The publisher of one of the UK’s biggest and best consumer magazines told me in a recent conversation that he was planning to launch a new app for his magazine based on a new model of ‘digital magazine reading’, one informed by detailed usability studies and that this new style app will be launched for iTunes, for Google Play, for Amazon Kindle Fire and for the yet to be released Microsoft Surface tablet.
I don’t know what this publisher has been smoking, but I do know that he has a very meagre idea of what would be involved in commissioning software developers to build a successful app for his publication and his readers. Since his wonderful publication has dawdled through the last three years without having its own branded app in iTunes, I have a suspicion that when the specifications are written, the competing bids evaluated, and the budget is finally trimmed back by corporate discipline, nothing at all will happen this year.
But it was the inclusion of Microsoft’s ‘Surface’ tablet in the list of target devices that really astonished me. It is surprising that anyone should yet be giving this ‘design point’ the serious credibility of designing an app for it. So far as I know, no third party apps at all have been demonstrated as running on it.
Magazine publishers and other content owners want to believe that Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet (our very first one arrives today) or the rumoured and probably improved Kindle Fire will give Apple’s iPad a run for its money. I also would like to believe that, but I think its quite possible (even likely) that Apple will not be facing significant competition for its iPad in the next year. I tell publishers that if they have a good digital strategy in the next year, fully 90% of their revenue will be coming from the iTunes app store, less than 10% will be coming from web sales or from various not yet competitive app stores. And the revenue from iTunes is steadily increasing — and these revenues are now reaching meaningful levels. Google and Amazon have a way to go, and so far as the European market goes they are looking to be well behind.
Google’s Nexus 7 is getting some very positive reviews. But the magazine solution (Google-managed and Google-designed) is not going to be available in the UK at launch.
We hear rumours that Amazon may be about to launch a magazine store for Kindle Fire in the UK this autumn (no I have no inside knowledge and this is just speculation), but it is looking quite hard for Amazon to actually do this well. The original Kindle Fire appears to have lost momentum in the main US market. If it were launched now in Europe it would be significantly inferior to the very price competitive Nexus 7, and obviously it falls far short of any new iPad. If you want to kill the Kindle brand in Europe you could launch the old 2011 Kindle for the European market whilst bringing out a new Kindle Fire in the US. I am sure Amazon don’t need me to tell them that this would never work. If Apple does, as has been rumoured, produce an 8″ mini-iPad in September/October the gap in the market for an improved Kindle Fire looks to be very thin and tight. However much Amazon can improve the Kindle Fire its tough to see how they can compete with Google on price and even harder to see how they can compete with an improved and cheaper low end iPad on price and quality. They have to do it, but do they really have the chutzpah to build the many millions that would be needed to satisfy the fourth quarter demand for a holiday season in the USA and Europe simultaneously. Launching the new improved Kindle in the USA-only would be lame, but it might be a cautious compromise. Especially since Amazon don’t yet have all the machinery in place that they need for a consumer oriented content-replete product launch.
Apple now has 3685 magazines and newspapers available in its UK iTunes newsstand. There is a lot of catching up for Amazon or Google to do. However much the magazine industry wills them on (and we do), I don’t think Apple will be facing much competition in the digital magazine space in the next year. We need some sort of game-changer if there is to be real competition.
The Surface has potential, and as Google are showing, get the right sweet spot and people will buy. In my opinion, given the massive Windows brand, it is Microsoft’s to mess up. But as a “hobby” mobile developer it is a question I ask myself – what should I develop for? I can only do one thing at a time so which do I chose? Perhaps tools such as PhoneGap will make this a moot point, but in the mean time I’m going to make things for the one I own (Android!).