Yesterday I tried the first Wired magazine app on my iPad. It was a brilliant reading experience that offers a promise of what magazines could morph into. When I handed the iPad to a friend he immediately had that characteristic grin that accompanies the sensation of a new experience. It may or may not represent the definitive future of the magazine format, but I wanted to find out what others had thought. A quick look online revealed that the app’s first day was immensely successful with around 24,000 downloads. However, there was also a strong wave of opposition, mainly centered around the resemblance of the app to the multimedia cd-roms of the 90s. Who cares!? If it is a joy to use, feels good to read, and satisfies any number of people, then it is a positive outcome. Digital natives may not care that the
app generates a tactile feel similar to a print magazine, but then again they may enjoy it because of the interface and the richness of the content. Then again they may reject it as cumbersome when compared to a quick in and out of a googled wired article on the web. Irrelevant. What matters is that the experiments have begun. Editors and journalists are all toying with new forms and styles and technologies in the search for that elusive successful digital transition rather than just bemoaning the decline of their print business.
There was a strong focus in MIPTV on mobile applications. Undoubtedly, the launch of the iPad is causing a stir with reactions ranging from the enthusiastic (everyone is announcing an App for iPad) to the fanatical (the iPad will be the saviour of [fill in the blanks]). The Middle East should be an ideal ground for new applications to be created and downloaded given the young population and the relatively high 3G penetration in some markets. However, the region is drastically lagging behind the world.
We don’t have the “sexy” platforms. The iPhone and its accompanying App Store have been the primary catalysts of application development. The iPad is ushering in a second wave of development while Google’s Android is leading an Open Source attempt to “liberate” applications from Apple’s devices. However, in the Middle East, our smart phones are dominated by Nokias and Blackberries. The former has had little success with its Ovi store while the latter, by most accounts, is very cumbersome to develop for. Neither has the region developed a proprietary environment for applications and services as happened in Japan. Although iPhones and Androids will continue to increase their market share, they are too expensive to achieve the same level of penetration as in other markets where operators subsidise the handsets. Finally, even if someone develops an application, they will find it hard to find customers who have the payment methods to enable them to generate revenues from their product since credit and debit cards are not as widely adopted for online payment as in other markets.
All this leaves us at risk of being mobile “have nots” with powerful phones being bought but nothing local to run on them. Changing this requires a concerted push from operators to encourage the creation of applications, the lowering or subsidising the handset costs, and the opening of mobile billing systems.