Publishers Mull iOS 5’s Promise And Problems

Magazine and newspaper publishers are looking forward to benefitting from new iOS features designed to help them – just as soon as they overcome the same upgrade hurdles their consumers have faced.

The Times assistant editor Tom Whitwell and Future publishing director Stuart Anderton lost all their iPad apps while upgrading, whilst recently-departed Guardian mobile product manager Jonathon Moore found almost all his address book contacts deleted.

Despite the frustration, The Guardian’s long-awaited iPad edition, which launched alongside Apple’s announcement on Wednesday, requires iOS 5. The app has earned top billing in iTunes Store’s Newsstand “Featured” section but its audience is limited to those iPad owners who wrestle through the upgrade process to go bleeding-edge.

“Courtesy of *Apple* Newsstand. Them’s the rules,” Moore said, when asked about the OS dependence.

But there’s nothing about the new features (auto-updating editions and the Newsstand app folder) that require iOS 5, other publishers say. “When developing for Newsstand, you can make sure your app works on iOS 4.3 as well,” Future’s editor-in-chief for tablet editions, Mike Goldsmith, tells paidContent.

“Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) will have given promotional support as a reward for developing for iOS 5 and releasing today to support reasons to update,” Mail Online MD James Bromley speculated. A Guardian spokesperson says: “We wanted to take full advantage of Apple’s Newsstand service for launch, and the app is optimised for iOS 5 in order to offer the best user experience possible.”

Many publishers have updated their apps to take advantage of the new features but have retained backwards compatibility, including those like Conde Nast and Associated Newspapers who were also granted promo slots by Apple.

Though the new Newsstand feature risks ghettoising publication apps in a dedicated folder, as opposed to being primarily visible directly on the home screen of iPads and iPhones, the auto-update feature promises frictionless edition downloads – for example, overnight, before subscribers head out for their morning commute.

Existentially, “Newsstand” doesn’t exist. Publications are still merely apps, downloaded from iTunes Store’s apps store, the main addition to which is a dedicated publications area that is linked to from within the Newsstand home screen container folder.

Newsstand offers a meaningful way for users to easily get to their news, and we are excited to be a part of it,” according to New York Times (NYSE: NYT) marketing and circulation SVP and GM Yasmin Namini. The NYT app got several other minor revisions on Thursday.

These features are great news for publishers and readers,” says Moving Media+ CEO Staffan Ekholm, whose Mag+ software, made by Bonnier, allows publishers to produce iPad editions. “Newsstand makes it easier for customers to source and manage their favorite periodicals. And it helps publishers make their titles easy to find in the Apple ecosystem.”

“Newsstand offers a superb solution for discovery of our titles on the App Store,” says Future Publishing (LSE: FUTR) CEO Mark Wood.

The Accuweather app was another to go iOS 5-only on Wednesday.

Disclosure: Our publisher ContentNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.