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Have you revisited, tweaked your apps to respond to audience data?

29 July 2014 · by Chuck Blevins

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Most posts on this blog discuss the future and how you should be ready to meet it. However, we only get there by managing today’s applications.

So, let’s step back for a moment and talk about the now – how we are maintaining and improving our existing apps so we can get to that much-cooler-than-now horizon in the first place.

It’s about the grunt work.

Most of us launch an app with hypotheses about what content and features our readers want. We build based on the print archetype and organisation, and we test new features.

How are your hypotheses playing out? What are your metrics telling you about:

  • What readers are reading, how much of it, and for how long?

  • What readers are not reading?

  • Readers’ use patterns?

  • What features readers are using or ignoring?

Outside of metrics, regularly reviewing other applications should uncover ...


8 ways connected devices will change everyday life for your consumer

23 July 2014 · by Mark Challinor

Like it or not, we are starting to see a whole range of previously inanimate objects become connected by sending signals and messages to each other, alerting our mobile devices, and creating pockets of data on all of us that will make marketers excited.

A good example of this is Nest Labs (purchased by Google earlier this year for US$3.2 billion). This is basically a maker of thermostats and smoke alarms for your home that can control hot water, room temperature, and other similar functions, all via a smart device.

You may ask yourself why Google would spend billions of dollars on such products, but when you consider the battle for home-based technology, you’ll understand why.

Google wants to know who is at home, what they are doing, at what time, etc. — all so the company can get closer to their users through the use of data. This is a bit too much like Big Brother for many, but people are starting to trade privacy for convenience, and we all need to ...


VG+ shares pros and cons of Apple’s Newsstand: Is it worth it for your app?

20 July 2014 · by Padraic Woods

Apple introduced Newsstand in iOS5 as a single location for users to gather all their magazine and newspaper app subscriptions. From the users’ perspective, it’s a type of folder where all their news/magazine periodicals (that support Newsstand) are located.

There is also a link to the Newsstand section of the App store where a user can discover new publications.

If you are publishing a news app, you have the option to add it to Newsstand. Before you do, however, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages.

What is the difference between a Newsstand app and a regular app?


  • Newsstand app: The app needs to have at least one iTunes auto-renewable subscription to qualify.

  • Regular app: The app can choose from any of the iTunes subscription types, including auto-renewable subscriptions. You can also choose not to offer iTunes subscriptions at all. You are, however, not allowed to provide an external purchase link within your app.


  • Newsstand app: The current issue cover is displayed in the App Store and as the app icon in Newsstand. A description of the current issue is displayed on the App Store.

  • Regular app: The app icon is like every other app icon in the App store. The app icon and the description in the App Store do not change based on the current issue.


  • Newsstand app: App screenshots can be updated without submitting a new app.

  • Regular app: App store screenshots cannot be updated without first submitting a new binary with screenshots for Apple’s approval. This restriction was introduced in January 2013 to combat fake screenshots being uploaded after apps had been approved by Apple.

App store category

  • Newsstand app: Newsstand Apps are automatically part of the Newsstand category (secondary category) in the App store. They can also choose to be listed in one other category (primary category).

  • Regular app: The app can choose to be part of any two categories (primary and secondary categories).


  • Newsstand app: An app that enables Newsstand cannot disable it in the future.

  • Regular app: It is possible at any time to update the app and add it to Newsstand.

Background downloads

  • Newsstand app: Newsstand apps can receive a Newsstand push message once a day, in which a full issue is automatically downloaded to the user’s device. This will work even if your app is suspended or terminated.

  • Regular app: As of iOS7, apps outside of Newsstand have two similar options available to them.
    1. Background fetch: The app can regularly check to see if there is new content available and fetch small amounts of content automatically in the background, so the content in the app is up-to-date when the user opens the app. This won’t work for large issues.

    2. Using push notifications to initiate a download: It is possible to send a background push message to the app to trigger the app to download content in the background.

Neither of these methods will work, however, if the user has force-quit (terminated) the app.

App location

  • Newsstand app: Your publication/app is located within the Newsstand app. There is an App Store link within Newsstand that links to the Newsstand section of the App Store from which users can discover new publications. You cannot delete the Newsstand app, and you must use the home button to exit it unlike all other folders that contain multiple apps.

  • Regular app: The user decides where the app is located. They can choose to either place it on the homescreen, within a folder, or as one of the four fixed icons on the bottom of the home screen.

Free Subscriptions

  • Newsstand app: Free subscriptions are only available in Newstand apps. It’s a way of adding free content to Newsstand.

  • Regular app: The free subscription in-app purchase product is not available outside of Newsstand. The app can, however, easily offer free content without offering the free subscription product.

Free trials

Both Newsstand apps and regular apps can offer free trials with the auto-renewable subscription product type. After the trial period is over, users will be automatically charged unless they have turned auto-renewal off.

Our experience at Verdens Gang

Newsstand was first released in October 2011. The VG+ publication supported Newsstand from the start, and our initial experience was quite positive. We had an increase in subscribers that we mainly attribute to inclusion in Newsstand.

This surge in subscribers I think can be attributed both to Apple’s promotion of Newsstand and our app on Newsstand. Since then, however, the reasons for remaining a part of Newsstand have diminished.

Here are some of the issues we have with Newsstand

  1. Newsstand icon and screen real estate are less than ideal: Apple updated the Newsstand icon in iOS7 (released September 2013). The original icon displayed small thumbnails of the publications available within Newsstand; the latest Newsstand icon displays colourful generic publication covers on the icon (news, art, travel, sports).

    The original icon was bad enough, but at least it gave you an indication of the publications that were behind the icon. This is similar to the app folder concept. The latest Newsstand app icon blends in with other apps, and you have to open the Newsstand app before seeing the publications on the shelf.

    I think John Grubber said it best back in 2012: “Newsstand is a place where apps go to be forgotten.” This was even before Apple updated the Newsstand icon.

    If you consider screen real-estate, you want your app and your logo to be visible in the prime location, on the front screen, and visible each time the user starts his phone. If you choose to to be hidden behind the Newsstand icon, your logo and front cover are hidden.

    An app out of sight is an app out of mind.

    It’s not possible for a user to move her favourite publication out of Newsstand and into a more prominent accessible location. This places Newsstand apps at a considerable disadvantage to non-Newsstand apps. In the daily competition for those intermittent five minutes of time our users have to check their phone, apps outside of Newsstand are at a competitive advantage.

    The user habits we hoped our users would establish by using Newsstand haven’t materialised. It hasn’t become part of their routine to open the Newsstand app and then our app.

    The majority of traffic to our Newsstand app is through content promotion on our free and very popular Web site, through the smart app banner on our corresponding premium Web site, or from push messages to the app.

    Subscribers who use the app instead of the Web site tend to spend more time in the app per session and consume more articles than Web users. So getting our subscribers to use the app and establish these habits is something we have been working hard at.

  2. Newsstand functionality is now available outside of Newsstand. If you look through the list of differences above between regular apps and Newsstand apps, the features that once were only available in Newsstand are starting to appear outside of Newsstand.

    The background download functions introduced in iOS7 are almost the same as Newsstand push notifications. The major difference is the app must be running in the background (not killed) for background pushes to work outside of Newsstand.

    The Newsstand advantages like updatable screenshots and cover image on the icon have to be weighed against the disadvantages of being hidden behind the Newsstand app icon.

  3. Some news apps are on Newsstand and others are not. Some newspapers offering subscription-based content are not on Newsstand, so the original idea behind Newsstand as a single place for users to collect all their newspaper/magazine periodicals isn’t true.

    Many subscription-based news periodical apps are located outside of Newsstand. One of the reasons for this is the requirement of Newsstand apps to include at least one auto-renewable iTunes subscription. Publications not wishing to offer Apple subscriptions (and give Apple 30% of the profits) are not allowed on Newsstand.

    Free news apps, including our own VG app, are not on Newsstand since they don’t qualify as Newsstand apps (no auto-renewable subscriptions). News aggregators like flipboard, circa, 360News, pulse, zite, feedly, etc., are all located outside of Newsstand.

    I believe this makes the Newsstand concept very confusing for a user.


Apple has a number of features that help with app discoverability and with trying to establish user habits: smart app banners, push messages, and app linking (custom URL schemas) to name a few.

There are also a number of features coming in iOS8 that will help with app promotion, such as app bundles, video trailers, scrolling results in the App Store, app extensions and notification center widgets.

Apple has unfortunately left Newsstand untouched in iOS8.

If you are releasing a news or magazine app, you should seriously consider the pros and cons of Newsstand and whether it’s worth supporting for your publication. The few advantages Newsstand currently offers do not compensate for the fundamental problem of hiding your publication within the Newsstand app.

I do, however, believe Apple will address these issues at some point.

Here are some suggestions for improving Newsstand:

  • Remove the requirement for one auto-renewable iTunes subscriptions on Newsstand. This would allow apps that don’t offer iTunes subscriptions entry to Newsstand. This would help with the fragmentation issue of users having some news apps in Newsstand and some apps outside of Newsstand.

  • Users should be allowed to move their apps outside of Newsstand. Apps should also be allowed to display the issues front cover on the icon as is currently possible within Newsstand. This would give the users control of where they would like to place the apps.

  • Implement radical change to the Newsstand and app design concept. Allocate a space on the home screen to publications. Don’t hide publications behind an app.

Own the device, own the customer — which publisher will make the first move?

13 July 2014 · by David Murphy

There’s an oft-repeated line from the TV series “Heroes” that sticks in my mind: “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” And when I think of the challenge brands now face in engaging with consumers, a similar mantra comes to mind: “Own the device, own the customer."

To explain: In today’s world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for any one brand to take ownership of the relationship with a consumer.

The difficulty stems from the number of brands competing for everyone’s attention and the multitude of different channels they use to do so, from wearable tech at one end of the spectrum to sponsored messages on the sides of buses at the other.

There are few stones left unturned when it comes to targeting consumers with advertising messages. Think of the stair risers taking you back up to ground level as you exit from the Metro. Or the posters you see on toilet walls in bars and restaurants, the owners realising a man standing at a urinal is most definitely a captive audience.

During a Skype call to the office one recent morning, the square in the middle of the Skype window was occupied by an ad for an LG phone. It’s the first time I recall seeing an ad on Skype, although perhaps I’ve seen hundreds and have become at best accustomed, or at worst immune to them.

So how does a brand cut through the noise? Well, one strategy comes from Tesco, which is adopting a device-centric approach, and it’s one I think the publishing industry could follow.

Tesco entered the tablet market last September with the £119 Hudl, an Android device with a 7-inch screen, 1.5GHz quad-core processor, and 16GB of memory. Since then, the grocery retailer announced ...


Verdens Gang creates device lab to deliver best mobile experience

29 June 2014 · by Padraic Woods

It is becoming more and more challenging to test apps and Web sites on different devices, with different screen sizes, running different operating systems, and with multiple browsers installed.

How can you guarantee your Web site or app works on every device and on every browser?

Nothing beats testing on the same devices as your users, as opposed to simulated versions of those devices. Physical interactions such as pinching, zooming, and scrolling, hardware features like the camera, GPS locations, the accelerometer, and factors such as battery consumption or site performance are all best tested using physical devices.

We established a device lab at Verdens Gang toward the end of 2013. Until then, we had a handful of mobile devices and tablets stored on a shelf in the office. They represented only a few of the many phones and operating systems our customers used. The majority of mobile testing was performed in emulators or on the device of the developer or designer.

One of our biggest problems was ...


The ABCs of tablet advertising for news media

23 June 2014 · by Mark Challinor

Why should news media take tablet advertising seriously? Are untold riches awaiting us? What are the trends in the space? And for those who do embark on the journey to the potential new revenue stream that is tablet advertising, what should they bear in mind when constructing a plan and a strategy?

Let’s start with, “Why tablet advertising?” Here are some facts. From 2013 research, the Pew Institute found tablet users were more engaged:

  • 31% of tablet users said  they spent more time with news since getting their device.

  • Another 43% said the device was adding to the amount of news they consume.

  • And 73% of tablet users said they read in-depth articles on their tablet.

If you add this to some market factors – namely, that tablet sales are ...


Thinking past tablets: Why you should be watching gaming consoles and smart TVs

18 June 2014 · by Chuck Blevins

The Internet is everywhere – from phones, tablets, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and streaming services. The borders are dissolving.  

Game consoles have been around since the ’70s, but it’s only in the past few years that they’ve advanced to become media consoles that specialise in gaming and provide a host of other entertainment and informational features.

Microsoft has pushed this the furthest with the  Xbox. The Xbox features a slew of TV controls, content partnerships with ESPN, social features, and other home entertainment functions.

Sony, launching its PlayStation TV efforts stateside, announced its...


4 screens are better than 1 (and new tool proves how much better)

08 June 2014 · by David Murphy

In recent years, as first the fixed Web and then mobile have established themselves as viable marketing channels, brands have started to divert some of their marketing budgets away from TV to other platforms.

But, until now, there has arguably been no reliable way of calculating the extra reach they get for their advertising on screens beyond the TV. These include personal computers, mobile, and tablet, but also game consoles and “over-the-top” (OTT) platforms such as Apple TV and Roku.

Now YuMe, an online video specialist, in partnership with research company Nielsen, is attempting to put that right with a new tool called the YuMe Calculator (a.k.a. the “Reachulator” – get it?). The basis for the tool is an online survey of 5,125 people in five regions (roughly 1,000 in each), namely the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and the Nordics.

The survey asked a number of questions relating to device ownership. For example, in the UK, 99% of respondents owned a TV; 97% had a PC; 68% a smartphone; 46% a tablet; 45% a game console; and 19% a smart TV. The number of devices per household is 4.8 for the UK, compared to 4.3 for France, 4 for Germany, 5.3 for Spain, and 4.7 for the Nordics.

The study also looked at ...


Mobile Web? Apps? Bundled content? Unbundled? Ask the 15-year-olds

04 June 2014 · by Stefan Savva

If you want to know what the future of digital publishing is, a fair starting point would be to look at the online and mobile habits of today’s 15-year-olds.

This constantly connected population is no longer dual-screening, but triple-screening. And their primary screen of choice is mobile.

They are more connected to the Internet than ever, more willing to participate in social and sharing activities and more able to consume rich content at any time and on any device. To them, the role of a TV scheduler — someone who decides when you are allowed to watch a particular piece of content — is completely anachronistic.

The times they are a-changing. So while the future for TV schedulers might be bleak, the future for mobile content is practically sparkling.

Ten years ago, digital readers looking for content had limited options of where to find it; in fact, they really only had one choice: the desktop Web. They found their way to a Web page filled with content that linked to other Web pages filled with content.

With the experience so singular, publishers focused on building audience share with the hope that one day, the money might follow.

A couple of decades after the desktop model emerged, mobile publishing exploded. If mobile publishing were a person, it would be 7 years old and caught between ...


Does your media brand play nice with the Internet of Things?

01 June 2014 · by Chuck Blevins

The Pew Research Center released its report, “The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025,” last month. The report provides insight and predictions from a range of Internet and digital experts on how the “Internet of Things” will impact society by 2025.

It’s a must-read if you’re just starting to hear about the IOT, or already following it.

The report covers a range of opinions, and data plays a huge role. The summary notes that:

To a notable extent, the experts agree on the technology change that lies ahead, even as they disagree about its ramifications. Most believe there will be:

  • A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as ...


About this blog

As news increasingly goes mobile, this blog’s mission is to be the worldwide reference guide to growing and engaging news audiences via mobile devices and tablets; attracting mobile revenue via advertising, sponsorship, and subscriptions; and owning the market for mobile news.

Meet the bloggers

Dirk Barmscheidt
Founder and Managing Director
Brantalist - Digital Business Consulting
Hamburg, Germany
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Chuck Blevins
New Platform Development & Technology
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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Mark Challinor
Mobile/Digital Consultant
Vice President, INMA
London, United Kingdom
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David Murphy
Founder and Editor
Mobile Marketing magazine
London, United Kingdom
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Stefan Savva
Mobile Director
Fairfax Media
Sydney, Australia
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Lorna White
P&G Senior Activation Executive
London, United Kingdom
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Padraic Woods
Mobile Development Manager
Verdens Gang
Oslo, Norway
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