Where are the Apps for the Armchair Traveler?

Mobile developers & entrepreneurs occasionally forget that smartphones and tablets are often used in the home. The iPad makes an excellent lean-back device. We mostly recognize that tablets excel as devices for reading, watching, shopping, & other “passive” activities. Obviously I’m leaving out a wide range of tablet uses but for the sake of this particular analysis let’s focus on that passive behavior of consuming content.

People create startups based around ideas where they understand the possibilities. Are their untapped possibilities to provide valued products to users sitting at home in a cozy chair?

The Armchair Traveler

I continued to be astonished at the absence of apps aimed at the armchair traveler: the person sitting at home who is planning a trip or, very likely, just curious to learn about the world.

The Fotopedia apps are among the best examples of current apps that serve the armchair traveler by offering spectacular images by professional photographers.

A couple of print publishers that have surprised me by not doing more with apps are DK and Insight Guides.

DK’s Eyewitness Travel books are beautifully designed for appealing specifically the person who is not at that destination.  Those are great books for planning a trip & figuring out the sights you want to see. But they’re even better for getting a sense of a place without ever going there.

More than 10 years ago I was browsing in a bookstore with a friend when I brought the  DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Japan

My friend, rather curiously, asked, “When are you going to Japan?”

I answered, “I don’t know. I just want to learn about it.” A decade later I’ve still not been to Japan, but I have purchased many DK guidebooks. Yet, as someone who has traveled a lot, I would never take one of those books on a trip. That’s not because I can get all sorts of information online these days. It’s because the books are simply not that useful at a destination. Better to have a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.

Since DK truly understands the visual I was excited when they released an app for iPad. Sigh, as a long-time DK customer how disappointed I was at their iPad offering. It was okay but didn’t inspire me in the same way as the printed edition. That’s not because print has any intrinsic quality over digital in this case. I ended up deleting the app after not much use and am really hesitant to ever buy another app from DK. Hmmm, but I would still buy their books and will give an app by DK another chance at some point.

I mentioned Insight Guides, which is a very different type of publisher from DK. Whereas DK publishes visually rich, but content thin, volumes. Insight Guides produces in-depth, mostly historical accounts of destinations. Great opportunity for repurposing these products onto a new platform, but the publisher has taken the rather bland approach of converting to e-books. Well, that’s a step and the title offering should certainly exist as -ebooks. I’m not doubting that.

The holdback

What’s keeping publishers from creating more exciting apps for armchair travelers? Certainly the cost & complexity of app development is the major factor. Then there’s the issue of multiple platforms. Not only does technical expertise need acquiring, but also the platform requires a new way of conceptualizing the product. And that’s the really hard part.

Reading in Print Again

Last night as I climbed into bed I discovered that the battery on the iPad was empty. Urgh. No bedtime video watching or reading. Well, I could have used the iPhone but I prefer the larger screen iPad. So I went over to the bookshelf where I still maintain a fairly good collection of print books. It had been well over a year since I’ve read a print book. All my reading this last year has been on the iPad, using either the iBooks or Kindle apps.

My reading choice:

Great book!

Notes on setting up in-app purchase on iOS: iTunes Connect

A series of posts focused on different aspects of setting up in-app purchases for iPhone & iPad apps. This is not a detailed walkthrough but just notes that outline the process. Be sure to read the in-app programming guide for a thorough overview, though be warned that the official guide doesn’t clearly cover every aspect of the process.

This post covers only the iTunes Connect part of the process.

In iTunes Connect you will need to setup the product you want to provide for in-app purchase (IAP). Basically, this is a process of registering your IAP product with Apple.

  • Login to iTunes Connect
  • Click Manage Your Applications
  • Select your app
    • This could be problematic if you’re setting up for a brand new app that is not yet in the app store. Go ahead and create the iTunes listing for the base app but do not submit the app. You’ll see some contradictory, outdated info on the Web that says you need to submit an app and then reject the binary in order to proceed with testing an in-app purchase. That is not true based on my own experiences.
  • Click Manage In-App Purchases
  • Click Create New
  • Select the type of IAP. Most of what I do are non-consumable IAPs.
  • Enter a Reference Name. This is for internal use only & can be named whatever you like. I usually enter something descriptive, e.g, Av de Mayo walking tour.
  • Enter Product ID. ****extremely important**** This is the unique identifier for your IAP. It can be anything but you should make it unique not only to your IAPs but also to any other IAPs in the iTunes store. The best thing is to base it on your bundle ID, though it’s important to note that it has absolutely no technical relationship to the bundle ID of your app. You can use a reverse domain name and that works very well. e.g., com.endlesshybrids.avdemayo. Note that you will use the product ID in your code, so get this right.
  • Cleared for Sale: select YES. If not, you will not be able to test your IAP.
  • Select Price Tier.
  • In-App Purchase Details. Select Add Language.
    • Select Language of your IAP.
    • Enter Display Name. This is the name people will see in the App Store for the in-app purchase listing. It may also be displayed in your app. Think carefully about this from a marketing perspective.
    • Enter Description.
  • Enter optional Review Notes. I’m not sure if the app review team really needs test user accounts and password, though the IAP programming guide indicates to add that here.
  • Screenshot for Review.

Once all that information is entered then you can put the IAP into Ready to Submit status.

Adding an IAP to an app 

****very important****

I missed this the first time I tried submitting an IAP and my app got rejected. So save yourself a couple of weeks of app review time and pay attention. When your app version, either a new app or an update, is in Prepare for Upload an option appears on the app details screen: In-App Purchases. Select Edit and select the IAPs you want to submit with this version. Note that this option does not appear in every state of an app version.

Focus on the vertical niche

Imagine you’re interested in selling a set of how-to guides as e-books on a particular topic. A few years back you could throw up a Web site & find an audience after an intensive amount of SEO. That might also have involved blogging on your topic. Now it’s a lot tougher to find that audience due to the proliferation of social networks and an over abundance of choices among consumers. People rely less on searching the net and more on recommendations that stream in through social networks. Okay, so you add a social network campaign to your mix by making use of Twitter, Facebook, & even Pinterest. But is any of that giving a reason for your targeted audience to come to your Web site?

Your site’s bounce rate is going to be really high if all you’re doing is selling something to somebody. You need to show that you see others as more than just a person whose money you want to take. You need to be part of the community to which you’re selling. A way of doing that in your niche is by offering a service to that community. If you want people to be interested in you, then you need to be interested in what they’re doing and the common interests that you share. Make your Web site not a long sales page on the value of your e-books but put the effort into developing a community around the topic that interests you. Transform your site into a quality destination for a community of interest. Focus on the vertical niche.

Forming a channel on the Internet

The other day I asked,”What is keeping new networks and channels from forming on the Internet?” The answer, of course, is nothing. The answer, of course, is that there already are a significant number of channels on the Internet. We often just don’t think of them that way yet.

The old-time TV set had a circular dial (remember those?) that you twisted to view the available channels. In my early childhood we only had four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, & PBS) plus one fuzzy station (channel 17 whatever that was) that always had something interesting.

With cable TV came an expansion of channels but it was (and still is) packaged as a set of choices. With the Internet the options are wide open. Certainly there are dominant brands. We all know about YouTube. And there’s Netflix for traditional movie/TV watching. But how does a newcomer compete with that? Everybody offering anything on the Internet has the same problem: finding an audience.

People have an overwhelming amount of choices. People need a reason to view what you’re offering. What is it that you’re offering that matches their interest?

See where this is all going? Vertical niches. Many TV channels are built around a vertical niche: a cooking channel, a travel channel, a sports channel, a history channel, etc.

A vertical niche is all about creating a community, giving people a reason to not only visit but also to participate. More on this topic soon.

TV networks will never go for it…so what?

There’s a belief that Internet TV is hampered by the unwillingness of TV networks to license content. The critical question: why does Internet TV need traditional TV programming? As a greater supply of video-based content is built up on the net that is outside of traditional broadcast television then the need for those TV networks is less and less. HBO rose to prominence on the back of cable TV. What is keeping new networks and channels from forming on the Internet? The space for industry observers to monitor is what’s happening on the Internet already and not what’s occurring with traditional TV networks.

Something’s cooking in Cupertino

Apple observer John Gruber points out that trusted sources are not always accurate…at least, the trust sources of others….but Gruber does state: “Something big is going on with Apple TV in Cupertino, but it’s still being cooked.”

Meanwhile, Apple’s AirPlay technology offers ways to  present apps on iOS touch devices while utilizing a TV display connected with the existing Apple TV. Building on that Brightcove recently announced its App Cloud Dual-Screen Solution for Apple TV, which is part of its App Cloud SDK: a way of building apps with HTML5 and JavaScript. Of course, if you’re building just for iPhone or iPad then you’ll just want to use iOS.


The Applification of TV

Midway through episode 41 (around the 31 minute mark) of The Critical Path Horace Dediu talks about on the future of TV & apps. In those 8 minutes he forecasts a platform that will be as popular as smartphones and tablets.

The first part is about the value proposition of a disruptive entrant in television and examining what consumers as well as advertisers hire TV to do. Turns out that advertising on TV is largely about branding, “increasing the visibility of their brands”. A challenge is getting brand managers to pay attention to the new mobile medium.

Then Dediu shifts into the applification of TV (his expression). I transcribed most of the talk here since it’s worth a lot of further thought (emphasis added):

The next big thing will be when we start looking at TV…we’re going to see a lot happening with Apple TV…

I think applification is a done thing. It’s going to happen with certainty…what we don’t know is about the timing or subtle differences….i’m skeptical of seeing the APIs announced next week [referring to WWDC, Apple’s developer conference. And Dediu was right. No announcement at WWDC on this topic.]…i think Apple will launch the hardware first and maybe the APIs will be announced the same day…might say, hey, Apple TV will run apps…so without launching new hardware they could say there’s this existing thing [Apple TV] and you have a controller in the form of an iPhone or an iOS device that you can use to control the Apple TV…

It’s where things are going ultimately. Definitely there’s an Apple TV product out there coming…we don’t know the form factor. It will run apps. 100% sure of that…what we don’t know is how much they’re going to open it up…lots of go to market issues…transtioning from where they are today…not sure of how and when it will happen…

It’s going to be another supernova in terms of what developers can do if they [Apple] open it up enough…the opportunity space of this new medium will be as great as we’ve seen on mobile phones…not so much because there will be billions of these in the hands of people in a manner of months or years but because these are going to be much more lucrative…revenue per user ..first iPhone apps at a dollar each..that was a big opportunity…then came iPad apps, which were a lot more valuable and people were willing to spend more on that….that was an incremental or marginal improvement in the economics of apps…now to the level of what would an app look like on a large screen in a different context, meaning either living room or whatever living space you may have in your home. That will change dramatically. And I think it won’t be Apple that will think of the great killer app. I think it will be developers who sort of realize that, hey, it’s not just productivity questions, or I should say, not just entertainment question we’re going to answer here for jobs to be done. We’re going to solve a lot of problems families have overall that can be only solved by a shared screen. And that’s what you’re absolutely going to hammer on. We’re going to see these great apps coming out that are just going to change the way we interact with each other, the way we interact as a family, the way we interact with other families, the way we interact with extended families and friends…and might even change the way an entertainment product is interweaved in that. So the morphing of communications, apps, and entertainment. I’m sure there will be startups galore building up new solutions there. The fact is that it will be very sticky, people will be willing to put that on their credit card and pay significant amounts of money because it’s not about viewing something you’re relating to in your pocket. It will be social . It will be shared. It will be in a completely different context. Context matters. A tablet is a different context….saying an iPad is just a bigger iPod is like saying a swimming pool is just like a bathtub. When you put a body of water in a different size then it’s a different thing. It’s a completely different context. So when you put iOS and apps on a 27 inch or greater thing then it changes character completely. And you feed it completely different kinds of data because you’re not on a mobile network. you’re not constrained by 3G..you’re going broadband, the full bandwidth..it’s going to be very interesting.

Growing old with the Net. Energized once more by apps

For the last twenty years apps have determined my world. Early 1993: sitting in front of a Sun workstation I read an intriguing e-mail announcement from an Illinois college student describing a GUI application for X Windows/Unix that combined Internet protocols (telnet, FTP) with the hypertext of the new World-Wide-Web system. I grabbed the code, compiled it, and was hooked on Mosaic. Within weeks I had started developing Web sites that created virtual exhibitions from text and images supplied by the Library of Congress.

Fast forward almost two decades: as a librarian, avid reader, and co-founder of a book design studio I had stayed very interested in the potential of digital content. E-book reading on Kindle or iPhone didn’t appeal to me initially (though now it certainly does). The iPad was a much more enticing format. But it wasn’t until I saw the History of Jazz app that I really grasped the game changing nature of the tablet. For some time I had wanted to break free of the browser. Apps on tablets are pioneering a path.

Yet, the majority in publishing is on a different path, figuring out how to fit complex multimedia layouts into some variation of ePub formatted ebooks. The reason is pure commerce. It’s more economical to standardize on a format that can work across platforms or be adapted easily to do so. That’s a well reasoned argument for publishers and authors interested in selling books. There remains, however, a call towards custom development of native apps as a type of specialty in which innovative narratives supported by graphic design override standardized approaches.These more artistic books as apps might find a following large or small.

The quest is whether there’s anything remarkable in apps. It’s easy to forget that Web browsers are apps as are e-book readers such as iBooks & the Kindle for iPad. Apps are software and all software are apps. We’re in a time when software development has never been so “easy”. So much of our lives are now lived through apps. Apps are forming the heritage of our culture. That’s too important to leave merely to commerce. We need to find the ways that apps bind to our experience of being human.