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Why we've decided to stop producing TNW Magazine for Android (thenextweb.com)
43 points by hboon on Jan 16, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

Certainly a sensible decision for their usage, but it's worth noting that pretty much all the reasoning (apart from the fact nobody on Android actually downloads the thing) is only an issue because they're moving from the iPad to Android.

None of the technical reasons given are actual issues with Android, they're just differences between iOS and Android. If you published a magazine solely on Android and tried to move it across to iOS you'd have the same issues (unless you found a functional platform-agnostic media store, which may or may not exist).

They are of course completely justified to stop producing an android version. Not many people used it, and I don't doubt that there's a lot of work converting between the two. Why is there a lot of work? Because the starting point is an iOS specific magazine design, not because Android is inherently limited.

It's the whole "optimised for IE5" thing all over again.

Once you've got in the boat of single platform optimisation (using Apple Computers store for video and music integration in this case) then moving to something that is platform agnostic is hard.

It's an interesting case study though, that it's costing they're losing money (I think that's what they're saying) by creating for the diversity of the Android platform. Would be nice to see the figures.

> they're just differences between iOS and Android.

Lots of them (the main ones) are issues with the prop product they use for targeting android

I think the maker of the software they use to product their magazine should solve that for them eventually.

To me, the biggest problem is "magazines as apps". Magazines should be in a common file format that won't lock you in to a particular platform.

How do I upvote this eleventy times?

"Magazines" are a specific form for delivering content that evolved out of the technological limitations of paper printing, the economics of delivery, and the whim of the market. Delivering them on floppy disks was tried, didn't work. Delivering them on CDs was tried, didn't work. These days, most magazines have web sites -- in some cases, the paper appendix has withered away, or is not as current as the online version. That's as it should be.

It's nice that they were experimenting with bundling their magazine up as an app, but unless they have a focus aligned with the delivery platform (i.e. MacUser being distributed through the Mac OS X store, iTunes Music Review via the obvious) there's no good reason to do it that way.

This is exactly the problem the web was invented to solve.

A lot of apps are just a desperate attempt to get brands in front of eye balls.

Then how would they bundle all sort of crap-spyware to their "content"?

We solved this problem many years ago with PDF.

Do PDFs scale to mobile phone sizes? I've tried reading PDFs on my phone and it's possible, but not a pleasant experience.

No, PDF is basically digital 'paper.' However, publisher-end tools and workflows can produce multiple PDFs from the same content for different form factors.

HTML5 and related technologies probably have the most promise in this sector though due to the large amount of cross-device styling and customization that can be done with CSS3 and JavaScript.

PDF's don't even work well on my Kindle, let alone my phone. Half of the PDF's I have for research are taller than my screen at a readable size, but inexplicably two-column. PDF is not the ultimate solution to portable documents.

Did you mispell 'HTML'?

>PDF's don't even work well on my Kindle, let alone my phone.

Then your Kindle is not a full featured reading device. The Kindle's opted to imitate a black and white textual book (the e-paper thing), when future ebooks can are will be much more than that.

"“You make a beautiful magazine for the iPad, and then you dumb it down for Android’.

That meant removing movies, sound, interactivity and content."

Interesting, I wasn't aware that Android devices can't play movies or sound, and don't react to touch.

The exact H.264 profile supported by different devices varies greatly -- it is not an issue with Android the OS but with the range of different devices in the Android ecosystem. With only a few iOS devices, you can test them all with your encoded media (in fact most media encoders have presets for iOS devices) and offer encodings that support all devices.

This simply isn't possible with Android. Either you lower the quality (because your video must all be H.264 Baseline 3 for compatibility) or you'll simply get pockets of oddball devices that can't play media (because they don't support the entire set of Main or High profile video features).

Additionally, the magazine is probably using HTTP Live Streaming to handle media (the ideal protocol for streaming to iOS devices). While Android technically supports this in Android 3 and 4, there are differences in supported features. Specifically, most of the features in version 3 of HTTP Live Streaming (which came out in iOS 5) -- including multiple audio tracks, closed captions, frame based indexes and more -- are not supported in Android.

Presumably then they still want to add a purchasing scheme on to the audio/video, I'm guessing that's already embedded in Apple's offering.

E.g. look at https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/id481037450?mt=8&src=af&..., they have music tracks that you can play (see example pages on horizontal scroll section); presumably you can click-through and buy them somehow?

You make an interesting point. Would it not be possible though, to host multiple encoding profiles on a server somewhere, and have the device download the best match for its screen and decoding capabilities?

I'm sure it is possible. I'm not sure it is worthwhile/profitable to manage, support and test such a set up.

As far as I can renember this is a core feature of HTML5 video support: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML5_video#Multiple_sources

Don't worry about it, this article is obvious Apple-fanboism combined with Android FUD. (And I say that without any emotion attached, as I own neither Apple nor Android devices.)

Essentially anything that mentions fragmentation is about spreading FUD. Let's not forget that you can limit your app/mag/etc to any devices you want. It's disappointing as the TNW are fairly reputable.

> Essentially anything that mentions fragmentation is about spreading FUD.

I am going to assume by this statement that you've never worked on an Android project before. I work for an enterprise company with lots of Android apps and fragmentation is very much real.

The HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S3 are both very popular and still being sold today. It is extremely difficult (borderline impossible) to make one decent app run on both. You have to build two apps.

What differences between the Desire and S3 were causing you problems? Screen size/resolution? API versions?

I have developed and tested apps that run just fine on both of these devices. No different builds, not even different layouts. You're right, fragmentation is real, but it is not an unsolved problem in the Android world.

Fragmentation is.. ...10% bad luck. You are stuck and there is nothing you can do ...90% bad planning. And THIS is why you use abstraction.

I think this is because a lot of the content was downloaded from iTunes, and they just didn't have the infrastructure to support that on Android.

Indeed. One wonders how their interest and monetization would have gone if they'd partnered with Amazon or Google for content on Android instead of pointing at iTunes.

This is actually pathetic reading.

> “You make a beautiful magazine for the iPad, and then you dumb it down for Android’."

and then you read

> "we pick movies from the iTunes store"

So essentially, it was about being lazy in the first place and opting for a close ecosystem.

Agreed. They could, you know... Try to find a proper cross-platform solution. I also love their logic here:

"To give you some insight in how little uptake we saw on Android here are some statistics: for every Android user that downloads an Android magazine we have 80 iOS downloads."

Which is funny, because it's also possible that the Android/WP users are just going to http://thenextweb.com/magazine/ instead of downloading a dedicated application to provide "movies, sound, interactivity and content"... Last I checked, my web browser is fully capable of providing all of that already.

But iOS users could be using the web version as well ?

So it really doesn't seem that you're in a position to be questioning someone else's logic.


  > Last I checked, there isn't 80 times as many iOS devices
  > as there are Android
Indeed. But even in web usage iOS devices lead by large margin.

To finish off you hand-picked quotes "Producing for Android meant that we had to redo all that work because all our content was restricted to the iOS platform..." So it looks like they weren't being 'lazy' at all, rather it's about Android users, for whatever reason, being unwilling to download the magazine. Downloads in the region of 80:1 in iOS favour illustrate the issue precisely.

"because all our content was restricted to the iOS platform..."

They chose to restrict their content to iOS because of laziness; they did not want to look for a cross-platform solution. What do you expect Android users to do when you give them a pale imitation of a product that exists on iOS? Of course they're going to go elsewhere.

They said that they had to redo all the work. It took them 4 days per issue to complete the task as a result.

Sooo....it sounds like they have a serious tooling problem, any recommendations on what they should be using either on Android or for cross platform publishing?

side comment: the oddity of a site called "the next web" focused on dragging the paper magazine format onto a digital platform cannot be overstressed, what's wrong with their great website that people need a magazine app?

Maybe Unity, even though it's a game engine it should be able to do everything a multimedia diskmag is supposed to do.

It's a long time since I've heard the word "diskmag". Off to scene.org!

You lost me at "See, we pick movies from the iTunes store that people can download right to their iPads. We pick music the same way and books too."

I chuckled and closed the tab when I read that. Consider not relying on proprietary methods of content delivery if you want interoperability.

> But even then we had to deal with frequent crashes, a less intuitive interface and a platform that is even more fragmented than iOS.

Frequent crashes? Sounds more like an issue with the app than the platform. You can develop unstable code anywhere. The remark about Android being "less intuitive" is also a classic among Apple fans, but I don't really understand why people keep saying this. It's just not true anymore.

Which conveniently ignores the 80:1 download ratio. That's the damming figure.

Edit: re your second point. How frequently do you uses both platforms? Personally, I use both extensively everyday. TNW have a point.

According to the article, for the Android version, they removed "movies, sound, interactivity and content", and the app frequently crashes. Is anyone really surprised that not many people used it?

From the article, it's pretty clear that they failed to make a decent Android version, nobody used it, so they gave up.

I'm not contesting the 80:1 ratio (although bornhuetter makes some good points against this argument as well.)

I'm contesting their Android-bashing on ease-of-use and technical merits. I use and have used an Android phone and an iPod touch for the past 4 years.

I take the points, but with a caveat. The overriding issue here is one of signal to noise and it isn't a simple proble to fix with the pervading attitude exhibited in this thread overall. It'd be interesting to know exactly how much demand there was from Android users. We see stories that are similar to this reasonably often. The trouble is that the discussions are way too emotive. Reasons put forward are generally dismissed as "FUD" or "fanboys", with emotional response always seeming to block rational discussion. Until we get pas this, we won't get beyond where we are.

There is no caveat. They made a crappy Android version and paid the price.

Sounds like they have a team of iOS developers who created a very platform specific app, and don't want or know how to port it to other platforms.

They created a half-assed Android effort and didn't bother advertising it properly. Now, instead of doing a proper job, they have just abandoned all cross-platform development? That's very short sighted.

Is this the case, cause from the article it sounds like they failed to compromise (I'm thinking pixel perfect design vs fluid?) to accomodate the diversity of Android forms but that they had managed to create a product but not one that was working financially?

It's not something I use, are there examples of similar magazines that are profitably managing a media-rich cross-tablet presentation.

and expectedly they will stop ios app magazines sooner or later too and move completely to the web,,,,,

So, they are telling us that you can't buy iTunes movies and songs on android devices. Of course android sucks because of this lack.

Why does this remind me of Microsoft and IE aroun d 10 years ago? Oh yeah, it's because there's a monopoly and people complain why not everything is working the same way as it does in the proprietory counterpart.

Interesting, and sensible decision that they unsurprisingly got pummelled for.

Am I missing something, or would a magazine not be simpler just to publish as HTML?

Top 2 reasons:

1. in-app purchase for subscription with users that already have a card on file

2. better control of content and performance

I don't think they did particularly well with (2). "Our Choice" by http://pushpoppress.com/ourchoice/ and Alice in Wonderland (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gew68Qj5kxw) is much closer.

Echoing one of the comments, as an Android user I never use the app store for magazines; only Google Currents. I'd probably pay for content I care about, if there was a mechanism for doing so, but I won't install anything else. Why should the content be a seperate app, anyway? If it's just for crapware purposes, then good riddance!

I've had this same experience several times when doing cross platform app dev. Even though Android supposedly has a majority marketshare now, iOS downloads/users are usually at least 2:1, if not a more crushing 8:1 or 12:1.

It's unclear to me if it's just because Android users use their devices different (and get less apps), if it's because the app market doesn't lend itself to finding apps, etc...

The exact same cycle always repeats: 1) Release iOS first 2) Get lots of angry Android complaints 3) Release Android 4) Get a trickle of users. (I know you may be thinking, well you released to iOS first so your app probably isn't at good on Android, but we've tried it the other way around as well)

Android is now globally around 4:1 or more to iOS but only about 40% of those Android users are running 4.x and I strongly suspect those are the users that actually download apps so in terms of userbase the two platforms are really pretty close to the same from the point of view of the app developer.

Walled gardens. sigh

I think it is rather interesting that diskmags now are mainstream stuff

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