Consumers have given mainstream media only "middling grades" for their iPad applications so far, according to Alan Mutter, who looked at ratings on the iTunes Store. For the ten most frequently-downloaded news apps (in order of popularity: USA Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Associated Press, NPR, BBC, Reuters, France 24 and China Daily) the average number of stars was 2.8 out of 5. It must be noted that many news outlets have not yet released iPad-specific applications.
The apps with the most stars were three publicly-funded news outlets. France 24 was rated highest, with 4 stars. The French government-funded TV news channel offers news in English and Arabic as well as French. Next came the BBC and NPR with 3.5 stars.
The top-rated newspaper was USA Today, sharing a 3-star ranking with Reuters and ahead of the NYT and WSJ, both on 2.5 stars. The AP and China Daily both scored a less-than-positive 2 stars and Time was last with 1.5. This could well be a result of its price, which is $4.99 per issue.
The iPad and the plethora of table devices that are expected to follow have been hailed as a potential newspaper-saviour by many in the industry, as it provides the chance to make money by selling high-quality multimedia news applications.
And indeed, sales of the device have been significant so far. Reports last week noted that with one million sold in its first four weeks, the iPad is being sold faster than the iPhone did when it was first released in 2007. By early May, iPad users had downloaded more than 12 million applications on the gadget. Following its release in the US on April 3, the iPad will reach parts of Europe, Asia and Australia on May 28, it was announced last week. Its price will be higher for its European customers than in the US, starting at £429 in the UK and at €499 in France.
Frédéric Filloux wrote about his iPad experience so far in his Monday Note newsletter, noting that "Compared to my computer, I realize I'm using the device in a different way. No mail (too clumsy), no writing, no twittering. Just reading stuff, the longer the better." He wonders whether tablet computing could be the "missing link" that could make "long form reading in a digital format" into a profitable business. He comes up with an interesting proposition for news media: create e-books on the important issues that need a longer explanation. In the age of tablet computing, these could be a useful extra revenue stream, he argues.
Tablets like the iPad clearly have potential, and if sales remain high it is likely that more and more news organisations will create apps. How much money they can make remains to be seen, however. As Mutter said, "Premium [paid] apps must have premium features and services to have a prayer of succeeding."