Netly: The Third Screen

Archive for the ‘apps’ Category

Aside from the raising of my three godlike children, I’ve never collaborated on anything that’s made me as proud as the work I’ve done on Time Magazine’s iPad app. So please forgive me when I take umbrage at Jeff Jarvis’s recent remarks, which struck me today like fighting words.

Jarvis, a former Time Inc.-er, can be forgiven for the disgruntled, I-hate-my-ex-wife tone that creeps into his rhetoric, whenever he discusses his former employer. But I don’t forgive him for continuing to kick the fetid corpse of Web 2.0, long after the crowd itself has wandered away. It’s tiresome, dude, and intellectually dishonest given that you’re still stumping for your Google book. You need to get out from behind your CRT a little more and try to connect with the current thinking in new media.

Google is a great business—for Google. We all know that it has made Google an enormous amount of money for itself and its shareholders. And I have no doubt that Google ads and the attendant freeconomy keep bloggers like you in cigs and the occasional bottle of Midnight Train. The notion, however, that ALL media must be free, and linkable, and remixable and open not only doesn’t work for large, news-gathering organizations, it’s turning out that it’s not even what all readers/consumers want. There is no single recipe for success in the media business, professor.

Yes, the Time Magazine app costs $4.99. The rationale: The app offers 100% of the print magazine, plus photo galleries, video and other iPad-only goodies. While the pricing was not my decision, and I opposed it, I was wrong: It turns out to have been a smart move. While I’m not allowed to say how many copies we’ve sold to date, I can tell you it’s sold about 10X what I had predicted to my peers. (Admittedly, I had predicted a small number. Still, I was shocked by how wrong I was.) Advertiser enthusiasm was even more surprising—clearly, they, too, see that the tablet gives them a bigger, richer canvas than the Web. And they need to understand how to use it as much as we do.

This thing is a hit, not only for us, but for every publisher who’s been charging for a decent iPad app.

The fact is, people are willing to pay for content when it’s delivered in the way they want. And when, in a month or so, we’re able to offer subscriptions, I have no doubt that our business will grow and grow and grow as the number of people with iPads and other tablets explodes.

Finally, on the question of how Time’s app is doing versus its peers. (PED’s piece was equally misleading.) Our app was indeed the bestselling and top-grossing magazine app during the week of the iPad’s launch, but we quickly fell off the list in the second week. Why? Because our app was (until today) produced anew weekly. That meant that the counter that measures unit sales reset to zero with the arrival of every new issue. By comparison, monthly mags have only produced one issue, so all four weeks of unit sales are included under one app.

If you took all of our issues and added them together so it would be an apples to apples comparison, I’m sure we’d still be the top selling and top grossing mag app.

Big deal. It’s hardly meaningful at this point.

But directionally, in terms of what readers are telling us and what we’re learning about this new platform, we’re fairly ecstatic. While I was hedging my bets going into this “appgazine” experiment a year ago, I’m not anymore: Tablets will indeed save the day for many publishers as they complete the transition to extremely profitable digital media.

flashReading some of yesterdays coverage of news out of Adobe, you’d think the Cupertino Wall had come down.

In reality, all Adobe really announced was a new, simple way for Flash developers to make stand-alone, downloadable iPhone apps. This is not native Flash however. Flash continues to be a browser-based runtime—accent on the BROWSER—and you can’t experience Flash sites via your iPhone browser. I’d be shocked if Apple ever permitted Flash to work with the iPhone browser for a variety of reasons, the most compelling of which is, it would wreck the App Store model. (Who needs Apps if you can run games and other programs directly off Flash-based Web sites?) But it was a smart move for Adobe to help all those Flash developers make iPhone apps more easily. It ought to further increase the number of apps heading this way.

Peter Kafka had a good piece today, as did Nat Ives at Ad Age yesterday, on industry efforts to create an open consortium among magazine and other print publishers. The idea, according to Kafka and Ives, is to create a unified storefront for content, which would help publishers maintain control of their businesses as we enter the era of the third screen.

Kafka raised a number of questions, which I’d like to bloviate about, since they strike at the heart of the future of the magazine business.

# They’ll have to convince consumers that already have billing relationships with Amazon, Apple and other vendors to sign up with yet another service.

The tension here is on the device side. If the device is cool—as in iPhone cool—we know that people will be only too happy to augment the functionality of the device with great content. And they will pay for it. They’re paying for the new CNN app. They’re paying for the People Magazine Celebrity Tracker. They’re paying for the McSweeney’s app. They’re paying for books and comic books and all kinds of things.

Getting people to pay isn’t hard if the content is worth buying. Magazine companies already have billing relationships with their customers. It should be pretty easy to extend that to new devices. And it’s not as if consumers are reluctant to set up one-button authorization accounts these days.
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911_call_center_2I’ve been thinking a lot about why Apple rejects apps on seemingly spurious grounds, then suddenly reverses itself. What could explain some of the odd, inconsistent behavior we’ve seen? Friends who know more about this than me say that fully half of the well-publicized apps that are rejected are reversed. Usually, the reason for the rejection was a bizarre interpretation of Apple’s regs, a silly technicality, or utterly inexplicable. Why does this happen?

Here is my theory, which is total speculation, but it’s a slow day. Buyer beware:

Apple must be outsourcing/offshoring a lot of its apps review work.

All the inconsistencies suddenly make sense when viewed this way.

Plus, do the math: well over 200,000 apps have been submitted since June 30, 2008—that means Apple must well review over 650 apps A DAY, assuming five working days a week. In its FCC filing, Apple claimed it had only 40 full-time reviewers examining apps. Think of how long it takes to review every app. You must download it, put it through its paces, review the paper work, etc. Can one person really do more than 10 a day?

My theory is that there’s an A Team in Cupertino and a B Team in some other English-speaking part of the world. The A Team handles hot stuff from Fortune 500 companies and the big, branded stuff that Apple wants to get onto the platform ASAP. And the B Team handles Other. But what do I know?

iPhone PSD

For months, I’ve been hearing about CNN’s pending iPhone app. In fact, I think it’s fair to say it’s the most talked-about, not-yet-launched app in the news business. Well, now everyone can get a look because it launches today.

The reason it’s getting so much buzz: It costs $1.99.

Wait, this is the general news business? I thought everything was supposed to be free. From the press release:

“The CNN App has what we think is one of the best user experiences around, and will quickly become an essential daily news source for many iPhone and iPod touch users,” said Louis Gump, vice president of CNN Mobile. “We tailored the best of CNN specifically for them, whether they check in from the beach, the airport or the ballpark.”

The app has pretty much what you’d expect—photos, cover-flow view, written reports and of course CNN’s video feeds, as well as a raft of user-defined alerts. I bet it does well. How long before a million people download it?

Godspeed, CNN.


(Warning: This post probably only of interest to guitar players)

I use my iPhone to tune my guitar. I’ve often wished I could get guitar tabs on my iPhone, too. Now I can.

Tab Toolkit, now available at the apps store, was developed by Agile Partners, the dudes behind the Guitar Toolkit app, the top-selling guitar app.

The app uses a variety of smart hacks to make it easy to download tabs to your phone. You can either go directly to any of the popular tab sites, and download within the app via your browser. Or you can use any computer on the same wireless network as your phone, and drag multiple files into the app that way. Very clever.

Best part is you can download Power Tab and Guitar Pro files (these are the so-called “rich-media formats” that have a variety of useful functions, such as showing you finger positions while scrolling and playing cheesy midi notes.) The app comes with a number of practice tabs, too, such as arpeggios and scales. All in all, seems worth $9.99 to me.



McSweeney’s, the literary magazine, has just launched an app that takes us one step closer to where I think the iPhone (and whatever tablet succeeds it) is headed: Creative folks using third screens as an original platform.

We hereby announce the debut of the Small Chair, a weekly sampler from all branches of the McSweeney’s family. One week you might receive a story from the upcoming Quarterly, the next week an interview from the Believer, the next a short film from a future Wholphin. Occasionally, it might be a song, an art portfolio, who knows. Early contributors will include Spike Jonze, Wells Tower, Chris Ware, and Jonathan Ames. This material will not be available online and is pretty sure to be good stuff.

(My emphasis added)

Many, many years ago, back when you were kids, I had an idea that people would use the Web, which was then still a New Thing, for original content. I worked then, as now, at Time Inc., and we had a “portal” there called Pathfinder, which was a repository for all of our magazines. The mags were mostly screen-scraped affairs, and their contents were displayed as mostly text-based web pages. I talked Walter Isaacson, who was then Pathfinder’s boss, into letting me start a tiny, experimental website, built entirely around original content. The site would be a fresh piece of reporting a day; we would cover the nascent Internet, its technology and culture. We launched it and called it the Netly News. (Trivia: You can use those old URLs to get to ThirdScreen; just type or

Three of us started working on Netly, and were very proud of it, until, around launch time, a couple of web monkeys at Wired secretly launched Suck. It blew us out of the water before we could even launch, and in many ways was a forerunner to blogs. (You can read about our exploits here.) Suck was launched by Web natives, and we (or at least me) was just a tourist, it turned out…

In any event, I for one cannot wait for the Suck of iPhone apps to launch.

In the meantime, the McSweeney’s app gets us much closer and is pretty cool on its own terms, albeit expensive ($5.99). You get new weekly content delivered to your phone for six months. (It looks like the app alerts you when new content is ready for download.) The developers clearly took a less-is-more approach, which works in a Sucklike way. I wish the book reader they used, however, used taps rather than swipes to turn pages. Whatever. It’s an exciting start and I look forward to seeing how it evolves.

    • Steven Baker, PMP (@STEVEPMP): I just read your comment about wanting an artist to be a part of the resurrection of Netly News sometime. If you ever want to try, I have a very tale
    • Magda: If you're looking to buy these arceilts make it way easier.
    • Mikel: Such a deep ansrew! GD&RVVF