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The Times on iPad: dev process, challenges & future opportunities

Lee WilkinsonNI Product Strategy Director Lee Wilkinson
News International Director of Product Strategy Lee Wilkinson is speaking at our iPad/Tablets Forum on 25 January. The event is now sold out, but you can join the waiting list here. Ahead of the event, we spoke to Lee about News Int’s approach to developing the Times and Sunday Times iPad apps, future growth on tablets and the Kindle Fire. Can you tell us about the development process, the development time you had for launch, and if you worked with any external partners? Soon after the announcement of the iPad, the opportunity was presented to build a Times app to coincide with its launch in the UK. A challenge we took. At this stage no one owned an iPad, so our development team was given the unenviable challenge of designing and building a product on a device none of them had seen in around 8 weeks. This meant our product design started on a set of cardboard cut-outs from screen shots of the device and a set of storyboards. As the launch approached we did get our hands on some iPads and gained a better understanding of the development platform however, as the device had not launched user experience design was based on instinct rather than insight. Once live we then worked closely with customers to understand how and when they used the devices, developing the app further through customer-centric product design. We took the decision on The Times to build a bespoke end to end system using in-house resource.  This was largely due to the maturity of the solutions in the market. For the Sunday Times (which launched 6 months after The Times) we chose third party software – Woodwing, at the time the best third party solution in the market. I think the key lesson we learned is that both approaches have pros and cons. Internal development gives you increased control over the overall customer experience end to end. External solutions may improve your time to market and scale well in terms of cost of ownership but limit your ability to control your customer experience. We believe customer experience is at the centre of our business and thus will drive our decision making moving forward. What are the main challenges around delivering ads on the iPad? We launched with a set of launch sponsors. The challenges we came across really centred around three core areas.
  • No precedents in pricing
  • Create agencies were not producing creative for the iPad
  • Initially there were no ad serving solutions and a lack of audience analytics (in fact for the first few months - Apple blocked use of analytics!).
As time has moved on we are seeing considerable success in attracting paper advertisers to the iPad rather than just digital spenders. It still represents creative and technical challenges for advertisers, but we are seeing where advertisers have invested in interaction to make the most of the platform they are seeing significant benefits through enhanced response. Where and when is the app mostly being used by consumers? Current indicators from both customer research and industry research says that the iPad is used in the home as a entertainment device, be it for reading digital publications, surfing the web, playing games or watching films etc... We see strong usage at both ends of the day for in-depth periods of time. Looking at industry analysis they seem to be a home PC/laptop replacement. It will be interested to see what the smaller form factor tablets (eg - Amazon Fire) do to this trend - as they fit in your bag and frankly carry a lower price point they might start to form some usage outside the home. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for future growth on tablets? This is an Apple-dominated market that is still in growth. So the iPad is still the biggest opportunity for us as we see it selling strongly over the next few years. In terms of Android the jury is out. The Amazon Fire looks like it will ship a decent number of units so this looks like a good opportunity, especially as the Fire kiosk is very content-focussed - and the its price point will be very competitive.

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