Sports Illustrated’s iPad App: Think Print, Not Web

Published on June 24, 2010
by Peter Kafka

Sports Illustrated’s iPad app, which the company first started showing off in concept form last winter, is now in the iTunes store.

No point in going into detail about it when you can see it for yourself.

But it’s basically what editor Terry McDonell promised last fall and what the magazine’s peers are also delivering on Apple’s (AAPL) platform: All of the weekly magazine is there, plus some bells and whistles, like additional photos, an extra story and some videos. (The ads, though, are not the same as those in the magazine, which is different from rival Condé Nast’s strategy.)

In this case, the app it also looks and functions quite a bit like Time magazine’s iPad app, with good reason: Time Warner’s (TWX) Time Inc. unit is using the same outside collaborators, The Wonder Factory and WoodWing Software, for all its magazine apps.

So if you liked the Time app, you may like this one. The price is the same, too: $4.99 an issue, though a subscription plan in the works will end up shaving the per-issue price down a bit.

But here’s the thing: The “magazine plus” app concept, which works nicely for titles like Wired, feels like a liability with Sports Illustrated. Because much of the magazine’s content is dated as soon as hits the page, and SI is happy to let it stay that way on the iPad.

Every mag app grapples with this, of course. And so far all of them are trying to steer away from the Web model, where they’re expected to provide timely updates, but don’t make much money doing so. Better to resell the magazine they’ve already made without having to create much in the way of new stuff.

When you hold a print version of SI, timeliness doesn’t feel like a problem. Presumably because you don’t have any other expectations. But when you’re reading it in digital form, on a device connected to the Web…

Case in point: Today’s issue has a feature story on the U.S. World Cup team’s exploits. But it was written before the thrilling Algeria game. So there’s no mention of that result.

And while the app does have some links into SI’s Web site and the ability to provide updated scores, it does so in a limited way: Right now, it’s only offering up baseball scores. So when the SI team was demoing the app for me this morning, I heard oohs and aahs from a nearby office, where people were watching the Italy-Slovakia game. But the app couldn’t give me the score of that match: If I had wanted to check it out, I’d have had to head out of the app and into Apple’s Safari browser.

The SI guys say this is a very deliberate design choice. McDonell says the app provides readers with a “curated experience” instead of the “firehose” of data flooding from the Web. I’d buy that for some titles, even for a news magazine like Time.

But not here: If Sports Illustrated really wants me to pay up for this one, it needs to plug in, too.

Chris Hercik, the SI creative director, who listened to all of my gripes yet remained good-natured about it, sat down for a quick interview this morning. Apologies for the poor lighting — one thing you get on the SI app that you don’t get here is video made by people who know what they’re doing:

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