Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Sports Illustrated Lets Its iPad App Stand Up Again

Earlier this fall Sports Illustrated made a counterintuitive move: It stopped letting people read its iPad app any way they liked.

Instead, the magazine pushed users to read its app in just the horizontal “landscape” mode, and essentially disabled the vertical “portrait” mode.

At the time, Time Inc. editor Josh Quittner said the publisher was doing so because:

  • Viewing the app horizontally was better for users;
  • Producing just one version of the app saved money;
  • And since Apple wasn’t cooperating with Sports Illustrated‘s effort to sell subscriptions to the app, it didn’t make sense to throw more resources at the project.

That was back in September, and since then Time Inc. (like just about every other big publisher) has yet to reach an agreement with Apple about how to handle subscriptions in iTunes. But in the meantime, Sports Illustrated has apparently thought things over, because readers can once again view the app in landscape and portrait modes. Behold!

I only noticed the change today, but it turns out it has been in place since the magazine’s October 18 issue. What gives? Or what gave?

A statement from a Sports Illustrated rep doesn’t shed much light: “We are constantly exploring the iPad’s numerous functionalities for innovative ways to present Sports Illustrated to consumers. Each issue delivers something unique either in its design, functionality or content.”

So in the absence of better information, I’ll make a couple of guesses that aren’t mutually exclusive:

  • I think app users complained quite a bit about the change, because conventional wisdom is that people like access to both modes, and they particularly enjoy reading magazine apps in the vertical mode, because that’s the way they read the paper-and-ink versions.
  • Someone at Time Inc., or its parent company Time Warner, rethought the notion of negotiating with Apple by making its product look less attractive.

That said, it’s worth noting that Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes himself has been quite vocal, in a corporatespeak sort of way, about his company’s eagerness to work with tablet makers beyond Apple. (This mirrors what the magazine industry’s Next Issue Media joint venture is saying, too, by launching with Google’s Android platform first.)

Bewkes made noises about it during his company’s earnings call earlier this month. And he got more forceful about it–again, by his standards–yesterday during an onstage interview with the New York Times’ David Carr.

If somebody that makes a tablet–you can nominate who it is–wants to not have app support for what we’re going to put over the internet, they will degrade the capability of the tablet that you bought.

So if you’ve got a tablet that whoever gave it to you, they don’t want it work well, that will be their actions not ours…

You’re the customer, you bought the device. Are you going to tolerate a device, that doesn’t let its app support give you the full range of capability that is offered by the publisher or the network?

Because we’re going to be very public about what we offer, and it’s going to be all free, for anybody who buys the magazine. And if some tech company stands between you and that experience, they should answer to you.

In fact, it’s worth watching Bewkes deliver this speech in real time, and it’s a hoot to watch him onstage with Carr. If you’re in a rush, the magazine/tablet stuff kicks in around the 26-minute mark.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik