Building The Perfect Beast

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What I Don’t Like About The Time Magazine App for the iPad

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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.

Seriously? Scroll!?!
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.

Written by Jeffery Battersby

February 16th, 2011 at 12:21 am

Craig Mod—Embracing the Digital Book

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Embracing the digital book | via Craig Mod

Another excellent, insightful piece by Craig Mod on the current state of e-book readers and what they should aspire to be.

Physical books and e-books are both text at their cores. Book designers long ago established rigorous rules for laying out text blocks so they disappear to the reader. They took pride in turning the physicality of a book into a tool for efficiently and elegantly getting information into the mind of the reader. As any good typographer knows: the best typography goes unnoticed.

Our e-readers seem to have forgotten this heritage. They’ve forgotten that their core purpose is simply to present text as comfortably as possible; to gently pull the reader into the story. Every other aspect of experiencing a book is predicated on this notion.

I don’t have my own iPad yet, but I do have a demo unit that I’m using for a review and there are many things that I love about it and more I’m finding everyday. Reading is definitely different, and I think better, on the iPad than it is on either my iPhone or my Macbook Pro. I’m particularly in love with Instapaper Pro, although I’ve probably saved more items for “reading later” than is possible for me to read in the next few decades. While iBooks is interesting, I’m not finding any of the books that I’m interested in reading at present and I, like Mod, can do without the page turning animations and the book-like look of the interface. I’d also like the option to use white text on a black background so I can read in bed without waking my wife or feeling like I’m using an emergency locater beacon. The Kindle app, at present, offers far more, both in terms of what’s available book-wise and display options, than does iBooks.

The one app that I’m supremely impressed with is Outside Magazine’s iPad Edition, which seems to me to have spanned the gap between print and digital editions in a pretty stellar fashion. The quality of the text mirrors that of the magazine and, while I think that as they continue to work on the layout it will only get better, I feel that in its present state it’s already a pretty darn good replacement for the print edition and one that I’d gladly subscribe to in a digital format. It also appears that Outside has designed this version to work in the way that I hoped iPad-based magazines would work, a single application with which you’re able to easily access older issues of the magazine and your latest issue without having to download a separate application every time a new issue is release. I’ll also add that the quality of the photography in the iPad edition is stunning. There’s a depth to it that you just can’t get in a print magazine and it’s truly beautiful to look at.

Outside Magazine Cover

Outside Magazine Content

Written by Jeffery Battersby

April 21st, 2010 at 11:48 am

Books in the Age of the iPad —Craig Mod

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Books in the Age of the iPad — Craig Mod

I probably could have quoted the whole article, but you’re better off reading the original, because it’s as beautiful to look at as it is good to read…

FOR TOO LONG, the act of printing something in and of itself has been placed on too high a pedestal. The true value of an object lies in what it says, not its mere existence. And in the case of a book, that value is intrinsically connected with content.

I will say, for the record, that I collect books and probably always will. I love the feel of a book and I love the authors who write the books that I collect. But there is something true about what’s being said here, and I can’t wait to see what comes of books/mags designed for the iPad.

With the iPad we finally have a platform for consuming rich-content in digital form. What does that mean? To understand just why the iPad is so exciting we need to think about how we got here.

One last thought as it relates to the quote above, I’ve said here on several occasions that it’s not the mere fact that you can get a book on an iPad, or a Kindle, or a Nook that matters to me, it’s how that content is delivered and how easy it will be to, say, access back issues of Outside Magazine, or Harpers, or The Economist. But there’s another point too. Have a look at Craig Mod’s web site. It’s designed like you’d expect any good magazine to be designed, it has layout and character, and something beyond the text that draws you in. Obviously the text is important, in fact it’s the most important part, substance over form and all that, but it’s important to note that there’s something beautiful about the way this site looks, and the iPad will allow you to have the kind of formatting and page layout that used to be reserved for print media.

I could read this on an iPad. I’d WANT to read this on an iPad. And it’s design like this and content like this that is going to make the iPad stand well above anything that’s on the market at the moment.

Written by Jeffery Battersby

March 4th, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Tablet PCs Are Coming, and Magazines Aim to Be Ready

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There was an interesting article in Tuesday’s NY Times about Time, Inc., tablet PCs and Time, Inc.’s development of a tablet for their magazines. I like the idea of a device for digital media like books, magazines, and newspapers, although I don’t currently own a Kindle or a Nook. What appeals to me is the possibility of having all my magazines/newspapers/books in a single location and on a single “device.” I put “device” in quotes because I still find the size, weight, and feel of the Nook and Kindle to be a little too clunky. Too large, not portable enough, not the kind of thing that I want to drag around with me everywhere I go.

What I do like, or what I’d like to see in some future iteration of the e-book/e-magazine/e-newspaper is something more along the lines of the imaginary newspaper that appears in the movie Minority Report, but in something about the size, weight, and thickness of, say, a copy of Outside Magazine. 8.5 x 11, maybe a bit smaller, but of the same consistency as a standard magazine. I’d buy a device like that, but with one caveat: I have to be able to get ALL of my reading material on that one device.

The problem is this: According to the Times article, while Time, Inc. is developing an e-magazine reader, so is The Hearst Corporation.

The “hands across the magazine industry” approach is already showing strains, however. The Hearst Corporation, a consortium member, announced this month that it had invested in its own digital storefront and a publishing system called Skiff. Mr. Squires said the consortium was not necessarily a direct competitor, but whether the consortium would use Skiff had yet to be worked out.

Two readers? Three? Four? That screams death to me. While I’d be happy to purchase one device on which I can subscribe to all my magazines/books/newspapers—and, mind you, I’d be more than happy to PAY FOR those subscriptions, just like I do now—I will NEVER have three, four, five of these e-magazine devices floating around the house. It doesn’t make sense.

If the publishing industry is smart, they’ll take a page from Tolkien:

One book to rule them all, one book to find them, one book to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

Here me now… if it’s all on one device, with the portability of a physical magazine and the power of Time, Inc.’s mocked-up tablet, I’m there. But if every publishing company comes up with their own proprietary e-reader, for get about it. You’ve lost me before you’ve even begun.

Written by Jeffery Battersby

December 18th, 2009 at 9:58 am