IPad Opens The Palette But Raises The Bar For Brand Apps

One of the real challenges for brands trying to effect a meaningful app strategy is that the platform requires them to become publishers. An app is only as good as the content that flows through it. Too many first-generation branded apps had the half-life of a kids' birthday party swag bag: fleeting, disposable, easily breakable.

A handful of noble efforts had real traction, however. Among them was Kraft's iFood assistant, a genuinely useful recipe and cooking how-to resource that also served the brand well. While many others were trying desperately to be aligned with the coolness of the iPhone itself, Kraft was smart enough to lean on a tradition of branded content, from decades of recipe books to on-air cooking demos during its sponsored programming. The hard-information, soft-brand sell works if you really have the content to back it up.

Kraft has moved headlong into the next level of utility with the newly launched big fork, little fork for the iPad. This family-oriented resource is aimed at teaching both parents and kids how to enjoy cooking together.

The 300 recipes are only the beginning. There are how-to videos, basic kitchen safety tips, detailed run-downs of the age-appropriateness of every recipe, etc. And it is all done with a magnificently efficient interface that pops up a universal nav ring from anywhere in the app. Not only one of the best branded apps out there, this one is one of the best iPad apps i have seen overall.

The print publishers who are tripping over themselves to reinvent the magazine/newspaper for a touch screen, might want to take a look at this generally superior use of the touch interface. The lessons are clear:

Super-serve 'em. Kraft and development partner hyperfactory have simply piled it on. There is no question of value here. Recipes, videos, tips, nutritional basics, etc. And there is the promise of more. The app is dynamic and can pull more content in. Kraft is also planning add-on modules that will be downloadable for additional incremental fees. The app itself is only $1.99, half the price of most of the digital magazines that have appeared already for the platform. This is an ongoing publishing project.

Pick your damned touch metaphor. Too many apps don't know whether they are having you float in space or just flip pages or zigzag across x and y axes. Usually, they have you do all at once. One of the strengths of this app is that its organization is made clear in a physical and abstract way. It all takes place on a kitchen table, where you paw across the surface and discover something akin to the familiar recipe box and hand-drawn notes. There is also the pop-up nav ring that allows lateral navigation to any spot by pressing on an open area of the screen.  There are only a couple of clear and clean nav approaches -- and as deep as the content gets, you are never lost.

Cross-referencing. Each recipe is cross-linked to notes on nutrition, age-appropriateness of the recipe, related recipes, shopping lists and instructions. Each piece of content answers the natural questions the user might have. Too many early iPad apps take the print metaphor too seriously and forget the opportunity for dynamic linking that digital allows.

Subtlety mixed with service wins. The Kraft brands are not in your face throughout this experience. In fact, if anything the brand presence may be too subtle. This app is truly "sponsored by" Kraft in that the actual brand messages come during loading, in two logos that let you click into full-page ads. Other than that, Kraft products are mentioned in recipes but not in a heavy-handed way. They are going for the wide halo effect here.

Be fun. There are kids in the room -- and this app knows it. In addition to the two decent games included in the package, the adventurous kid (or kid in us all) will discover that the designers have remembered what it was like to be involved in kitchen projects. Press that tomato on the table top long enough, and it squashes. And, yes, you can draw your name in the spilled pile of flour. Tap the egg once and it cracks; twice, it spills its yolk. Fortune cookies crack open to reveal cooking tips that click through to more content. These are no-brainer added touches that engage us and let us fall into the app. You can envision a parent and child exploring the app together and tapping and prodding different buttons and objects.

Time will tell if this app has the kind of traction that the iFood assistant had. Weber's on the grill app for iPad takes a similar utilitarian approach, and is already among the top 30 paid apps or the platform. Both Kraft and Weber have considered the use cases for the ipad and created content and tools that speak to the kitchen and the grill-side. Weber has a grill timer that is actually linked to the various grilling items in the recipes. The video library in this app is especially impressive here. Again, the idea is to super-serve the user and build around the at-home portability of the iPad. 

But the depth and quality of big fork, little fork reminds us that the iPad raises the bar for branded content. Simple news feeds or pleasant mobile toys are not appropriate for this platform, and a mobilized Web site is not likely to cut it either. Other brands should take these early good entries as both inspiration and fair warning. 

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