Ad Age’s new iPad app is now far and away the most enjoyable way to read our work. In it you’ll find no right rail, no complex navigation, no comments, no search — essentially any aspect of our desktop site that doesn’t have to do with reading the latest content hasn’t been included. But we didn’t do this by starting with AdAge.com and hacking away until it arrived at this shape, of course. We did the opposite: we started from scratch and carefully added in features one by one.
Some people have, often for good reasons, scorned the investments made in putting news content into apps that are sectioned off from the web, and it really does seem like the open web will win out over apps sooner or later. But our iPad app has turned out to be an incredibly worthwhile product and an incredibly worthwhile exercise for us. Unlike a website, where users expect an infinite multitude of features and there is seemingly no limit to the amount of them we can present, an app encourages one to hone a product down to its essentials and really make careful decisions about what should be included.
In this way, developing an app becomes like packing a suitcase: you could stuff in all of the clothes you could possibly need to wear for your trip, and maybe if you and your family sat and wrestled it into submission, you could close it. But while you’re using one hand to pull the zipper together while forcing your boot back in with the other, you have to stop and wonder if you need flannel in Thailand this time of year.
My main role in the development of the app was focused on content: how can we present it in the cleanest way, and also how can we adapt what we’re currently doing in order to get the content into its new shiny environs. So for me, this was a really satisfying project to work on, because the whole enterprise was optimized around content. If you haven’t tried it yet, download the app and check it out. Like AdAge.com, you can read seven stories per month for free, so you don’t need to be a subscriber to use it. You’ll start on the Today view, which is a stream of everything we publish. Tap a story, read it, swipe to the next, read, rinse, repeat. It’s pleasurable and super intuitive — you won’t find a demonstration graphic here showing you what to do.
I suspect that, for a lot of publishers like us, these apps will be more than just immediate opportunities to sell more ads and subscriptions, or to be part of sexy platforms that feel tactile. They’ll be real turning points where we begin to optimize all of our platforms around the best experiences of consuming content. That content might be stories, ads, advertorials, paid published works and other e-commerce initiatives, but it will all be considered and presented as content, and the lessons we’re learning now with apps will eventually come back to our other, more developed properties and make them better products. Apps like ours will be judged on their own merits, but ultimately, I think their greater significance will be measured by how well we adapt their ideas elsewhere.