By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 10:09 am
For months, Wired has been showing off a splashy prototype tablet edition of its magazine at industry confabs:
It’s a knockout of a demo–but I keep saying that it’s time for fewer digital magazine prototypes and more ones that real people can buy. And Wired’s magazine app is now a reality, in the form of a $4.99 iPad app you can buy from the App Store. It was created in collaboration with Adobe, and apparently sidesteps any development techniques which Apple would have problems with.
This first iPad issue is a partial implementation of the dazzler from the video. It’s got the rich-media elements: The cover story on Pixar includes a clip from the movie and a video tour of the studio, for instance. The app does a remarkably good job of reformatting pages to look good in either portrait or landscape mode–an origami-like challenge that makes my head hurt just thinking about it. The fancy thumbnail-based navigation is there. And the whole thing has the visual splendor which print Wired has always had and Wired’s (excellent) Web site does not.
Among the tools from the demos that are missing so far: social-media options for sharing stories via Twitter and Facebook and a “Favorites Bin” for keeping track of stories. A special editorial by editor Chris Anderson promises more features in the months to come, including the ability to subscribe. (As with TIME and other iPad-ized magazines, you currently buy Wired an issue at a time, at the same price you’d pay at a newsstand for the wood-pulp incarnation.)
iPad Wired is fun to read, and the video and other interactive features are a plus. But like other publishers who have jumped onto the iPad bandwagon early, Wired owner Conde Nast hasn’t come up with something that’s a decisive improvement on ink and paper. 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.
There’s a scrolling list of every article in the issue, from the cover story to one-paragraph shorties, but there’s no emphasis on the major pieces–everything’s the same size and it’s organized from start to finish. (I pined for the print edition’s table of contents, which sensibly lists the features up front and devotes more space to them.)
In general, finding and re-finding stuff feels hard. The iPad edition lacks a clever innovation from the print version known as “page numbers,” and you can’t bookmark pages or do searches. The scrubber at the bottom lets you swoop through thumbnail images of the whole magazine, but they’re too small to get a good sense of what’s on the page–maybe Wired should refresh the full-sized pages as you scrub to better simulate the feel of flipping through a print publication.
I’m critical about this digital version of Wired and other tablet magazines in part because I love magazines and think their potential on iPads and other tablets is immense. If Wired gets a bit better with each iPad issue over the next year, it could be everything the demo offered and more.
The software world has a long-established procedure that might be relevant here: It releases preliminary, incomplete apps as Betas and doesn’t charge for them. A really forward-looking magazine would follow that tradition and keep its digital editions free until every major feature was in place. Even so, I’m happy to see Wired land on the iPad–and I hope that an HTML5 version is in the works, too.
A few images: