Apple ads once told us that "There's an app for just about anything." It turns out this wasn't just another catchy marketing slogan. There really is an app for just about anything these days. Just pop open Apple's App Store or Android's Market, and you'll find a buffet of apps waiting to be downloaded, from apps that let you read books and magazines to time killers such as Angry Birds and Words With Friends and constantly-updating news applications from CNN and NPR. Whatever you are looking to do with your mobile device, most likely, there's an app to do it.
Yes, it seems that anyone who is anyone has an app now, especially in a sector as well-suited for content mobility as media and publishing. David McAllister, vice president of operations at Metova, Inc., a custom mobile application developer, explains that, "Everyone is going mobile. The range of applications that we hear about every week is just incredible. From manufacturing to oil rigs to any consumer-based application you can think of, there is just a huge range of mobile applications."
As the number of companies creating apps increases, consumers are faced with a classic shopping conundrum: Which apps are worth using those precious megabytes? Not all apps are created equal, and unfortunately, many publishers have adopted the mindset that all they have to do is port content into an app and start raking in the dollar signs. Existence does not guarantee success. An app has to provide a service, do something special, and continue to prove its worth long after the initial installation if publishers hope to see significant revenue from mobile platforms. "A good app needs to deliver something -- whether it's functionality or aesthetics -- that can't be delivered in the browser. I'm amazed at how many publisher's apps are little more than versions of their websites optimized for mobile," says Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen, editor of Streaming Media.
As mobile devices and the apps that live on them continue the relentless assent to the top of the digital publishing mountain, consumers are expecting, and sometimes, if it requires shelling out a buck or two for content, demanding, more. When it comes to apps, consumers "are looking for something that's very easy to use, very simple, very intuitive, good to look at, and functional. They want to be able to get into their app and do what they need to do very quickly, without a lot of things getting in their way," says McAllister. "When people are on the go, when they are on a mobile device, it's quick, get in there, do what they need to do, and get to the information they need."
So which publishing and media apps are living up to, and sometimes surpassing, expectations? EContent asked a variety of digital content and mobile application experts, including consultants, bloggers, and publishers, to weed through the competition and pick the apps that have impressed them most.
Produced by Time, Inc., one of the world's largest publishers, TIME magazine launched its first issue on March 3, 1923, and has been a news and current events staple ever since. It currently provides apps for BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, and Android users, allowing everyone to stay informed, no matter their platform of choice.
TIME magazine's apps have an interactive interface that boasts capabilities such as a video library, podcasts, photography, and a host of topics, from money to technology to health. Chetan Kambli from BestAppsBlogger.com, a mobile application review site, says that the app is "incredibly designed. It brings news across the world to your palm with a beautiful interactive interface. TIME magazine gets the cutting edge for its eminent features, which include video supporting content, world-renowned photography, and deep insight into the world. The weekly cover has issues ranging from technology to cozy lifestyle to ensure that you are part of all the latest happenings."
From The Avengers to Batman, comic books have the power to awaken the child in all of us. Thanks to comiXology from Iconology, Inc., a company that has been developing the technological infrastructure to bring comics into the digital mainstream since 2007, our favorite superheroes from major publishers such as Marvel Comics and DC Comics are now available to read on the iPhone, the iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android devices.
Sometimes, it's all in the details. Not only are there more than 500 free comic books available to read through comiXology's app, "By allowing readers to experience each pane one at a time with zoom-in capabilities, the reader can absorb the detail of the artwork and, as a result, experience the comic book in a new way," says Brett Cohen, vice president of Quirk Books. Steve Smith, EContent columnist and new media consultant and critic, agrees, noting that "By implementing a frame-by-frame guided view through comic art, the engine offers a genuine enhancement to the print experience."
Founded in 1988, satirical newspaper The Onion has proven that news doesn't have to be serious. Thanks to its app for the iPhone and the iPad, readers can now get their laughs whenever and wherever they want, along with the ability to read articles, watch videos, and listen to audio reports.
Not only will The Onion app make you giggle, it is easy to navigate, says Schumacher-Rasmussen. "The nation's funniest newspaper has also become one of the nation's funniest video publishers, and it's all accessible in The Onion's iPhone and iPad apps. The app lets you move seamlessly between text, slideshows, and video in a manner that shames most ‘real' newspaper apps. Too bad it's likely turning from free to paid in the near future."
Wolters Kluwer Health UpToDate
Wolters Kluwer Health has been providing information for healthcare professionals for years, and its knowledge system, UpToDate, along with the mobile version for the iPhone and the iPad, is just one example of its commitment to medical advancement. The UpToDate app allows physicians to search the complete database of evidence-based recommendations from anywhere, so they can make better-informed decisions regarding their diagnoses.
A well-designed app can do more than entertain; it can change the way we work. John Blossom, president and senior analyst of Shore Communications, Inc., says that UpToDate is "an excellent new mobile app that enables medical professionals in clinical settings to get updates on treatments that are tailored to their needs. Studies are showing that it makes a remarkably strong impact on medical outcomes in clinical settings. It's a good example of how good editorial resources and good app design can make all of the difference."
As a leader in online news and information delivery, it is no surprise that CNN has brought what it does best to the app market with an app for Android-powered tablets and phones, the iPad, the iPod, and the iPhone, as well as for Nokia owners. Like its website, CNN's app includes multimedia features such as the ability to watch live video, get news notifications sent to the home screen, and share stories via Twitter and Facebook.
With the CNN app, users can enjoy listening to CNN radio from their phones, comment on and share stories from their tablets, and submit stories with iReport. But the ability to stream live video makes the CNN app stand out most from other news app competitors. BestAppsBlogger's Kambli says, "CNN infuses the live TV and radio features to enable audio exposure and real-time news watching at just a click away, which stands commendable."
Though many of us may still associate the brand with heavy, dust-covered textbooks, Encyclopaedia Britannica has gone beyond the printed page by providing apps for Android devices, the iPhone, and the iPad. The apps allow users to search and browse more than 80,000 articles and view photographs, diagrams, and charts.
According to Smith, Encyclopaedia Britannica's app gives other search-based apps a run for their money because of its extensive indexing capabilities. "The oldest of encyclopedias teaches the new media dogs some tricks by showing what a really smart and complete index can do to drive recommendations to information searchers and help them explore topics fluidly on a phone. The app's link map literally explodes into a web of connections the curious can explore."
Time is money, and for those who need to keep a close eye on business and finance news, Bloomberg Businessweek's app for the iPad, Bloomberg Businessweek+, keeps users in the know with all of the content found in the print edition of the magazine along with exclusive content and interactive features.
Bloomberg Businessweek+ caters to iPhone and BlackBerry owners, but its iPad app lets readers go beyond the familiar magazine reading experience with additions such as the ability to listen to interviews, view videos featuring Bloomberg Businessweek's editor and creative director, and get the latest market information and news on companies mentioned in articles by tapping on the company name. "Among all of the magazine apps on the iPad, Bloomberg Businessweek+ has gone further in combining the dynamism of real-time web content with the compelling design of print," says Smith. "Web updates and live stock quotes and charts literally slide in from the sides of the week's magazine pages. The experience is unique to tablets and should point the way forward for magazines."
NPR has shown us that even nonprofit companies can hold their own in the app market. With apps for Android devices, the iPad, the iPhone, and BlackBerries, public radio lovers can not only listen to their favorite NPR programs such as Fresh Air, Morning Edition, and Talk of the Nation, they can access hourly newscasts, listen to audio while browsing articles, and create story playlists.
The app's multimedia features are only part of what makes it unique. In addition to popular NPR programming, users can also stream their local stations and bookmark them so they can listen later with a few quick finger taps. "The acclaimed NPR stations paved the way for mobile devices and tablets so that you stay connected with the world wherever and whenever you like. Offline listening and reading the stories of the day in leisure is what makes the app distinct," says Kambli.
Entertainment Weekly for the iPad
Since its launch more than 20 years ago, Entertainment Weekly has kept us abreast of the latest music, movie, TV, and book news with its magazine, website, and now apps. Entertainment Weekly's app for the iPad mimics the experience of reading the magazine, with enhancements such as links to download recommended movies, albums, books, DVDs, music videos, film trailers, TV clips, and lists of local movie showtimes.
While Entertainment Weekly has an app for smartphones, its tablet version emerges most prominently because, not only is it free for print subscribers, it makes reading interactive. Quirk Books' Cohen explains that Entertainment Weekly has "included a bunch of interactive and multimedia elements. Read the movie review and watch the trailer or check showtimes. Read a DVD review and click to purchase it. It also has a pretty exceptional organization that is true to the magazine while taking advantage of the iPad's technology."
USA TODAY on Kindle
There's nothing quite like cracking open a freshly delivered newspaper on a Sunday morning, unless you can access that same paper on your iPad or Kindle. Launched in 1982, with a current daily readership of 3.2 million readers, USA TODAY offers an app for the iPad, the Kindle, Barnes & Noble's NOOK, and HP's TouchPad, allowing loyal readers to forgo ink-stained fingers for a cleaner, digital version of their morning newspapers.
"USA TODAY has one of the most usable apps across platforms, and they are among the first to think hard about how to keep content fun and legible on the smaller tablet and accommodate the long screen," says Smith. "The challenge for publishers in the next year may well be rethinking tablet content for the 7" widescreen. With a smart pop-up menu that gives readers quick access to all sections at a tap, the Kindle version of USA TODAY is in some ways smarter than the iPad version."