The New Yorker came out with their iPad app yesterday. It’s the only magazine I read religiously, and I’d love to get rid of the paper version and just read it electronically.

It currently has the very low score of 2 stars with 274 one star ratings out of 375 ratings overall. The one star ratings are pretty universally related to the pricing scheme and have little to do with the app itself.

I’ll break the issues down:

COST:

The paper magazine costs $5.99 an issue on the newsstand.

But let me quote from one of the subscription cards inside the paper magazine:

“ONLY $1 AN ISSUE
One year (47 issues) for $47”

Now for the iPad app version:
$4.99 and issue
That’s one year (47 issues) for $259.48.

So the Anonymous Internet Reviewers are upset. “Dear Internet: They want me to pay $259.48 instead of $47? For an electronic version that they don’t have to print and mail to me?” I happen to agree. But it’s hard to know who to blame.

Every review I read blamed the publisher, but according to publishers, this is Apple’s fault, not theirs.

Apparently this is the case because the magazines and Apple can’t come to terms on the financial end. I’m not privy to details, but making some educated guesses: if publishers sell an app, they keep 70% and Apple takes 30%. If they give away the app for free and sell in app purchases (as the New Yorker does for each issue) they take 70% and Apple takes 30%. The problem is apparently in subscriptions. Apparently Apple doesn’t allow this? They say Apple has rejected their apps with subscription models.

But it doesn’t make sense. If you can buy one issue on this model, why can’t they sell a subscription with the same cut of revenues? All the anonymous sources in the articles linked to above are from publishers, and Apple won’t give their side. Perhaps the publishers aren’t willing to give Apple their cut of the discounted subscription price? There has to be more to the story, because why would Apple not allow a subscription at all? It has to be something about the share of the revenue.

My guess is that the Publishers are saying, “Hey, we’ll give you a cut of single issues, just like we give the newsstand a cut of single issues they sell. But when customers buy a subscription, that is straight through us and has nothing to do with the newsstand. So we don’t want to pay Apple for subscriptions.”

Apple might say, “Hey, when you sell a subscription you have to print and mail the magazine and maintain a system for running subscriptions.  You don’t have to do that with the iPad. Also, all magazines –single issues or subscriptions– have to go through our infrastructure that we’ve built up for you.  The iPad is the newsstand whether or not it’s a single issue or subscription.”

Two other notes on subscriptions:

1. Amazon and Barnes and Noble have subscriptions and single issue pricing for their Kindle and Nook. The New Yorker costs 2.99 a month or $36 a year. 3.99 an issue. Not too bad.

2. There are other apps that do magazine purchases and subscriptions. Zinio is a nice one with a universal iPad/iPhone app. It doesn’t let you do in app purchases through Apple; you must go to their web site and put in your payment information to purchase issues and subscription. It is annoying, but I guess they get around giving Apple a cut. I’m actually surprised Apple allows this. I’m not sure why the publishers don’t do this. If Zinio can, why can’t Conde Nast send you to their web site where you buy a subscription and then issues automatically download to the app? I can’t give you a comparison for the New Yorker because Zinio doesn’t carry Conde Nast magazines.  But I’ve purchased a Rolling Stone subscription and it seemed reasonable.

Now there are reports that apple is working on some sort of newsstand app with would be like iBooks for magazines. Essentially Apple’s version of Zino. But apparently the same sticking point remains, how to share revenue on subscriptions as well as user data. I’m not quite sure why Apple and publishers can share 70/30 split on individual issues but not on subscriptions.

They are also probably fighting over user data: who gets it and what it can be used for.

BUT THIS IS NOT THE ONLY PROBLEM.

Does an app per magazine make sense? No iPhone apps. Access if you have a paper subscription.

PAPER SUBSCRIPTION ACCESS

Having a paper subscription doesn’t give you access to the app version. Some people are upset about this. People magazine does this, but even if the New Yorker did it wouldn’t help; as I’ve said I want to get rid of the paper subscription.

The New Yorker has an electronic version of the mag online (both computer and ipad compatible) that paper subscribers have access to for free. Three problems with this. You can only access it while you are connected to a network (doesn’t work offline), it’s a bit slow and clunky, and finally, this doesn’t help you if you want to get rid of your paper subscription in the first place.

NO IPHONE APP

My goal is to have the magazine available to me whenever I might want to read it. It’s great to read on the ipad, but (and this is key) I don’t always have my ipad with me. But I do always have my iphone with me. The magazine apps really need to be binary and sync across devices. Asking too much you say? But I’ve already gotten used to this with books. The Kindle app from Amazon, the Nook app from Barnes and Noble, and the iBooks app from Apple have iPhone and iPad versions and the books you buy sync across both. (And if you have a Kindle or Nook they sync there too of course).

This has become a really key feature for me. I read at night on my ipad, get up in the morning and pick up where I left off on my iphone on my subway ride to work. As long as I launch the app before I go down into the subway it will sync up and I can continue to read offline once I descend into the bowls of New York. Or any other time I am stuck somewhere with nothing on me except my phone.

THE WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE

I’m not quite sure I like the idea of every magazine being it’s own app. It would be much more convenient for the user if there were a ‘newsstand’ app where you could buy any magazine. You could buy a single issue for a ‘cover’ price, or get a yearly subscription.

Zinio is basically this. An app that sells magazines, single issue or subscriptions, and the app syncs from ipad to iphone. The magazines are essentially pdf versions of the print version. But it has some nice features like ‘text’ view which strips out the text for a text only view — like the ‘Reader’ view in Safari or Instapaper. It’s the best of both worlds because you see the exact layout of the printed magazine, with pictures and columns etc., but when you just want to read the article you can fill the screen with just the text. You can email articles, but you can’t email a link to the article which would be nice.

One thing you can’t do that would be on my list is search the text of the magazine. This should be an advantage of a digital copy.

The problem with Zinio? Selection. They have some nice magazines: Rolling Stone, the Economist, National Geographic. They have a lot of lesser titles I’d have no interest in. But nothing from TimeWarner, Conde Nast, etc. And also it’s missing some more obscure titles that I personally wish they had: Velo News, etc.

Others have argued that electronic magazines shouldn’t be slaves to the print version and should exist in their own form as apps. Conde Nast’s Wired app is an example of this. It is very flashy and has lots of audio visual flourishes jammed into it along with come confusing pagination conventions. Personally, I’m fine with designing a mag specifically for the iPad, but most of what I saw in the one and only wired app I purchased was useless. I want the content first and foremost. I’d love for it to be designed in a compelling way, but I don’t need 500MB (honestly!) of advertising video and other ‘supplemental’ materials stuffed into it along with a bunch of useless swiping and swishing features that serve no purpose. Especially since you can’t do anything that a digital edition should let you do like search text, email/share articles, and read on your phone.

SECRET TIP

There is one secret tip that gets you a little closer to getting the New Yorker as a subscription on your iPad.  As I mentioned, the Kindle device and Barnes and Noble Nook have New Yorker subscriptions.  I have a Kindle, and it would be oh so nice if the magazine subscription synched to the Ipad/iPhone Kindle app just as the books do. But alas on the Kindle they don’t.  On the Barnes and Noble site they say contradictory things about magazines working on portable devices. But for me, so far it does load into the iPad Nook app. At least it does for me and one other person I know who has tried it. It’s not quite as full featured as the actual New Yorker app, but at least the price is right. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on the iPhone.

The future’s so close, yet like flying cars, never quite arrives.

note:

When I say iPhone/iPad, please feel free to substitute android/webOS phone/tablet.

Advertisements

The Multi-core Scam

September 23, 2010

I’d just like to point out what a total scam multi-core/multi processors in Apple Mac Pros are to most users. Others have pointed out the failings of Apple’s Pro line but I’m talking specifically about multiple processors.

Computer manufacturers have been selling multi-core computers for years now. One of the reasons is that chip makers have finally run up against the limits of miniaturization and have been compensating by building 3 dimensional chips and adding 2 or more multi core chips to computers, rather than adding pure computing speed.  So despite the promise of Moore’s law, we haven’t really seen pure processor speed increases for years. Manufacturers have cheated by adding more processors to computers.  That is why we have seen slower processor speeds in newer computers. For example, all the way back in Aug 2006 Apple announced a 3 GHz Xeon Mac Pro. And 3 years later they announce… a 2.93 GHz Mac Pro?  Even today the fastest processor available for the Mac Pro  is 3.33 GHz. (And only 2.93 in their top of the line most expensive 12 core machine.)  So what gives?  Well the 2006 Mac Pro had two dual core chips for a total of 4 processors. And today’s Mac Pro comes with up to 12 processors.  That’s what they’re selling.  TWELVE PROCESSORS!

There would be nothing wrong with this if applications could use all that processing power. But there is the rub.  Very few programs correctly, efficiently, transparently use all of those cores.

It would be one thing if  we were on the bleeding edge here, talking about early adopters who just have to be patient and wait for the software to catch up with our hardware.  But that is not what we’re talking about. Way back in 2005 I bought a dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac. One of the last before Apple switched to Intel.  So I’ve been using multi processors for 5 years now.  An eternity in tech time. And there were multi processor G4 machines for years before that!  So one would think that by today, programs would be taking advantage of all those processors (12!!!!)  I mean, I could understand way back in 2005 when, as an early adopter  many programs couldn’t take advantage of multiple processors.  But this is 2010.

Yet it is still the case that very very few programs are written in a way to take advantage of multiple cores, and those that are, mostly do so poorly. So why are they selling 12 processors!  Just to give you some examples; for work I need to transcode video into different formats, a very processor intensive task.  One that could greatly benefit from multiple cores.  But many programs do this very poorly.  Here’s Red Giant’s Grinder which is designed to use up to eight cores:

8 core machine with 16 virtual cores

It is working on 8 clips at nowhere near full capacity.

And here is Apple’s own Compressor, which does not by default use multiple cores, but can be tricked into it by making a ‘virtual cluster’ of machines, where by  “machines” you use your own processor cores:

8 core machine with 16 virtual cores

It starts off stronger on the same 8 clips, but then tapers off.  Admittedly I have gotten better results with Compressor – but there is no rhyme or reason.  No changes. Just try again.

And if you wanted to do this work right from within an editing program like Final Cut Pro, forget it:

8 core/16 virtual cores working on FCP export

Pretty anemic. So any time you want to export a video out of Final Cut Pro or many similar daily tasks, you will not be taking advantage of all that processing power.

There are many other examples out there, because in my opinion the vast majority of programs don’t make full use of Multi cores. You can look at some testing here, here, and here.  In fact it is the rare exception which DOES efficiently use all the cores.

So why have computer companies been selling multi core computers for so many years when there is almost no use for them? (And in a company like Apple’s case, when even their own software doesn’t make use of them.) And why has the tech press not pointed this out?  Look at Apple’s press release: “The new Mac Pro is the most powerful and configurable Mac we’ve ever made,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “With up to 12 cores, the new Mac Pro outperforms our previous top-of-the-line system by up to 50 percent, and with over a billion possible configurations, our customers can create exactly the system they want.” (emphasis added) Yeah, 50% if you set up some test program that can utilize all 12 cores. Good luck using those 12 cores (24 with hyper-threading!) in the real world.

I purchased a 2.26 GHz 8 core mac in 2009 before I looked closely at this issue and realized after I did that I should have gotten the fastest single processor offered. For this year that would be the single 6 core 3.33 GHz.  This would be much more useful to me in the real world (not to mention cheaper) than the 2.93 12 core machine.  Apple and other developers have been taking steps to be able to use more processors more efficiently in the future.  But we’ve been waiting – and buying their products in the mean time – for 6 or 7 years now.  Many multi core computers have gone completely obsolete in that time and still we haven’t arrived at a place where we can use these things.

I mean think how many product cycles have gone by for G4, G5, and Mac Pro multi core machines and still so little software can use these cores. Still! Today! Apple’s Final Cut Studio is still a 32 bit program.  All that marketing and  all those reviews that say this years machine is x% faster.  To do what?! With what program!?

Frankly I think it’s been a wholesale scam on the consumer for more than half a decade now. This issue should be pointed out in every review of every multi-core machine:  “You would have a faster real world computer (and spend less money) by getting the fastest chip available rather than more cores.”

This goes for the new imac too. Why pay $2199 for a quad core 2.93 GHz when you can pay $1899 for a 3.6 GHz machine? Apple has really gotten away scott free on this.