Home iPad Mags: Amazing or Confusing?

iPad Mags: Amazing or Confusing?

One of the iPad’s biggest selling points is its potential as an e-Reader. The included iBooks application and the optional downloadable Amazon Kindle app, for example, provide hundreds of thousands of books to read, all in a relatively standard format: swipe horizontally to flip a page. iPad magazines, however, are trying to be far more creative. As we’ve mentioned before, the new magazine-style applications include everything from video to music within their pages, plus interactive features and clickable ads. But one problem with these innovative new ‘zines is that they each do their own thing, in their own way. While this early adopter applauds the innovations we’re seeing on the iPad platform, the mainstream user may find the variations confusing.

Mini-Movies and More

First up: the heavily praised interactive VIV mag, a standout among online newstand Zinio’s offerings. Early demos were decidedly exciting. This wasn’t text – it was a multimedia experience! The article featured in the demo video, a sex-ed advice guide, used actors against a green screen to produce a mini-movie illustrating the article’s main points. Worried about AIDS? A women writhes against a bull’s-eye as knives fly at her. Afraid of pregnancy? A women casts a worried glance at the man entering the room while pressing her hand to her stomach.

In practice, however, this format is not as much fun as expected. The cover features clickable links, one that reads “Enter Issue” and another that says “Click to VIVIFY this cover!” Sorry – what? Now I know that they mean “launch interactive content” but mainstream Dicks and Janes may not. And the iPad, if anything, is targeting these so-called “everyday” users – the content consumers whose tech-savviness is a bit lacking, if I may say so kindly. But if you don’t “vivify” the mag, you miss the movies – the main attraction. (There is a “Vivify” button at the bottom of each page, too, in case you didn’t see it the first time around, but the text next to it says “Tap on the ‘V’ to read more.” Read? How about “watch” or “see?”)

Another problem with VIV? I’m not sure if it was an app glitch or an iPad one, but the first movie got stuck “downloading” at 16%. Future, here I come?

Next is TIME magazine. A gushing editor’s letter talks about the publication’s embracing the new slate-computer platform of the iPad. But how they’ve done so is already attracting some criticism. One of the problems is that TIME decided to go with vertical swipes for reading articles but horizontal swipes for navigating from one article to the next. This is not intuitive. On an eReader, whether book or magazine, we expect to read left to right. Vertical only works on the desktop-based web.

Condé Nast’s GQ magazine is another specialized iPad creation I examined. It doesn’t start off well: upon launch, a progress bar displays how much of the magazine has download so far. Will the mainstream user know that you don’t have to wait for the download to complete before you tap “read issue?” I’m so not sure. They’ve also chosen to go with vertical navigation for reading articles and horizontal navigation for scrolling between sections.

Meanwhile, Car & Driver’s “iPad Interactive Edition” returns you to plain ol’ horizontal flipping. In fact, the magazine looks so much like a color PDF that we almost missed the interactive features. Obviously, two white squares overlaid on an image surely means “launch photo gallery,” right?

One app that gets it right is NPR….although that’s probably because it’s not really trying to be a magazine, despite the company’s claims that it uses a “magazine-style presentation.” While it’s true that you can flip from page to page, horizontally of course, the app is more than a mere digitized mag. There’s an audio player, playlist creator, program and station finder and more. The news items with an audio track feature buttons for listening and adding to your playlist. Straight text-based items do not. Simple and easy, and overall, well-done.

At the end of the day, these magazines are still more fun than their analog counterparts, but, clearly, they’re all in very experimental stages right now. The navigation and interactive features differ from magazine app to magazine app, with some getting it better than others. Will they eventually standardize their presentation in an effort to simplify their features? Should they? It’s too early to tell what format readers will prefer: mini-movies, some interactive bits sprinkled throughout or straight-laced e-reading. In the meantime, it will be interesting to try out all the variations.

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