Friday, April 09, 2010

Magazine Apps on the iPad

Exact Editions had 11 iPad apps live when the launch arrived. There are some more titles working their way through the development and approval process. Our first office iPad arrived on Tuesday and it is an enthralling device. It has been passed around, much admired and caressed into action. Everyone who sees it, finds the speed and sharpness surprising and attractive. Here it is showcasing Athletics Weekly:

We have also been looking closely at other magazine apps. Brad Colbow produced an interesting overview of three of the front runners: Time, GQ and Popular Science.

iPad Magazine Art Direction from Brad Colbow on Vimeo.

Popular Science seems to have won most acclaim and is Brad's favourite. But we are struck by the way all three of the magazines in the Colbow selection use the convention of moving through the magazine horizontally and moving through the story (or the individual article) vertically. This meme, of the magazine issue as a matrix, has been kicking around for some months and I wonder why it has gained so much traction. I think the answer maybe concealed in the title to Colbow's video essay, too much input to these early apps has been coming from Art Directors. More should be coming from Circulation Directors.

Steve Smith at Mobile Insider makes the point succinctly:
The basic problem here is obvious. No one wants to learn a different interface with every magazine brand. As my stepfather said when he saw all of this, "I already know how to read a magazine. I just pick it up." I am not sure we want our periodicals to have to come with instructions.

Khoi Vinh, at Subtraction, makes a similar point in rather stronger fashion about the widely admired Popular Science app:
That repetitiveness does little to counter the general feeling of placelessness throughout the app; the navigation is well-meaning but fussy at best, but honestly much closer to incompetent. (As we get out of the gate with iPad publishing, can we just very quickly impose a moratorium on displaying instructions on how to use reading interfaces? If you need to explain it, we should all agree, then the design isn’t doing its job.) I got lost and frustrated repeatedly, and then I got bored.

Magazines need to remember (and the Circulation Director needs to remind the Art Director) that one of their great advantages in moving to a more exciting digital role is that everyone knows how to read a magazine. So anyone should immediately understand how to read a magazine app. That is the goal. Placelessness is a great term to describe the potential absence of direction that a user can experience on the iPad or the iPhone. Magazines can solve this problem by re-using and re-presenting their page based organisation which readers understand so well and so intuitively. We think our page flow element serves this prior understanding excellently on the iPad. The iPad is really fast so you can really skim through thumbnails at blinding speed, whilst still being anchored in the page that your reading has reached. Placelessness is defeated when can view the magazine in two distinct ways simultaneously. It really is better even than the iPhone:


Group51 said...

That's great, but what I really want is the ability to download the magazine locally to read, rather than having to download each page. That's my main complain against the iPhone app. Other than that, it's intuitive and a definte improvement over paper. Bravo.

Adam Hodgkin said...

The Exact Editions iPhone apps and the iPad apps do now sync the latest issue of any magazine to the device. They only do this via WiFi and this will happen automatically when you open the app in a WiFi zone. This syncing of content via WiFi also works for the free apps.