This is the second article in my series exploring reading on the iPad. Here’s part 1, newspapers and part 3, iBooks.
People have a special, unique relationship with magazines. They’re companions. Before you get onto a plane, you grab a magazine. We bring them to the beach, the coffee shop and yes, the bathroom.
They’re forgiving. You can fold one and stuff it into a pocket, leave it in a bag or toss it in the back of the car. Did you get a coffee ring on the cover? That’s fine; it’ll dry. You say you only have a few minutes to read? No problem. Bite-sized articles abound. Magazines are inexpensive and familiar.
They’re also in trouble. Newsstand sales for the 472 consumer titles in the United States fell 9.1% in the last half of 2009 versus the same period a year earlier. With the release of the iPad, a segment of the publishing industry is looking for Apple to provide the same salvation that the music industry received from the iPod.
Can an electronic edition of your favorite mag provide the same casual comfort that you’ve come to know?
In this article, I’ll look at two magazines for iPad: WIRED and Outside. But first, let’s review the factors that determine a pleasant reading experience on the iPad.
Forget the page curls, videos and other tricks. If a magazine app fails to convey the author’s ideas and message to the reader, the rest doesn’t matter.
Developers are free to get creative with how users move through their applications. As a result, there’s no standard. Does a given solution enhance or hinder a given app?
How does the presentation, layout, navigation and so on combine to create an overall feel? Most importantly, does the app disappear and leave me with the story, or am I aware of the software (and hardware) the entire time?
What makes a given magazine stand out?
How do I receive new issues or content?
Now, let’s look at some magazines.
The first electronic release from Condé Nast, [1. Just this week, Condé Nast confirmed that it will bring The New Yorker to the iPad] WIRED Magazine ($4.99) sold 24,000 copies in the first 24 hours. By June 8th that number rose to 79,000 copies, and the app was set to surpass print sales for the month.
That was nearly one month ago (WIRED Magazine for iPad was released on May 26th), and it’s still the only issue available. But that doesn’t mean they’re done. “There is no finish line,” wrote Editor In Chief Chris Anderson. “WIRED will be digital from now on, designed from the start as a compelling interactive experience.” That’s great news, because this is a nice implementation that will be great after after a few changes.
At first, navigation is a bit confusing. Pages scroll horizontally, and multi-page articles and ads scroll vertically. Swiping left and right moves you through the magazine. Unfortunately, some of the multi-page articles provide visual cues that they scroll vertically, but not all.
However, tap any page and all becomes clear. A menu bar appears that reveals a table of contents on the left and a gorgeous overview on the right. The length, synopsis and even keywords of each page is clearly presented. Let the doves descend from a sun-filled sky because this is so clear and effective it must be of supernatural origin. Well done, WIRED.
If navigation is good, the feel is great. WIRED’s bold design, colors and images are well represented in this app. It’s undeniably an issue of WIRED.
Best of all, the developers took advantage of of the medium with lots of interactive features.
For instance, the “Invaders from Mars” feature presents an image of the red planet and the man-made machines that have paid it a visit. Slowly swiping across the image rotates it, revealing a photo and brief history of each mission. The illusion of “spinning” the planet is very well done and kind of addictive (you’ll find yourself whirling the planet around even after you’ve read all of the text).
Some articles, like “Riverboat Resurrection,” let you toggle between related photos without leaving the article. A great example of this explains what goes into Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce. As you tap between the numbered steps, a new ingredient is revealed. Others include a clip of related audio or video. It feels like a webpage, so it’s familiar, but it’s much faster, so it’s more satisfying.
I spent 10 minutes playing with Worcestershire Sauce. Not even Worcestershire Sauce, but an article about what goes into Worcestershire Sauce. Now that’s engaging content.
I don’t know if other publications would be able to pull this off. As a tech-y magazine for geeks, this type of flash just “fits” into WIRED. I can’t imagine Vogue, for example, using the same tricks without seeming gimmicky. WIRED for iPad is unique in very good way.
Acquisition is a mystery as only 1 issue has been released, so we’re left to talk about communication. WIRED for iPad is successful in this regard for one simple reason: It’s fun.
It’s fun two spin Mars around, to look at pictures of Pixar and explore how a frame is assembled. I’m pulled into the experience and as a result riveted to the content.
The app has its faults, of course. The price is too high ($5 per issue at this point), it’s huge at nearly 1/2 a gig and there are a LOT of ads. But what’s good about this app is so good that I’m willing to overlook the bad.
I was thrilled to see long-time favorite Outside ($2.99, universal) hit the iPad. The photography and the gear/gadget reviews have had me hooked for years. The iPad edition mostly works for me.
The navigation is instantly usable to anyone who’s browsed the web within the last 5 years. To begin, swipe through the covers of issues you’ve downloaded. Once you’ve tapped a selection, a toolbar displays icons for each section, and an overview screen presents what’s available from each department. Best of all, there’s a tutorial on “how to navigate.” Nice!
Acquisition is simple if a bit time-consuming. The app checks for new content at every launch. It only takes a moment and, if it does find something, it asks before beginning the download. My suggestion is to accept when you aren’t really in the mood to read, as the downloads take a while.
What’s unique about this app is its gallery. It pulls all the photos from every article and displays them together. You can easily flick through the pictures without seeing a lick of text. Before you scoff (“The whole point is reading, Dave”) consider how many times you’ve flipped through the pages of a magazine, looking at the pictures without reading a single syllable. See?
Feel is where Outside for the iPad loses me. I’ve gotten into the habit of taking it with me to EMS to show a salesperson exactly what I want. Yes, I could do that with the iPad but I probably won’t for fear of A.) looking like a tool and B.) dropping or misplacing the thing. Extracting a crumpled magazine from a cargo pocket is one thing. Flinging a $500 computer around a store — especially for a scratch-0-phobe — is another.
That’s not the app’s fault but it does speak to the core of magazines on an iPad. Like I said, people think of magazines as their rough-and-tumble companions. They’re the Jeeps of the publishing world: utilitarian and ready for duty. Even with a case, the iPad is, well, a delicate computer. I’m not going to hand it to Janie the Sales Clerk in hopes that she can find the Tevas I’m after.
That’s where the disconnect will be for many. Not the implantation. The teams behind WIRED and Outside have pulled off their projects spectacularly well. How many will be comfortable brining the iPads on the planes, beaches and bathrooms of the world for a quick read?