It is incredible to think that the iPhone is only six years old and that the first iPad appeared just three years ago. In that short space of time the impact the pair have had on the publishing industry has been immense. They have created both opportunities and serious headaches for publishers who have had to work out whether or not to invest in dedicated content for the platforms.
Now though it appears that the market for both tablets and phones is evolving and this is starting to impact on publishing. The latest figures from research company Kantar Worldpanel ComTech show that in Europe at least Android now commands up to seventy per cent of the smartphone market. Meanwhile models such as the Amazon Kindle Fire and Sony Xperia Z Tablet have significantly eroded the iPad's dominance of the tablet world.
The market for smartphones and tablets is continuing to grow, but it is also becoming complex and fractured.
So where does this leave publishing?
A few years ago the emerging trend was for publishers to develop their own apps - essentially cut down versions of their existing websites. The concept was driven by the belief that loyal readers would download the apps and once they were embedded on their phone or tablet they would inevitably return more to the content on the app than they would have done just via a web browser. These types of apps tended to work best for companies producing large amounts of content, like newspapers, who could offer cut-down and easy to use versions of their websites.
However two key things have occurred which in many ways have made apps less appealing to consumers, and ultimately to publishers. Firstly, these days pretty much everyone has an app for everything. Apple iPhone users typically have around 40 plus apps on their handsets, so sometimes editorial based apps that are used less often get forgotten about or even dumped.
Secondly, one of the key reasons for the growth of apps on smartphones - the small size of the screen - has been undermined by the acceleration of larger screen handsets, or Phablets as they have become known. These typically offer screen sizes of over five inches - significantly larger than the breakthrough iPhone 3GS which had a 3.5inch screen. In fact the default smartphone screen size now appears to be between four and half and five inches. Coupled with some technological breakthroughs by both the hardware makers and those who make the software, the enlarged screen has made web browsers much more effective to use.
The growing sophistication of the browser, and in particular the widespread use of responsive design, which is a way of designing and coding websites with a fluid layout so that images and other elements of the site adapt to the screen on which the site is being viewed, has also undermined the need for apps.
As has publisher requirements to drive consumers to their content via Search Engine Optimisation. Apps are closed environments and cannot be crawled by search engines and therefore don't impact on organic search ranking.
Ultimately then does this mean that editorially driven apps are a waste of time?
The answer to this depends on the following question. Will your native mobile app take advantage of smartphone functionality? This may depend on the level of interactivity in the content, but if you are harnessing the phone's GPS map features or its camera as part of an editorial process you clearly need an app.
You should think seriously about a dedicated app too if there is an important retail section in what you are doing. Using an app enables a customer to create and save a profile which is especially important for remembering credit card details to make future purchases quick and simple.
The other key question is whether or not a publisher needs to monetise the content that they are delivering. If that is the case then the app provides an easy platform to manage subscriptions micro payments etc.
As for the tablet based magazines, especially of the more innovative high tech variety, they are likely to be around for a while yet. Tablet magazines give publishers the opportunity to re-think traditional magazines by adding interactive content such as infographics, audio and video. They deliver an interactive experience that is not easy to replicate via the browser. The one big issue for publishers is that they now need to think about designing apps for the Android platform as well as Apple's iOS.
Perhaps one day browsers will reach a level where they will make even the most sophisticated tablet apps redundant. Until then though editorial apps will still be an important part of a publisher's portfolio.