Hearst Opens App Lab, Plans A Dozen New Apps Over Next Six Months

With nearly 100 apps already in circulation, including Zinio digital replicas of all its 14 magazines, Hearst plans to issue a dozen more apps over the next year. The apps will be fairly divided between ones for existing magazine titles and ones that bear little or no relation to its periodicals, said Chris Wilkes, Hearst Magazines’ vice president of digital editions, as the company opened its Hearst App Lab in a morning presentation for the press.

Hearst unveiled plans for the App Lab, located in a windowless, soundproof room on the 41st floor of its New York headquarters, last August. The lab is not in any way an Apple-type store, but is rather intended to serve as a “think tank” for marketers and ad agencies who work with Hearst. The most impressive piece in the room is a large iPad-like touchscreen mounted on the wall. The screen enables digital whiteboarding and features the entire Hearst digital publishing ecosystem, including the simulation of all apps.

“You can’t give everyone an updated, iPad, Nook, Galaxy, etc., but everyone here needs to be able to work on all of these devices,” Wilkes said.

Wilkes wouldn’t say specifically what the apps are in the works, but they will likely include non-editorial features like the Condé Nast’s Idea Flight, an iPad app that’s intended as an organizer for in-person meetings. The app debuted last week and marked a new direction for Condé Nast as “service provider” not just a publisher.

In a sense, that expanding profile was also exemplified recently by the formation of Hearst’s Manilla, which was introduced in February is headed by former NBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) exec Georg Kliavkoff and is a free personal account management service that lets consumers organize their bills, finances, travel rewards programs and, yes, magazine subscriptions.

Manilla carries advertising from its partners, so in a sense, it has some relation to the traditional business Hearst is in. Idea Flight, on the other hand, carries no ads and doesn’t intend to, at least not right now, and as such, is pretty far from the fashion and cultural magazines Condé Nast has always lived in. In any case, Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX) also demonstrated its wide-ranging interests outside the world of magazines this the other day by hosting a showcase for “10 hot startups” — one of which was Manilla — during Internet Week New York.

Along with Wilkes, Avi Zimak, advertising director, tablet media for Hearst Magazines, will oversee all sales and marketing activities for The App Lab tied to magazines and will offer to serve as the go-between for Hearst’s agency partners and device makers. Zimak showed off a campaign the company created with car maker Infinity, which featured a 360, interactive view from inside and out of automotive company’s Hybrid model. The ad was included in the latest edition of O, The Oprah Magazine.