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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. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for a digital hero

Newspapers need a digital hero.

Last spring, I was at a journalism event and the discussion at the dinner table turned to the newly announced Kindle DX, which was due to begin shipping in a few weeks. People were excited about the DX because it offered a larger screen than the original Kindle, which might make it more suitable for presenting and reading electronic editions of a newspaper.

I was asked my opinion about it and I said that I would wait on buying a Kindle because there was a rumor that Apple was going to launch some kind of giant iPod Touch device, possibly as soon as that summer. If that were true, I said, I’d rather have something with a color screen and more capabilities than just an e-reader.

That June came and went with no announcement. But the rumors persisted and were finally confirmed in January with the announcement of the iPad.

Since its release in April, there have been a lot of side-by-side comparisons of these devices. The Kindle generally scores better when the weight of the units is concerned or the visibility of the screens are compared. But the iPad scores points for just about everything else.

While the Kindle is an excellent e-reader, is that enough to maintain its sales? Can it hold off the charge of the iPad when the low-end Apple device costs only $10 more than the DX, which is similar in size? Can the Kindle be the device the news industry needs now when it’s grayscale screen is stuck in the past and it doesn’t handle video or let users surf the Web when they’re done reading?

We know the iPad sold 2 million units in its first two months, but Amazon has never released sales numbers for the Kindle. That makes me suspect that they aren’t very impressive. After being on sale for nearly three years, it’s believed Kindle sales topped 3 million earlier this year.

On top of that, even Amazon must see the writing on the touchscreen since it has a Kindle app on the iPad and iPhone. (Oddly, one of the screenshots of the iPad app shows a color photo on one of the pages — something you can’t see on a real Kindle yet.)

The iPad option for news organizations isn’t without it’s problems, but as a potentially useful device, it begins to make the road ahead a little clearer. By rethinking and reinvigorating the tablet concept, it might pave the way for a print alternative in a way the Kindle — at least in its present form — can’t hope to achieve.

The road ahead

Sundance Kid: You just keep thinkin’ Butch. That’s what you’re good at.
Butch Cassidy: [to Sundance] Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.

– From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969

It’s “the vision thing,” as the first President Bush used to say.

Where would we be without the dreamers; those folks who tend to look a little farther down the road than the rest of us?

I’ve been thinking about that over and over this week as I went through the readings. Read the rest of this entry »

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