With Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and others waging a pitched battle to win the mobile market via feature sets, screen sizes, and advanced interfaces, Apple’s unveiling of modest updates of phones and the new iOS7 have been met with general disappointment. (Ironically, early complaints about iOS7 said it was changing too much).
The company, famed for disruptive products, is notorious for its strategic and measured advancements within those products. Apple’s strategy around pace of change and audience retention has a parallel in the news industry’s digital application successes (and what those successes say about our audiences).
Digital newspaper replicas have remained the most popular newspaper apps on tablets since Poynter noted their dominance in 2011. Credit goes to the iPad’s great display/reading form factor and not the great technological capabilities offered by the platform. Most replica products are not particularly interactive, nor dynamic; they are finite and Internet-y only as far as the application wrapper.
Face it: The replica is the skeumorphic equivalent of an engine-powered stage coach – a transitional vehicle that just begins to touch on the platform’s possibilities.
The replica succeeds for the reader because it is the newspaper. This indicates replica audiences are the same traditional audience that is, or was, the print audience. It also informs us of how vital the experience of the “real” paper is.
Sure, they’re a transitional product – but replicas are still great products. They provide opportunities to go beyond print: video, photo galleries, dynamic advertising, visualisation, and other cool interactivity.
So, it’s tempting to create a Muggle version of the newspapers in the Harry Potter series (and make UX specialists cry).
“Call it the Goldilocks problem of iPad-focused design: Too little customisation and interactivity can make people yearn for something new and exciting. Too much can distract from the intended goal. … [T]he ideal solution lies somewhere in the middle.” — Nathaniel Mott, Pando Daily, September 12.
Mott highlights the quandary: How far and fast can we push a product before alienating the reader or muddying the point of the product? Also, new features, even free ones, have operational costs and publication processes. Lastly, it may not be a particular feature that is problematic but its overuse.
A minimal (fewer feature sets per iteration) and deliberate test/update cycle (regular intervals – speed may vary) that incorporates adjustments based on reader feedback is the best bet to improve value with a traditionalist audience.
Maintaining balance between features, speed, and cost, versus alienation or stagnation is difficult. Test/update cycle planning benefits from an ongoing conversation with the audience (and understanding the metrics).
In my experience, traditionalist readers very much want newspapers to succeed and often are eager to help.
Product communication and feedback don’t have to be as large as a detailed user research study (though those are great if you can get one). Communication can be as simple as direct conversation with the audience – such as requests for testing and feedback through dedicated Facebook groups or surveys linked from the apps.
Also helpful are small, one-on-one meetings with readers to test features, demonstrate how they use your apps, or talk about what they’d like to see. Use these conversations to aid prioritisation and planning of feature implementation and update cycles.
Taking a measured approach to product changes for traditionalist audiences, while engaging the audience, reduces your chances of misstep and distorting the experience. As with Apple’s mobile product update cycle, our transitional product can continue to evolve; bringing the readers with it.