I don’t subscribe to Time. Never have. Never will. I’ve been more of a Newsweek U.S. News kind of guy over the many years of newsmag reading I’ve done. (I could, here, indicate that I am an Economist kind of guy too. I don’t really read that magazine either, but it has a pretentious enough feel to make me seem like something other than I am.) I was, though, recently encouraged by a friend to pick up a copy of the latest version of Time in order to read Lev Grossman’s article titled sin•gu•lar•i•ty.
I haven’t read the article yet, but I have spent the last five or so minutes thumbing through the pages, as it were, of that issue using Time’s new iPad app. In that short bit of time, I’m already very frustrated with the reading experience the app offers.
I realize that magazine publishing and the translation of same to a digital format is something that is still being struggled with by almost every print magazine on the planet. But I must say that, of all the iPad magazines I’ve looked at thus far, and I’ve looked at quite a few, Time seems to have gotten the concept pretty wrong. In short, here are my complaints, and given that I’ve only looked at this app for a few short minutes, I may find more later or I may find that what I initially hated turns out to be pretty darned good.
Table of Contents:
Seriously? Two columns of contents that need to be scrolled, individually, from top to bottom to locate an article that you want to read?
Scroll for More:
The Time app has instructions on every page to give you guidance on how to read the article you’re presently looking at, so, every article, like the Contents page, has little black bars on it telling you to scroll up or down for more. First of all, you can’t scroll down if you’re already at the top of the article so, technically, you can’t really “scroll” that way “for more.” Second, if you have to provide instructions on every page of your iPad app so people will know how to access its content, you’ve got a problem with your design.
There is something particularly uncomfortable about swiping left or right to find an article and then scrolling down to read said article, yet this is exactly how the Time app works. The process, at least in my five minute experience, is utterly painful.
No, I Mean Really? Scroll!?!
It’s not so much that you have to scroll down as it is the fact that there really is no pagination. It doesn’t matter to me that the text rolls from top to bottom, but the fact that the article SCROLLs makes it that much easier to lose your place in the text as you scroll along. If you must scroll downward, DON’T SCROLL!! Make it seem like I’m turning a page. Snap from the text I’ve just read at the bottom of the page to the next page’s text at the top of the page so that my eyes can track from the bottom of one page to the top of the next instead of floating around somewhere in the middle until I find my place again.
Remember Where I Was In An Article:
While attempting to read an article in Time I somehow managed to turn my downward scroll into a leftward slide, which took me to the next article in the sequence. My swipe back to the original article did not return me to the page that I was just reading, it instead brought me back to the very beginning of the article. There needs to be some kind of page turning intelligence that either returns me to the last place I was in an article or that lets me choose whether I want to start at the beginning of an article or continue where I left off.
Shut up!!! You think too much.
The overall problem, from where I sit, is that not enough effort goes into making a simple, intuitive magazine reading product. Instead, Time, and to be fair, many other magazine and newspaper-like apps, over-think the experience they’re trying to create and in so doing destroy the pleasure of reading. Simplicity is the key. A book. A magazine. These are simple concepts. There is text on the page, sometimes there are images, and navigation is simple, you flip forward, you flip backward, you find an article in the index, you locate its page number, and you thumb through the magazine until you find the page you’re looking for. There is no glitz. Instructions are unnecessary. A magazine, a book, a newspaper is simple and intuitive. Reading apps for the iPad need to think in terms of simplicity. Once they’ve set that foundation the app they build will be extraordinary.