How publishers can get the most out of their tablet apps

Part I

Savior. Game changer. Transformer. Believe it or not, we’re not talking about any of the candidates for mayor of New York. Instead, these were but a few of the adjectives used to predict the Apple iPad’s impact on the print advertising industry. That’s a lot to live up to for a 9.7-inch, multi-touch display.

As we are only two years into the iPad’s lifecycle, it’s too soon to determine if any of those predictions will prove true. That said, GroupM is a big fan of the iPad and tablet devices (done right) in general. We think tablets have much to offer consumers who enjoy reading magazines and newspapers and advertisers who recognize the benefit of being associated with powerful storytelling.

In this two-part series, we offer some suggestions on what media companies should do to optimize the tablet experience for consumers and advertisers. Part I will cover the consumer experience, since it’s the apps that are created first and foremost with the consumer in mind that will ultimately survive. Part II will look at the issue from the advertisers’ perspective.

Here’s how magazines and newspapers can increase the number of consumers reading their tablet applications and/or create a more enjoyable experience for current readers:

– Improve download time and file sizes.  Some magazine apps take so long to download that I’m able to microwave dinner and watch a sitcom before I can read the latest issue of my favorite print titles on my tablet device. Perhaps apps can be downloaded overnight when each new issue becomes available?

– The ability to share content through traditional email or social networking seems like a no-brainer, but is missing from many print apps. People love showing their friends and colleagues how smart they are, and it’s also an opportunity for print brands to provide content samples to perspective subscribers.

– Consumers can get dizzy from having to swipe some apps sideways, vertically, then sideways again. Ultimately, the app should flow in one direction.

– A “virtual” bookmark, like those found on e-books, would save consumers from having to scan paragraph after paragraph before they can resume reading the article they couldn’t finish the previous night. Apps also should have virtual “post it notes” that allow readers to tag a recipe for tomorrow night’s dinner, or that sweater they’ve been dying to buy. Finally, some sort of archive would be great for warehousing select articles, without having to save the entire issue (some publications, like the New York Times, have this feature, but not all). This, of course, also would free up memory so consumers can buy even more magazines and newspapers.

– Ink-free fingers are a nice benefit of newspaper apps. However, the apps are so overly curated that we miss that story or two that we might happen across, just by turning the printed page. How can newspapers allow for this element of surprise on tablets that is a great byproduct of the hard-copy reading experience?

– Bloomberg Business Week, People and the New Yorker do a great job of leveraging the tablet devices functionality and offering enhanced content vs. the print edition. We’d like to see more publishers use video, photography, sidebars, etc., to provide additional context to a story and evoke a reading experience that is even more valuable to the consumer.

Who knows. By taking our suggestions, we think it will be sooner rather than later that consumers are referring to print apps as “Savior, Game Changer or Transformer.” We’d like nothing more.