Vanity Fair iPad app The bloom may be off the iPad newspaper and magazine app rose.

Jason Fry at the Nieman Journalism Lab says that, after a week of iPad use, he started to notice that he was not using those apps as much as he was using the iPad’s Mobile Safari browser to access the equivalent websites—because they weren’t as necessary as they had been on the iPhone’s tiny screen.

Jacob Weisberg at Slate has an article that begins with an extended metaphor comparing Apple to the Catholic Church, and content publishers to supplicants at Lourdes who hope “that Steve Jobs will restore their businesses to health by blessing them with ‘apps’—a new way for them to charge readers for content and revive full-page advertisements in electronic form.”

But, like Fry, Weisberg noticed that apps on the iPad do not have the advantage they do on the iPhone where the need to take advantage of every bit of the miniscule screen size means that specialized interfaces can be more useful than the generalized web browser.

Indeed, Weisberg notes, these apps cost exorbitant amounts of money ($4.99 per month for Vanity Fair, $4.95 per week for Time) and lack basic functionality (commenting, linking, copying and pasting text) we have come to take for granted with the web. Why would people want to pay extra money for content that is more accessible on-line for free?

Of course, websites do tend to require a working Internet connection, which wifi-only iPads do not always have—but on the other hand, site-scooping e-book converters like iSilo (which I will be reviewing for the iPad soon) could easily take that web content and make it into an offline-accessible iPad version that has the same content as an offline-accessible iPad app but costs no money at all. Or if there are only a few longer articles worth reading, InstaPaper will do just as well for taking them offline.

And Weisberg mentions recent instances of Apple filtering or rejecting content—the “Iran editions” of magazines, and Mark Fiore’s rejected political cartoon app. He feels that embracing Apple’s content-controlled walled garden could be “no less of a disaster for print publishers than it was for the music industry” (which famously had to cede price control to Apple, only getting some control back after agreeing to forego DRM).

Mike Masnick of TechDirt noted back in February that there was no reason magazines or newspapers really needed a tablet app when their content would work just as well on the web. He seems to feel vindicated now.


  1. interesting, because my experience is just the opposite: i find myself using the content-specific apps MORE, and the internet browser LESS. different strokes? i think it’s far, far too early to say something broad-brush like “the bloom is off the rose” when the format hasn’t even begun to be fully explored yet.

  2. I see your point but I also those of Franko above. Personally I still find the iPad screen too small for conventional websites and do not like the pinch and zoom; the page wobbles all of the place when zoomed in to read a site.

    I think the reality will be that as the iPad popularity grows we’ll see specific sites designed for the iPad and note that with HTML5 you can have sites working online and offline (just takes more coding that all).

    At my own company we’ve been using these techniques and can create iPad installed webapps. So these are both websites and apps at the same time. Best of both worlds in my opinion.

  3. Our company will be making a website tuned for the iPad, that is the correct approach in my opinion. What is ridiculous with working with the iPad however, is the lack of a file/folder hierarchy. Note to Steve… “no need to gimp an otherwise great device, bring back local file and folder access, your customers want it”.

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