Developing a paid iPad app – the Telegraph approach

First published on the AOP site on 29 June 2011.

An insight into the work behind the scenes on The Telegraph’s iPad app - moving from a free/insight gathering stage to paid.

Taken from the former Telegraph Director of Mobile Product Development Tim Rowell's presentation at the Media Briefing’s Mobile Strategies event.

First Launch

The iPad launches in the UK in May 2010, and the Telegraph decides not to go with a launch app. Instead, the team research the market, and develop an initial product that would assist in answering the key questions it had:

  • Who would buy the app?
  • Would they be Telegraph print readers?
  • How would people use the device?
  • Should it focus on live breaking news site or be a digital edition?

September 2010 – the free launch app goes live, featuring a selection of stories from the website(the original title, ‘Best of Telegraph’ was rejected by Apple). Crucially, it's able to capture plenty of data, from three main sources -

  • A request for user info on installation, which got 60k responses – a handle on user demographics
  • Analytics tracking installed on the app – providing info on usage: time of day, day of week, swiping. Unexpectedly showed that 90% of content was being consumed via wifi
  • 1800 further users gave detailed, qualitative feedback via a form in the settings option of the app

Results from the free app launch

  • The launch app for iPad gets 160k downloads over the six month lifecycle of the first app - 70k of whom are still active users by April 2011
  • The average user accessesd the app 7-10 times per month, with weekends twice as popular as the rest of the week. Usage peaks at 7am and after 9pm – proving essentially that 24 hour-old content still has value for the paper's iPad audience
  • 20 minutes dwell time, 41 pages per use – roughly 8 times deeper access than on the web

Further Research towards a Paid App

The Telegraph product team then surveys a further 20k users, runs eight focus groups and reviews the competition.

With a ‘completely global audience’, the launch app has broader reach than imagined. Research strongly suggests that they want a ‘finite, finishable experience’ – updated once per day, and including familiar elements from the paper, such as crosswords.

They're unwilling to pay, but, as Rowell pointed out, people often don’t realise the amount of work that goes on behind the 'sleek surface' – a simple product is still very complicated to run behind the scenes. Getting content from A to B to C – ‘takes real effort to make it seem effortless’ as Ilicco Elia had put it earlier at the event.

Said Rowell: every move onto a new device is a ‘big gamble for all media companies'.

Paid App Launches

5 May 2011 – The Telegraph launches its paid iPad app, at £1.19 per day, or £9.99 monthly, but ‘most importantly, free for all print subscribers – the bedrock of the business.’


  • Readers are definitely prepared to pay via iTunes
  • Building the app is trivial, content production is a headache
  • Running costs are 6 times that of building the app itself
  • Customer service is king – at least 100 people called to complain about the app not working turn out to be experiencing ‘issues’ because they're in airplane mode
  • There is a definite fear of Apple in the media industry, but ‘they have definitely listened and learned’ said Rowell
  • Finally, remember – with iTunes, 'they are trying to create a set of rules including disparate sets of content' – they won’t always get it right first time