There’s evidence for both schools of thought. 

First the naysayers. 

“The app-based tablet approach to magazines leads straight to oblivion,” wrote Jon Lund, the COO of knowledge-sharing startup memit and chairman of the Danish Online News Association. 

Writing under the headline “Why tablet magazines are a failure” on gigaom.com last October, Lund proclaimed to love his tablet magazines, but only on the rare occasions when he remembers to open the apps. And therein lies one of the tablet magazine’s biggest problems. 

“My dedicated magazine apps… have been lost among the many other apps on my iPad,” Lund wrote. “I never read them, even those I pay monthly subscription fees for.” 

Lund cited Nielsen estimates that the average mobile user has 41 apps on his or her smartphone. “In April 2013, a Flurry study showed the average smartphone user opens only eight apps a day, with the most popular being Facebook, YouTube and game apps,” Lund wrote. “And, according to a 2012 report from Localytics, 22 per cent of all apps are only opened once.” 

The takeaway? There’s not much room for magazine apps. Magazine apps need extremely dedicated readers to avoid being buried. 

Lund concludes by saying that if you don’t believe him, look at the numbers. The 25 best selling digital replica  editions account for an average of just 12 percent of total subscriptions of the magazines. 

Not so fast, say tablet magazine enthusiasts. 

“It reminds me of early predictions that the internet would never catch on, no one would need a home computer, and the iPhone would never have significant market share,” Mag+ CEO Gregg Hano wrote in Publishing Executive last October. 

“Three years is not enough time for the publishing industry to test, evaluate and iterate upon what audiences want from this new and complex mobile media or to determine what ideal and individual user experiences should be,” Hano wrote. “It is also not a lot of time to learn how to monetise this new platform.” 

Tablet magazine enthusiasts have their own data to support their case. Consumer magazine publishers distributed 10.2 million digital replica editions in the first six months of 2013, nearly doubling the 2012 total for the same period, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.  

Adobe announced in December 2013 that more than 150 million digital publications built with its Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) had been downloaded since DPS’ launch in 2011 and downloads have shot up 115% since 2012.

McPheters & Company’s iMonitor database now tracks nearly 11,000 magazine and news apps.

“These are very strong indicators that the magazine audience is starting to move onto the digital platform in a very real way,” Bridget Roman, senior product marketing manager for Digital Publishing Suite, told eMedia Vitals in December.

Some magazine publishers used 2013 to update their traditional tablet magazine model by adding interactive features and creating the ability to share items via social media and the web. 

The Forbes’ iPad edition, launched in January 2013, features a “clip and share” function that allows readers to share photos, images, headlines, etc. using email or social media. 

Other magazines decided to try to keep readers coming back more frequently than once a week or once a month. New York magazine enhances its weekly content with a daily offering of curated news from nymag.com and the company’s other publications including Vulture and Daily Intelligencer. 

Tablet magazine enthusiasts have a powerful player in their corner: Google chairman Eric Schmidt. 

“Tablets are now more popular than PCs,” Schmidt told Wired editor Scott Dadich. “You can read it, it knows where you are, it has an accelerometer. There are all sorts of stuff [publishers] can do in tablet magazines [that they] couldn’t do in print magazines.” 

Schmidt said that he could envision “powerful, tablet-looking things” replacing “traditional media” by 2018. “Incredibly immersive” tablet apps will gather the reader’s location data, merge it with the reader’s social media history, and make the tablet experience interactive, Schmidt said.  

Other than the debate over native advertising, there isn’t a more heated, more controversial, more consequential fight than the future of tablet magazines.