Depending on Who You Talk To, the WIRED iPad App is 50% Awful, 50% Brilliant, or Vice Versa • Nxtbook Media

Depending on Who You Talk To, the WIRED iPad App is 50% Awful, 50% Brilliant, or Vice Versa

Written by Nxtbook Media

One thing about the magazine industry: compared to the auto industry our concept videos come to market quicker, for better or for worse.

After releasing their concept video of what they hoped to do on the iPad, WIRED Magazine came to market this week with their digital issue at $4.95 for interested parties. Not surprising when you’re hoping to change the world/re-invent the wheel/split the atom/insert favorite analogy here, reviews were mixed.

Because we’re in the magazine industry, let’s focus first on what Harry McCracken had to say. McCracken found himself dazzled by the technology allowing the pages to seamless morph from portrait to landscape mode. He referred to it as "an origami-like challenge that makes my head hurt just thinking about it." (Keep this line in mind, because we’ll come back to it in a bit.)

That being said, McCracken isn’t sold on the design, which seems to mimic that we’ve seen from Bonnier. He said, "Navigation seems needlessly complicated: You swipe from left to right to jump from story to story, and swipe down to move through multi-page stories. But the up-and-down part doesn’t have any discernible benefit:
It’s not always always obvious whether a story has multiple pages, so it’s not clear which direction you should swipe. And if there’s any way to tell the app “Give me the next page of the magazine, whether it’s another page in this story, the next story, or an ad,” I cant figure it out."

So there’s that.

But then there’s Michael Turro, who commented on another blog (which we’ll get to in a minute) that, "it’s got a kind of warmth and readability that I find satisfying."

So you’ve got two respected magazine design professionals, one of whom can read it and one of whom can’t.

But what about the "origami-like challenge," McCracken referred to? After all, making a magazine morph depending on how the device is held is a big deal, right? Well, not when you just create two different layouts and call up whichever one you need, which is exactly what WIRED did*. Imagine that: WIRED Magazine has three layouts this month: print, iPad horizontal and iPad vertical. Somewhere, there’s a designer showing up late for dessert.

The blog that revealed what WIRED did was much more of a technology review and for the most part, didn’t really argue about whether the design works for readers. What the writer did say was that the technology used to create WIRED this way resulted in a single issue of the magazine that’s 500 megabytes. That’s right: half a gig. In other words, if a user happened to subscribe to four magazines and they were all built the same way, they’d blow out a low-end iPad’s memory in eight months. Somehow, that doesn’t sound very scalable to me: The original iPod could hold thousands of songs, but the original iPad (which some have hailed as the future of digital magazine reading) holds little more than my bedstand?

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Michael Turro made many copious comments on the blog in an effort to explain what makes magazines unique and why some of those unique qualities inevitably complicate the finished product. And while I agree with him 100%, the comments that being special doesn’t justify being half a gig have merit, too.

So where does that leave us? From reading what McCracken, Turro, and Gilkison have posted, here are some random conclusions. You may have different ones and feel free to share:

1) At least it’s real. Kudos to WIRED for putting something out there. Moving away from a concept to product is a big deal.

2) The technology and design elements must work better together so that a good digital magazine isn’t a huge digital magazine. People won’t put up with 500 megabyte magazines very long. It would be like discussing putting a computer in your house back when they were as big as a room. It’s impractical.

3) Until the technology improves, you may need additional designers or you may need to outsource design work to play on all of these screens. At Nxtbook, we’ve been reflowing and redesigning some titles for some time. We’re good at it and we’d love to do it for you.

4) When the dust settles, this will still be a niche experience. The fact that Harry and Michael can’t agree on whether or not this is readable tells me something: they’re both right. We learned long ago that digital magazines weren’t for everyone and there’s no reason the next generation will be, either. And that’s ok. As a publisher, your goal is the same: put the content your readers want in their hands in the way they want it. But we’re in a world where how they want it is becoming more fractured and unique.

*Please note: The technical review of the iPad WIRED app has PG-13 language. I’m posting the link anyway because I believe in the value of the content. If you’re offended by such things, please either don’t click or accept our apologies.