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.

Twenty Four

If you have any interest at all in the iPad, you’ve likely read plenty of reviews and maybe even played with one at your local Apple Store. I know I read everything I could get my hands on, from reviews to pontifications on what the iPad means to the future of computing. But still, nothing I read gave me a sense of what it is like to bring an iPad home for the first time. Maybe that’s a good thing. It probably indicates that the reviewers took the time to live with the device for a while before writing about it. Since that ground has already been covered (copiously), I’m going to concentrate on the first 24 hours of iPad ownership.

First Launch

Out of the box, the iPad doesn’t do a whole lot. Maybe that’s not fair. It does have great photo and video apps that take advantage of everything the iPad’s screen has to offer. But there isn’t much you can do to explore those apps until you sync with you computer. At that point, if you’re an iPhone owner, iTunes will also sync your full compliment of apps. Since the iPad has been available for a couple months, a few of my iPhone apps have been updated to include iPad support, including Amazon’s Kindle app. (Another universal app is Strategery, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to let you use the same account on two devices.)

The Screen

When I first saw the iPad in person, I was amazed by the screen. There is, indeed, something visceral about interacting directly with your content. While I don’t want to downplay how amazing it is to wrap your arms around the web with the iPad, as a recent iPhone 4 purchaser I can say that you most definitely can tell that you are looking at a screen with lower pixel density. Where the iPhone 4 looks like text on paper, the iPad just looks like a really nice screen. I can imagine how amazing a future “Retina Display” toting iPad will be.

Typing

The screen is bright enough and has a wide-enough viewing angle that it is still comfortable to read while laying it flat to type. I’m writing this in the $10 Pages app—sitting on my couch with my legs* stretched out and the iPad in my lap (just where my laptop would be). When holding the iPad in your hands, typing is a strange experience. The iPhone owner in me wants to type with my thumbs, but that doest quite cut it with the iPad. I think John Gruber covered most of this on DaringFireball.net, but I can’t seem to track down the entry at the moment. Typing while holding the iPad is something I’m still working out, but laying the iPad down in landscape mode (with its nearly full sized keyboard) is actually rather enjoyable. Thanks in no small part to iOS’s autocorrection feature.

Aside from sometimes missing the delete key high (and therefore hiding the keyboard) and the spacebar low (meaning I have to try again), I find the on-screen keyboard perfectly acceptable for composing documents, even relatively long emails. I drafted this post in Pages, as I mentioned above, and aside from copying the text into WordPress and adding images, it’s presented here as created on my iPad. Judge for yourself if using the iPad affected the number if typos or the quality of the writing.

Apps

I’d read that many developers were using the iPad as an opportunity to sell at higher prices than iPhone apps (which seem to gravitate around $0.99). In limited searching, this most definitely seems to be the case. Developers should certainly charge whatever they want (or need) to charge, and I don’t see it as being an ongoing problem for me, but when you are staring at a mostly blank home screen or looking for iPad equivalents to your favorite iPhone apps, it can be both a daunting and expensive proposition. For instance, after spending $40 on Things for Mac and $10 on Things for iPhone, I won’t likely drop the $20 for the iPad version anytime soon.

On the other hand, there are some free iPad apps, and perhaps the introduction of iAds will bring about even more.

I had hoped to avoid buying Pages, because I figured I would never use the more-advanced word-processing features, but I didn’t find anything quite like I wanted in the App Store, and I was curious to see what Apple had done with Pages. It’s a nice app, and definitely a good first step to bridging the gap between the mobile and desktop.

Parental Control

One thing I didn’t realize was the level of parental control available. While it surely could be improved, it is a great and necessary feature. Invoked within the settings app after defining a four-digit numerical password, it let’s you restrict access to Safari, Mail, in-app purchasing, the App Store and explicit content in music, movies, etc. This is not only handy if you have little ones around, but also if your iPad is being passed around a room for people to play with. Though perhaps you would want to allow Safari access in such a situation.

The OS

I definitely miss iOS 4’s multitasking, and I look forward to getting the iPad update later this year. I’ve read the theories on why the iPad debuted without iOS 4, and they make sense (for one thing, the iPad came out a couple months before the iPhone 4 and iOS 4). But as to why the update won’t cone for so many months, I’ll have to chock it up to one of the great many mysteries of major software development. All I know is that I wish I had it now.

Smudges

Like the iPhone, the iPad screen breeds smudges, but unlike the iPhone, you can’t just rub it on your shirt to clear the smudges. Well, I suppose you can if you wear really, really big shirts. Anyway, if you don’t like smudges, invest in a cloth and keep it handy.

Twenty-four hours in, the iPad has been great, and I’m looking forward to getting to know my iPad better over the coming weeks and seeing where Apple and third-party developers take the platform.

*Thanks to @richmondmom for pointing out a typo (kegs instead of legs). That’s strike one for writing on the iPad (or I need to proof better).

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


Is Soccer Popular in the U.S.?

Official 2010 FIFA World Cup match ball by mikkelz, on Flickr

I’ve been reading about the World Cup a lot lately, and almost every magazine or newspaper article has asked some form of that question (most of the blogs thankfully seem to have moved on to actually talking about soccer). But, really, that’s the wrong question.

Of course soccer is popular in the U.S., it’s just not as popular as most other professional sports. The average attendance at MLS games was a skosh over 16,000—and the Seattle Sounders FC had a total attendance of almost 500,000. And the notoriously poorly rated broadcasts averaged a 0.2 rating (250,000 or so viewers) weekly.

The point is, people are watching soccer—live and on TV. Whether enough people are watching is above my pay grade to determine.

So, no, these articles aren’t really asking whether soccer is popular in the U.S. What they are really asking, while pointing out the $400 million investment by ABC/ESPN and Univision, is whether soccer is finally mainstream in the U.S.—has it caught the attention of the average citizen, not just the soccer nut?

The answer to that question is “no.” It may well be that more Americans than ever are watching this World Cup. But I predict that soccer—real, international soccer—will never be mainstream in the U.S. until we win a World Cup.

The sad truth is that we prefer winners. If there is more U.S. interest in the World Cup this year (fans from America bought 160,000 tickets to matches, more than any country but South Africa), how much of that is due to U.S. mens’ strong showing in last year’s Confederations Cup?

The baseball team with the most fans in the Yankees. The football team with the most fans is whoever won the most Super Bowls recently (or the Cowboys, which makes me sick as a Redskins fan). I have no idea who the most popular NASCAR driver is, but I bet he wins a lot.

But, as much as I like the beautiful game, it will remain slotted somewhere below obscure winter Olympic sports and above getting run over as an American pastime. And even if we do ever win the World Cup, the best soccer enthusiasts can hope for is to have the same general level of interest as other Olympic events we’re good at.

Who knows, maybe someone will invent an X-Games version of soccer and the next Shaun White will play that.

Three Reasons to Sponsor my iPad

For those who have asked, yes my iPad sponsorship experiment is still going. I have two sponsors locked in and I am looking for more. One thing people have asked me, is why they should sponsor my iPad. In an effort to explain things a little better, here are just three of the reasons you should join the experiment:

  1. No one else is doing it. If you search Google for iPad sponsor, the first relevant result is my last post. This experiment hasn’t generated the kind of traction previous novel sponsorship have… yet. But if it succeeds, you can bet it will garner some attention.
  2. Everyone wants to see/touch an iPad. Why don’t I let analyst Michael Gartenberg speak for me here: “iPads attract attention. If you travel with one, get used to giving demos to those around you. It’s par for the course for early adopters. I expect that the novelty will wear off sometime by the start of fall.”
  3. The most popular post ever on this blog was an iPhone app review. And I plan to do a whole series of iPad and iPad app reviews. Not of main-stream apps that everyone is posting reviews of, but of specific apps that do and connect to things that I am passionate about. As I mentioned before, that Sonos iPhone app review got 10,000 unique views in one day—imagine if your logo was at the bottom of that post as a sponsor?

The bottom line: I told my existing sponsors that I would take my iPad with me to a conference in Aspen, and I am not going to let them down—I just need two more sponsors to make it happen. Contact me today at my email address on twitter @tonyskyday to sign up.

My iPad Sponsors are Aaron Dotson (on behalf ofVirginia Supportive Housing) and Wine and Beer Westpark.

Why Ad Agencies Shouldn’t Do Social Media

The short version

Managing a brand’s social media presence is a waste of time for creatives because it requires them to use a different set of skills and spend time cultivating communities and building relationships, which takes time and energy away from creating killer creative.

The long version

Winning social media is not promotional and it’s not creative, at least not the way advertising is. It’s about building relationships. It’s about having authentic interactions with your followers and fans (likers?). It’s about content, yes, but not about selling or soliciting. And it’s not about concept. (Although, in some cases it can be about providing special offers.)

Great creatives should spend their time making great creative.

Public relations, however, is already set up to build relationships, develop trust through authentic content, and handle consistent and effective communications.

At The Hodges Partnership, we’ve been able to forge some interesting partnerships between our clients and their audiences. (I feel compelled at this point to draw attention to the disclaimer to your right expressing that this post represents my opinions only.) For instance, last year Morton’s The Steakhouse held a quarterly series of “community conversations,” called An Evening at Morton’s, where panelists discussed topics over dinner at Morton’s and interested citizens followed along on a liveblog and on Twitter (using the hashtag #steakchat). The program was successful enough that it was renewed this year as a partnership with Richmond.com, and now takes place every other month. (Look out for the next one June 22. I should also mention that this event predates my employment at THP, so I had nothing to do with its development.)

Now, maybe that doesn’t strike you as a fabulous idea, but it has generated wonderful conversation around the topics, from exploring Richmond’s identity as a participatory sports town to discussing the Richmond arts scene or the environment local non-profits and charities face in the current economic and political climate.

Some of our social media projects involve collaborating with our friends at various ad agencies to create promotions to build up communities on social networking sites, but the real work for us is cultivating the community — that is, maintaining and developing those relationships, and equipping our clients with the tools to do the same. Engaging fans, followers and readers not with promotion or marketing, but with useful information and authentic interactions.

You may shake your head in disagreement reading this, saying to yourself that advertising copywriters are adept at creating content of all types. Through my own ad agency, PR firm, corporate and freelance experiences creating (and refining) different kinds of content, I’ve experienced how easy it is to cross the line from informing to selling. While things are always changing in the nascent social space, so far users haven’t reacted well to being sold to, even in the opt-in worlds of Twitter and Facebook.

This isn’t a question about what ad agencies CAN do, it’s about what they should do. If you’re an ad agency, you have talented writers who create winning concepts, write compelling headlines and script successful commercials. It’s tempting to put those writers to work creating tweets and status updates. But what of the opportunity cost of asking them to manage a brand’s social media presence? The time your copywriter spends reading brand mentions on twitter and responding to comments on Facebook and blogs is a distraction from what she was hired to do. Perhaps you’re thinking billable time is billable time, but when that set of ad concepts is due by 5, you want your creatives to be free to concentrate on their primary jobs without letting your social media presence lapse.

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Space Coast from Most to Ghost

STS-130 Night Shuttle Launch from flickr by Malenkov in Exile

It’s been all over the news, so I’m sure I needn’t give an extensive background: President Obama announced he would cancel the over-budget, under-funded and behind schedule Constellation program instituted by President Bush to get America back to the Moon. (Let’s set aside that we’ve landed there six times before.) His plan would also look to private corporations to launch rockets to take American astronauts to space.

Say you believe in the free market to the point of religion, and you think small government is absolutely crucial to the future of the U.S., when you hear that a large government program is being canceled, what would your reaction be?

Apparently the common response is outrage. I don’t know if hypocrisy is quite the right word to describe this situation. I think it’s just plain illogical. How can you say you want small government and in the same breadth decry the reduction of a Federal program?

I get that there is a aspect of patriotism involved in sending American men and women to space. Though I don’t know why there seems to be more patriotism tied to the space program than something crucial to all Americans, like improving the quality of our schools.

NPR has been playing interviews with people on Florida’s “Space Coast” who will be directly affected by the retirement of the shuttle fleet (a Bush decision) and the cancelation of the Constellation program. Many of them are rightly unhappy with the number of people who will lose their jobs. Certainly some of them will find jobs in the private sector (though one man said, “those aren’t real jobs, they’re virtual jobs; engineers and people like that,” which doesn’t make a ton of sense). But a certain number of those people were going to be out of jobs when the shuttle program ended anyway.

Obama has now modified his plan to address the criticisms. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. When someone disagrees with everything you say, I don’t think you should bend over backwards to accommodate them.

Richmond Balance Bootcamp, Day 1

This is NOT what I looked like. I have more hair.

Today was my first day of Richmond Balance’s 8-week bootcamp program. I’m still alive. I think. I guess it remains to be seen.

The  sessions are held at Libby Hill Park, which I’ve never really been to before. The views of the city from Libby Hill are nice, both in the pitch black we had at the beginning of the session and as the Sun began to rise.

I didn’t quite make it down there right on time, so I missed some stretching and whatever introductions there were. It sucks that I was late, but, hey, I’m not used to getting up that early.

I was, without a doubt, the worst person in the class this morning. Which, I guess, makes me a good candidate for most improved. I mean, when you start this far down the fitness continuum, there’s nowhere to go but up, right?

Day 2 is Wednesday. If I don’t make it, I leave my iPhone to Sharif as spare parts to fix his busted one.