May 7, 2012

Technology Review
Jason Pontin’s latest column is perhaps the most simultaneously complete and concise summary of publishers’ disappointment with mobile apps.

When Apple released the iPad in April 2010, the Technology Review publisher writes, “traditional publishers had been overtaken by a collective delusion. They believed that mobile computers with large, colorful screens, such as the iPad, iPhone, and similar devices using Google’s Android software, would allow them to unwind their unhappy histories with the Internet.”

But after setting foot in the new world of apps, Pontin writes, “like almost all publishers, I was badly disappointed. What went wrong? Everything.” (Read on for his blow-by-blow account.)

The jig is up.

“Technology Review … sold 353 subscriptions through the iPad. We never discovered how to avoid the necessity of designing both landscape and portrait versions of the magazine for the app. We wasted $124,000 on outsourced software development. We fought amongst ourselves, and people left the company. There was untold expense of spirit. I hated every moment of our experiment with apps, because it tried to impose something closed, old, and printlike on something open, new, and digital.

… Now we’re redesigning, which we made entirely free for use, and we’ll follow the Financial Times in using HTML5, so that a reader will see Web pages optimized for any device, whether a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet, or a smart phone. Then we’ll kill our apps, too.”

Related: Are publishers waking up from their dream about apps? (GigaOm) | Why Apple Won by Betting Against the Web (Mashable) | Financial Times Web app draws 2 million users in 10 months (The Next Web) | Local papers start rolling out tablet Web apps on the Publish2 platform ( || Earlier: 19% of tablet owners paid for a news app (Poynter) | The small audience who prefer apps are “power users” more willing to pay for them (Poynter).

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Jeff Sonderman ( is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
Jeff Sonderman

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