How not to build an iPhone app

I don’t know if it’s the AP’s status as a co-op, or its decentralized nature, or its ties to traditional (old) media, or what the problem is. But once again, they’ve proven that they just don’t get it when it comes to new media.

The AP launched a stylebook app for the iPhone/iPod Touch today. Which is pretty cool on the face of it. But there are two things that make it a major bucket of fail:

1. It costs $28.99 (for comparison’s sake, the print edition of the same book is $12.89 on Amazon.com).
2. It doesn’t dynamically update. Check the snippet from the news release below:

The 2009 AP Stylebook app is available for $28.99 from the App Store on iPhone and iPod touch or at http://www.itunes.com/appstore. Annual releases for the app are set to coincide with the release dates for the Stylebook print edition. As a bonus, 2009 AP Stylebook app users will automatically receive an upgrade to the 2010 AP Stylebook app as soon as it becomes available.

I did a quick search for “dictionary” on the App Store and turned up more than 50 results, many of which were free or cost $0.99. Even complicated dictionary programs, such as Latin-English or English-Chinese, didn’t go above $3.99. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary was on the high end, at $24.99, but comes in seven languages. (I’m aware that the stylebook is more than a dictionary, but please … it’s got something like 3,000 entries, total.)

I’m just really not sure of who the market is for this. Most journalists I know who use the stylebook daily have several sitting around a copy desk, paid for by the newspaper. I had a previous experience with the AP when I attempted to buy their online stylebook for our newsroom; they had no clue what a “concurrent license” was and insisted that $25 was a fair rate, even with our university bookstore charging $10 for the print edition.

But, most of all, what irks me is the utter lack of dynamic content. It’s an app on a phone that connects to the Internet — AP, seriously, you really can’t provide updates automatically?

Big chunk of fail.

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