Publishers are now able to create more discoverable and engaging apps thanks to recent technological developments within the industry, said Jonny Kaldor, co-founder and chief executive officer of mobile publishing platform Pugpig, at FIPP London yesterday (11 May).
News apps have not delivered the returns that were promised five years ago to publishers, with news organisations still struggling to entice readers into engaging with them – or even downloading their apps in the first place.
"Users of news apps don't seem to be the size that publishers have been expecting, and I sense disappointment and fatigue from journalists when they talk to me about it," said Kaldor.
"If you think about how you use your phone on a daily basis, I would imagine 90 per cent of that is through apps, and yet we are not seeing 90 per cent of our traffic as publishers and content creators through apps."
We have been in a vicious circle over the past few years, where disappointment in apps has meant that the desire to invest has been very lowJonny Kaldor, co-founder and chief executive officer, Pugpig
One of the main reasons for this has been the difficulty in getting people to find the apps in the first place, he added.
"Apps have been unsearchable, because audiences have to look for a specific one by knowing the exact name of the brand, and then searching for it amongst similarly branded apps.
"Some people can't even find the app they are looking for even if they slightly misspell the name, and that's a real disadvantage that apps have had from the very beginning."
Because of the high cost of production, and the struggle of getting people to re-visit their app regularly, Kaldor explained that some publishers have become disheartened with developing apps.
"We have been in a vicious circle over the past few years, where disappointment in apps has meant that the desire to invest has been very low.
"So the amount of innovation is not there and we have not seen these little steps forward that are needed to create products that people really want."
But Kaldor argued that this is about to change and listed five developments in technology that are making it more viable for publishers to create apps that work better for their brand and their audiences.
1) Content consumption on mobile devices has soared
As more people continue to search for editorial content on the move, publishers now have more of an opportunity to engage audiences via apps.
But they are often misguided as to who they should target first, Kaldor said.
"Every time we go to a publisher, their list of priorities for getting content out to their consumers is iPad first, followed by iPhone and then Android and everything else after that.
"The iPhone should be prioritised, but Android is a far more important market than it is given credit for, because even though people's willingness to pay for content through Android is lower, there is a massive audience there.
"The amount of publishers we know that don't even have an Android app, even though it is free, staggers me – it is a platform that you really need to be on."
He also emphasised the importance of designing content specifically for each device in order to keep users engaged.
"You need to take the same responsive design techniques that you use for your mobile web and apply that to how you deliver app content to your readers – it is crucial if you are going to get content across a whole load of different platforms at a cost that is sustainable."
2) App discovery is finally being addressed
Kaldor explained that it is common for links within apps to direct people to the web, forcing them out of the app rather than drawing them back in.
"There are a variety of tools now that app creators can use to turn that around and control the user interaction, meaning publishers have a much better relationship with their readers."
Through on-screen notifications, readers can be asked whether they want to open an article within the app as opposed to automatically opening the story in a browser.
Additionally, the search function in the App Store is being improved, with users now able to look for specific content.
"Up until iOS 9 was launched last October, content in apps was totally invisible, so there was no way of searching for text from inside an app.
"The only thing you could do was search for the name of the app, or some keywords that someone has placed within iTunes when they uploaded the apps to the store, but since last October, Apple have enabled you to open up their content to their indexing robots."
Similarly if users look for a keyword through Google search, they will be returned a list of apps associated with the content on the page.
3) There are more ways to drive engagement
'Mixed mode publishing' has now enabled news organisations to upload weekly or monthly editions of their publication to their app, whilst pushing out a continuous feed of fresh content.
Push notifications are also getting more sophisticated, with a multitude of tools available to tailor them to different users, according to where readers live, what their interests are or what their activity is like within the app.
Additionally, publishers can keep users engaged with their product for longer by enabling them to shop within an app – useful for publications that have products or offers to advertise.
4) The cost of making apps is finally sustainable
"Over the last five years, everyone in the market has continually strived to drive down costs," said Kaldor.
"It has got to the point now where you can create multiple apps in a matter of weeks. No longer should it be costing a fortune – from experience, developing an app can take three days, plus the approval time from Apple, and cost only a couple of grand."
5) Distribution channels are vast, and an unmissable opportunity
Kaldor explained that by using platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, publishers' brands will be reinforced and trusted, meaning people will in turn be drawn to news outlets' own digital products and apps.
"It is an extremely confusing landscape, which means you have to get your editorial processes in order, servicing as many of these channels as you like in a way that doesn't cost you the earth," Kaldor said.