Conde Nast's iPad plan in Apple-Adobe crossfire

The magazine publisher says it is trying two different approaches to the iPad (and tablets in general) as part of an "R&D period."

The Wired iPad app Conde Nast showed off this month looks great. But the chances that the publisher will give its other magazines the same treatment don't look promising.

Conde is still creating a digital version of its tech magazine for the device. But the influential publisher says it won't create similar iPad apps for other titles unless Apple and Adobe figure out how to work together.

Conde does plan to sell iPad-friendly versions of some of its other magazines. But they will be similar to the iPhone app that the publisher has already created for its GQ title, and not the more ambitious stuff that Wired has been talking up since last fall.

In a memo that the company plans to distribute internally Monday, Conde says it is trying two different approaches to the iPad (and tablets in general) as part of an "R&D period" that will run through October, while it figures out the best way to please readers, advertisers, etc.

Caught between Apple and Adobe
But in a conversation I had with Chuck Townsend last week, Conde's CEO was more blunt: He can't fully embrace the Wired version, which was created with Adobe's help and uses Adobe's Flash platform, unless Apple embraces Flash.

Conde will have "two parallel development tracks going until the relationship between Apple and Adobe is clear," he told me Friday.

Conde will have "two parallel development tracks going until the relationship between Apple and Adobe is clear."
--Chuck Townsend,
CEO, Conde Nast

But what about Adobe's assurances that it's no big deal to move the mag app it built for Wired, which is based on Flash, into a form Apple approves of? Not convincing enough, Townsend said.

I asked Townsend if he'd prefer to use the Wired model -- which boasts features like integrated video, interactive ads, etc -- if Apple was OK with Flash. In that case, he said, "the answer would be an easy yes."

Given that Apple has made its distaste for Flash a key part of iPhone/iPod/iPad ecosystem, that puts Conde in a difficult position.

It has spent significant time and energy working with Adobe, and one of its flagship titles ("magazine of the decade," per Adweek) has lined up behind the company. And it is indeed possible to move Flash apps to the iPhone, and presumably the iPad.

But content companies like Conde have convinced themselves that the iPad will be huge part of their future. And that means they want Apple's full cooperation, and not its grudging approval. For instance, there's zero chance Apple promotes a Flash-based app in one of its ads.

The GQ app for the iPhone is pretty good, by the way, and I'm assuming it will work well on the iPad, too. But it's a pretty straightforward transfer of the print version into digital form, and doesn't feature the bells and whistles that Wired and Adobe dreamed up.

Will anyone care? Let's see. For now, here's Conde's official iPad app time table: A new version of the GQ app, tweaked to the iPad's specs, should be available when the device launches at the end of March. After that, it is planning similar apps for Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Glamour. The Wired app is scheduled to debut at the end of May.

And then readers, advertisers, and everyone else can finally compare for themselves.

 

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