Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Condé Nast’s iPad Plan Gets Caught in the Apple-Adobe Crossfire

The Wired iPad app Condé 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.

Condé 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.

Condé does plan to sell iPad-friendly versions of some of its other magazines. But they will be similar to the iPhone app 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 the company plans to distribute internally tomorrow, Condé 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.

But in a conversation I had with Chuck Townsend last week, Condé’s CEO was more blunt: He can’t fully embrace the Wired version, which was created with Adobe’s (ADBE) help and uses Adobe’s Flash platform, unless Apple (AAPL) embraces Flash.

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

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 is okay 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 the iPhone/iPod/iPad ecosystem, Condé is in a difficult position.

The magazine publisher 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 Condé have convinced themselves that the iPad will be a huge part of their future. And this means they want Apple’s full cooperation, not just its grudging approval. For instance, there’s zero chance Apple will promote 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 to digital form and lacks the bells and whistles that Wired and Adobe dreamed up.

Will anyone care? Let’s see. For now, here’s Condé’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, the company 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.