Is the iPad the Best Magazine Ever?

One of the most compelling apps on the iPad is Wired magazine. Much has been written about what Wired and Adobe* have done to bring Wired to the iPad and if the details interest you, I’ve included some links at the end. Today I’d like to look at the larger picture of consuming news on the iPad.

Buying an Issue of Time

So far I’ve installed five news-related apps: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, TIME and, of course, Wired. All of these apps are beautiful to look at in their own ways. And they take different, if not terribly broad, approaches to translating their printed publications to touch-based digital editions. All of these apps are free to install, but Wired and TIME make you pay to download issues while WSJ keeps most of its content behind a pay wall (as on their website).

USA Today and WSJ both include small graphic touches that mimic their print editions (scalloped edges, faux stacked pages, etc.). Both apps update the content throughout the day, so even if you looked them over during your morning coffee, they’re worth checking again over lunch. The USA Today app has placeholders for some additional interactive content, such as stock charts and crossword puzzles. WSJ keeps most of its content locked behind a pay wall, as I mentioned, but it also prominently includes well-produced video segments. (Note to PR people: as far as I can tell, the USA Today app doesn’t feature their Snapshots, which get prominent placement in print and online. Strike that, the snapshots are at the lower left of the screen.)

The NY Times app includes only a few stories in several categories (the app is technically called Editors’ Choice, so it’s not meant to include the full breadth of NYT’s content). This app walks a finer line between print and digital design, using a printly layout like the other two newspapers, but leaving out the graphical imitations of the paper itself.

Wired and TIME take somewhat differing approaches to their content. TIME presents a print-like layout with embedded interactive while in landscape mode, and a more web-like layout with a picture and headline above a stream of text while in portrait. It’s similar to Reader mode in the latest version of Apple’s Safari web browser—it presents large, readable text uninterrupted by pictures or multimedia. The scrolling behavior is even different between the orientations, with the landscape mode snapping between screens and the portrait mode smoothly scrolling through paragraphs of text. In some ways it’s like they’ve created two separate magazines, and if you only browse in portrait, you may miss out on a lot of content. Unfortunately, because of the difference between the layouts, rotating the iPad brings to back to the top of the story. If you’re reading a long story, you may want to engage the iPad’s rotation lock switch. One complaint I have about the TIME app is that it doesn’t remember your spot when you return to the app. That is seriously inconvenient for a long publication.

Wired's Table of Contents in Landscape

Wired has also essentially created two separate magazines, one for portrait and one for landscape. Though the content is the same for both versions, each has been meticulously art directed for the dimensions of the screen. The stories are far more interactive than TIME, as well, including not only video (which I had a hard time getting to work) but slideshows and interactive graphics and charts as well.

Wired's Table of Contents in Portrait

Both TIME and Wired scroll within article content vertically between articles horizontally, and they both try to include hints as to when page extends below the screen.

None of these apps allow you to directly select any of the text, so you can’t copy excerpts of articles, but all of the newspapers allow you to increase or decrease the text size. Intrepid evangelists of accessibility have deconstructed the Wired app and determined that the pages are constructed primarily out of large PNG images (two for each page, one vertical, one horizontal). This also accounts for the tremendous size of the Wired issues. The welcome message in the latest edition says they are working on the file size, and let’s hope they fix it soon. It won’t take long to fill up even a 64GB iPad with dozens of large magazine issues along side your already enormous video files (and why have an iPad if you can’t store video on it?).

I have one more bonus news app to discuss: Instapaper. I started using this app on my iPhone so I could more-easily read articles on sites that rendered poorly (usually because of bad typographic choices, like tiny fonts and very wide columns, which are a bad combo on a small screen). Instapaper, which has a free version but is more useful in it’s $4.99 “full” incarnation, is fortunately a universal app (meaning the same app has native iPhone and iPad versions), because it’s a whole new experience on the larger screen. My workflow lately has been to use a bookmark on my desktop browser to mark any interesting articles I come by for later reading. Then, when I’m on my couch with my iPad, I have an entire catalog of great content waiting to be read. And it keeps my iPhone version in sync, so articles I’ve already read on the iPad are thusly marked on the iPhone, and vice versa.

The one thing all these apps have in common is that reading on them is a joy. They present tons of content digitally, but in a way that lets you concentrate on each story like you would in print. And for the magazines, the design and art direction is miles beyond what any major publications are doing on the web. The iPad alone won’t save the news industry, but I believe it aptly demonstrates the way we’ll consume our news in the near future—on a “couch computer” not a PC. And I believe that partly because the news consuming apps on a merely months-old platform are already so compelling.

* Adobe’s technology was conceived as a Flash-based, write-once-deploy-everywhere magazine reader, but when Apple announced they wouldn’t support Flash on the iPad (big surprise), they went back to the drawing board and came up with the present solution. Condé Nast, which owns Wired, also worked with Adobe for iPad versions of GQ and Vanity Fair.

Links about the Wired app:

I’d like to thank my iPad Sponsors: Aaron Dotson (on behalf of Virginia Supportive Housing) and Wine and Beer Westpark. If you’re interested in sponsoring as well, contact me on twitter @tonyskyday.

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3 thoughts on “Is the iPad the Best Magazine Ever?

  1. I’m so close to actually getting an iPad despite the cries of my tech savvy friends: “Wait till the next generation comes out! It’ll be better!”
    I’m not convinced that it’ll make taking pictures any easier or better, but I do think that it’ll make leaving my laptop at home less stressful.
    Your comments are encouraging.

  2. That’s been my thinking. The current MBP I use is light years beyond the white iBook I used to have. It’s a whole lot more powerful than the Blueberry iMac I had before that.

    I hadn’t thought so much about resale, but as a guy who still has a second generation iPod in service, my perspective’s a little skewed.

    Chances are pretty good I’ll have the thing later today.

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