Top Gear iPad app launches

Top Gear magazine released an iPad version of popular monthly print issue this week, which launches to coincide with the ‘Cars of 2012’ issue.

From the brief demo shown at the launch event, the app looks to be a good one. The ‘pages’ of each issue look similar to the print addition, but certain aspects of each come alive in various ways.

TopGear iPad app

For example, this month’s cover features images of the Cars of 2012 under spotlights. By tapping each, you get playback of the engines firing up and revving, a la Clarkson. Nice for the Ferraris and Maseratis of the world, but you wonder what will happen when they feature a family saloon on the cover.

Or actually, you don’t. The guy presenting (who didn’t introduce himself, sadly) told the audience each cover would be interactive in one way or another, with the production team “finding ways” to bring them alive.

Deeper inside the iPad addition there’s more treats, such as videos from presenters Clarkson, Hammond and May as part of their monthly columns, images in slideshow format and an interactive feature that allows the reader to open the boot, bonnet and doors of a featured auto. Quite nice when you’re looking at one of the more extravagant supercars with gull-wing doors (or Back to the Future Delorean doors for non-car enthusiasts).

TopGear iPad app

In fact, the iPad addition easily overcomes a few inherent issues with print. The buyers guide that lists the specs and prices of all makes and models on sale in the UK is much, much easier to flip through on the iPad’s endless scroll-column compared to print. And there’s almost limitless space for hi-res images of each car, excellent news for a magazine that’s all about showing off big shiny things.

The launch event also featured everyone’s favourite white-overall-clad mute, The Stig. Stiggies’ actually become quite a good PR and marketing tool in his own right. He was a bit of a pull for the event, and while he was on stage for a bit he soon ‘got bored’ and wondered off – and thus left the audience to focus on the app demo.

The app is in iTunes now, £2.99.

Also, here’s me with The Stig.

TopGear iPad app

Unlucky for Some: Friday 13th will see Guardian iPad app charging readers

Last week, this article popped up amongst articles in my Guardian Tech RSS feed – a short questionnaire to the users of The Guardian’s iPad app. Apparently a quick New Year check-in to see how they are getting on.

A few days later the penny dropped. As Paid Content reports, the Guardian is about to start charging £9.99 a month subscription, after the limited time promo deal with Channel 4 ended. And on Friday 13th of all days.

Guardian iPad app

So, they’re canvassing and figuring out what needs to be improved to convert as many users as possible to paying subscribers. Quite rightly.

Converting the masses to paying for news online or their mobile device is the challenge for publishers. Look at what other digital content can you get for £10 a month. There’s all the music your ears and handle – and then a lot more – on almost any device you like with a Spotify Premium account.

Or you can get five one week digital subscriptions to The Times/The Sunday Times, which covers you for the iPad and The Times and Sunday Times websites. Like-for-like with The Guardian, The Times does seem like a better price – you get more or less the same deal (as Guardian.co.uk remains sans paywall) but for 5 weeks instead of a month. Not much in it though.

Now compare the Guardian’s iPhone app, which currently has 17% paid-for users. That’s on either a £2.99 for six months or £4.99 a year deal, with three free stories a day. Guardian Media Group would be lucky to see that same figure for the iPad, given the price difference and the aim of the Guardian’s app to be “more reflective” and not about “scrambling to update it every minute or hour”.

The sweet spot, if one is developing, for paid content seems to lie between the £5-10 a month mark, and the Guardian’s app sits right at the top of that particular scale. My guess would be they’ll get a good number of subscribers who fall into the two camps of hardcore readers and iPad fanboys. But that can’t be a huge number, and certainly not everyone who’s tried the app to date. Convincing a wider audience, which would lead to a solid digital revenue, will take more than ‘reflective read’ approach.

BBC to stream content on mobile networks with iPlayer update

Headline pretty much says it all for this one. The BBC is updating its iPlayer mobile apps to allow users to view TV content on their iPad, iPhone or Android device over a 3G network.

iPlayer on iphone

Sounds likes like a very obvious thing to do, and maybe one you thought the Beeb already offered? Not so. In fact content playback on Android and iPad devices has, until now, been restricted to wireless connections only – the idea being to keep up the quality of viewing, keep data bills down and, probably most importantly, reduce the strain on the operators’ networks.

This is all in the past, according to a post on the BBC Internet Blog. David Madden, iPlayer mobile executive product manager, said “We have worked closely with the network operators… We have also done a lot of work to improve the playback experience on portable devices and have rolled out HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) video infrastructure for the apps, which uses adaptive bitrate technologies.”

Good things, those adaptive bitrate technologies. Imagine the strain on the cell network if everyone suddenly decided to stream the final of Strictly or Eastenders Christmas special – it boggles the mind.

Paid Content points out this is all part of the build up to the BBC’s coverage of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which will have a serious mobile component.  All good in theory, but chances are you’re going to see a serious network slowdown next summer, especially during events where Team GB is tipped for gold.

Of course, that’s not very many. But watch out for rowing, sailing and pretty much any sport that thrives in wet weather. We’re all over those.

The Guardian’s Reflecting on iPad apps, while The Indy Begins Building a Paywall

News coming from the more liberal end of the broadsheet spectrum this week shows just how differently The Guardian and The Independent are adapting to the digital publishing landscape.

After some time cooing over Apple’s tablet, The Guardian has almost gotten around to launching an iPad app. At launch it will be free, thanks to some sponsorship from those broadcast types at Channel 4, but after a few months it’ll set you back a full £9.99 a month (blimey, you can get a premium Spotify subscription for that). That’s unless you subscribe to the good old fashioned print edition, in which case it will cost you nothing. Oh, and if you’re not in the UK, you’ll still have to fork out. Sorry America.

It’s not just a re-hash of the paper mind you, but is more focused on a ‘reflective’ reading experience. That’s according to editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, who states in the promotion video, “We’re not going to be scrambling to update it every minute or every hour…We will do that on the browser, the browser is a place to go for liveblogging and to go searching for material. This is going to be a different kind of read, a bit more reflective.”

The Independent, on the other hand, is taking a much more gung-ho approach in the digital space. The paper has also announced an iPad app, and has plans for a paywall a la The Financial Times (that’s a small amount of content for free, as opposed to The Times’ cash or nothing approach). The paywall could be up as soon as next week, with the accompanying iPad app being offered at a pay-per-day rate or at the expected monthly and yearly subscriptions.

The paper is also choosing to axe around 70,000 of its free print copies from circulation, which usually end up in stations, hotels or those little stands next to the air steward as you board an aeroplane. This is part of an effort to reposition the paper as a “multimedia title”. That means a good 45% of the audited circulation will disappear overnight, save for a few copies requested by BA and Hilton Hotels. The deficit will be made up of free copies of the 20p i sister paper, which will see its circulation jump to over 183,000. Moreover, this will fulfil certain existing contracts with advertisers that have been promised a combined circulation of 340,000 – albeit in a sneaky fashion.

Given the relative closeness of the two papers – both liberal-leaning daily nationals – it’s very interesting that The Guardian can sit back and produce a reflective, almost experimental type app, while the Indy is making dramatic changes to both physical and digital editions almost overnight. Of course, this is the first decent update to the Indy’s site and digital offering since 2007 – so it’s a little overdue. For some perspective, back in 2007 we were just beginning to gleam the idea there might be more to Apple than expensive laptops than little while music boxes.

The Daily vs Livestand: which provides tablet news content?

News Corp’s iPad only newspaper, The Daily, has had some of the wind knocked out of its sails lately. Having touted an ever increasing number of subscribers since its launch in February, Paid Content has reported the actual number of subscribers is around 80,000 – according to publisher Greg Clayman.

Livestand

That’s still not half bad, with the majority paying the $39.99 yearly subscription rate. Obviously the content and iPad only consumption model must appeal to some. It’s also around 10,000 subscribers a month, with an average engagement time of 20 minutes.

But it’s not the only model for tablet news consumption. Yahoo has been touting its own tablet news app since February, but taking a different tact. The Livestand project, which may launch as early as this week, offers up aggregated content in the same fashion as existing apps, but with a key difference – its HTML5 based. This means there’s no need for an app store to distribute to tablets, and no cut of subscriptions to Apple, potentially better integration of ads for advertisers and a single destination for users to pull in all the rich news content the web has to offer.

It’s tough to guess which of these will be the more popular format for tablet-based news – the fully personalised aggregation experience or the more traditional single stream of news and features laced with the political and economic beliefs of its publishers. Whichever wins the day, the heavyweights of the web world are certainly bought into the tablet format.