for Flash video players or other widgets offered on the website. I was surprised to see this was the case with the Huffington Post’s iPad app. It was really a watered down version of the website.

Will we be able to convert videos to a format that works on the iPad?

This is a technical question that depends on how you’re handling video encoding, but it’s worth asking. You’ll need to convert video to a format that plays on the iPad since Flash isn’t supported. This may mean encoding two versions of each video. If you have a third-party vendor doing this work now, it may not be an issue (though it will require more storage capacity somewhere).

Sending all of your video to YouTube might serve as a workaround since it’s one of the major places using H.264 encoding right now. But there are drawbacks to that as well.

Will we be able to provide enough multimedia content to stay up with our publication cycle?

If you’re a smaller publication that only does a video now and then and the occasional multimedia project (slideshow, graphic, etc.), some of the benefit of an iPad app may be lost on you. In addition to story updates, people will probably want to see new video content frequently.

That may be out of reach for organizations with smaller staffs.

We can’t all be Wired magazine, which baked in dozens of multimedia pieces in its first iPad edition, including one that provided a 360-degree look at Iron Man’s armored suit.

Frequency of publication may be a determining factor here. If you’re trying to feed this kind of beast on a daily basis, you’d better be prepared. If you can gather things through the course of a week or — better yet — a month, you have a better chance of making an impressive piece that people might even be willing to pay for.

Are we willing to make the investment of staff time that will be required to support another platform?

Do you have just a few people devoted to your online operations or a small army? Are you able to free someone up to research and develop new ways of presenting your material online or will you be relying on RSS feeds to provide automatic updates to templates?

Staff size matters here. Having enough people with enough talent at your disposal may be a luxury your organization can’t afford right now.

There are currently more than 300 apps listed under the news category in the app store. While I haven’t looked at all of them, I’d be willing to bet there are only a handful that offer users a unique experience they couldn’t already get online. If you’re expecting people to pay for each edition, you’d better be prepared to wow them. Just being in the iPad space isn’t enough reason to go down this path.

Category: #506DE

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2 Responses

  1. malicreates says:

    Great info. Comments to come in our board.

  2. malicreates says:

    Hey, my comments are posted on last weeks discussion on the board. It is not highlighted so just click on the discussion and you will see it.