Update: I originially said there were conrete plans for adding the Observer’s content to the app and for launching a US-focused app, but without ruling anything out the Guardian says the plans are not set in stone.

It’s a long-held, unshifting part of Guardian News & Media’s business model: free online, paid-for on some mobile platforms. Not the snappiest corporate ethos, but it’s here to stay with the launch of it’s long-awaited iPad app (and I mean long-awaited, its rival The Times having launched a market-leading iPad app back in May 2010).

But with the launch of its iPad app – at the time of writing due any moment – it starts to make sense. The app costs £9.99 a month, following three free months thanks to sponsorship from Channel 4, and it could significantly drive much-needed revenues for GNM.

Here’s an exclusive video interview with Steve Wing, head of digital marketing at GNM, explaining what make the app different.

 

At the heart of the device is social sharing to Facebook, Twitter and via email, plus links to the main Guardian.co.uk website: unlike other apps in this space, the Guardian iPad edition uses the liveblogging, tweeting, constantly updating nature of the main site to its credit. This sharing, as news consumers continue to migrate to shiny tablets, is crucial to the success of the app and it’s one thing some closed-off, walled garden rival apps don’t have.

GNM launched a free Android smartphone app in September while also emphasises social sharing.

Wing also told me later on that GNM remains very “relaxed” about how people interact with the brand. If readers only go to m.guardian.co.uk, which is (and for the foreseeable future will be) free, Guardian.co.uk, the iPad app, the iPhone app… they don’t care. As long as you’re a fan of the brand, that’s fine.

What’s clear is that GNM see the iPad app as a different proposition to iPhone, which is more of an on-the-move, what’s happening now experience, compared to the iPad app’s “here is all the stuff we think is important today” newspaper type model.

Revenue model

As Forrester analyst Benedict Evans joked yesterday, with the release of its iPad app is GNM about to be losing money on every platform available?

GNM won’t need reminding that its revenue dipped from £221 million in 2009/10 to £198.2 million for the year to April 3 2011 (release). Newspaper sales are only going south and a recent price rise will do little to reverse the loss of circulation revenue in the long-term and print’s share of advertising shrinks with every passing month.

So with an iPad app in tow, how much could they make? The Times, charging the same amount for its iPad app and website access, managed to rack up 79,000 paying subscribers in its first five months (though that includes people paying different rates). If the Guardian can repeat that feat it will end up with £789,000 in new revenue. There is a revenue target in place, but the Guardian, understandably, won’t tell me what it is.

But like News International, GNM is also offering the app as part of its print subscription package and it will be interesting to see how much it can increase the overall subscriber number with the help of an effective £120 discount thrown in, in the shape of iPad app access. Steve Wing says iPhone access could well be added to that mix and that “everything is on the table.”

The Guardian also tells me that there are embryonic long-term plans for a US-centric iPad app, but nothing is concret, to fit with the business’s on-going attempts to build a substantial presence in North America. The company is not ruling out launching iPad apps on the Android platform or for Amazon’s new Kindle Fire, having already launched on the boring old monochrome Kindle.

Some main points from having played with the app for a few minutes:

– It’s impressive and fun to use. Whereas the Times opted for an elegant but traditional design, focusing on the black and white of the newspaper, the Guardian goes quite the opposite direction, with liberal use of colour to denote different sections. The top-screen navigational bar gives quick access to stories and there is linking within the app to different bits.

– There are links to the wider web everywhere. To liveblogs, to Twitter feeds, to links that might be of interest, to all sorts of things. The app is designed to work as an offline experience and almost all its functionality will work offline (except video)

– Video works well, is embedded in the middle of pages and is used often. On first glance it’s used more than on The Times’ iPad app, which features video from Sky News and in-house productions.

– As Robert Andrews noted yesterday, there is no place for content from The Observer in this app. Wing tells me this may come later, along with integration of the Weekend magazine and potentially other things too, although there are no concrete plans. The world’s oldest Sunday newspaper may never make it to the iPad party.

Here’s Guardian editor and digital evangelist Alan Rusbridger explaining the new app