Can Apple inspire publishers to build great apps?

As they start turning to apps to monetise their content, publishers could do worse than try to emulate iTunes, two experts say.

ALEX WATSON, head of app development, Dennis Publishing

- Are apps the future of internet consumption or are they just a stop-gap?

They'll be much the same thing before long. An "app" is just an easy way of saying that the content is presented in a way that suits the medium, rather than a generic framework. I think it's clear from the incredible numbers of downloads we've seen that people really like apps but, at the same time, internet usage continues to grow exponentially. Apps do some things really well and people use them differently to the web.

- Will apps eventually replace the browser?

No, definitely not overall. The browser is a marvellous piece of software. It is getting more powerful and more widespread as it's the one app that is guaranteed to be built into any computer, phone and tablet. That said, what people want and respond to isn't solely decided by what is technically possible. There's a big role for apps going forward because people really like owning stuff and the process of selecting an app, downloading it to your personal device and giving it room on the home screen is one people respond emotionally really well to. People use apps differently too. We know from our own research that users spend more time with them, they're more focused on them than when web browsing, so we might see different use cases evolving. It's also probable that the dividing line between the two will be blurred.

- Could apps be the tipping point that publishers have been waiting for in terms of consumers paying for content?

Apps are a more predictable experience, and I think people will respond to that by being more trusting with paying for content. If you buy a website subscription, it's not entirely clear what you're getting, whereas an app has more structure; more narrative.

- How can magazine brands help their apps stand out?

Magazines have a huge advantage, as apps need a strong image and message. By being faithful to the core values of the brand, they can engage new and existing readers - as well as commercial partners. By integrating their print, website and app strategies holistically, and using each to promote the other, publishers are in a good place.

- Which types of apps will have longer life cycles than others?

Apps need to be simple and straightforward to use from the first second they start up. They need to have a clear purpose, and be both beautiful and useful. But they also need to be careful not to betray the trust that readers build up in them. People don't expect intrusive advertising or unpredictable layouts.

- With many magazine brands taking on the micro-payment business model, will others continue to follow?

I've always believed most people are happy to pay for things if you're giving them something that is useful, makes them happy and if you don't make taking payment difficult. That's the genius of iTunes, and magazines and the publishing industry need to achieve similar levels of usability for micro-payments to be successful. If we get there, there's no reason paid content won't have a place alongside free-to-read, ad-supported content.

JAMES HART, head of insight, Total Media

- Are apps the future of internet consumption or are they just a stop-gap?

It all comes down to the user experience in the end. Currently, apps tend to suit mobile devices because the mobile internet experience has been so bad on many sites. The iPad could change this and our ongoing study of "early majority" users suggests that people are adopting apps quickly. Interviewees have changed their online behaviour over time, claiming the immersive user experience of apps and the drop in PC or laptop usage has led to a decline in internet consumption. It is likely that the richer experience of a website will continue to provide more "surround sound", although the bare functionality of an app will continue to suit more task-focused activity such as Facebook or weather, particularly on mobile devices.

- Will apps eventually replace the browser?

While consumers are definitely using apps more and more, the current experience of searching for an app needs to evolve for mainstream adoption. Our study does, however, indicate that as iPad penetration grows, there will be a broader adoption of apps that will force publishers and brands to create content-rich experiences, which will ultimately compete with the browser. As with any new technology, it's unlikely to kill off the old technology, but as devices like the iPad start being used by more people, the demand for "surround sound" experience will make all the difference if apps are to become a mainstream media behaviour.

- Could apps be the tipping point that publishers have been waiting for in terms of consumers paying for content?

With the general rule of thumb being that the bigger the screen, the more likely people are to pay for richer content, our study suggests that devices like the iPad may become a game-changer as they have both functionality and control of smartphones, with the added immersive quality of the laptop and TV. This could motivate publishers of apps to create more revenue streams through tablet platforms.

- How can magazine brands help their apps stand out?

Brands need to create rich, immersive content experiences across converged media formats that can provide an end-to-end commercial model from engagement to purchase.

- Which types of apps will have longer life cycles than others?

While repeat functionality is a clear win with apps on smartphones, I believe the opportunities for apps to create longevity will be bigger with the iPad. Our study indicates that apart from the general quality and user experience, the need for general interaction as well as the real-time update potential makes a difference.

- With many magazine brands taking on the micro-payment business model, will others continue to follow?

Most publishers exploring payment models are having some success through this method, and early feedback from our iPad users indicates that the growing uptake of apps on tablet devices may turn this into a serious revenue stream, mainly due to the fact these devices can compete with PCs and laptops when it comes to immersive multimedia experiences. The challenge with micro-payments is you need the volume to generate significant returns owing to the reduced price point per unit. Therefore, a constant flow of new content is required.

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