Monthly Archives: September 2010

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iPad Magazines – Beautiful Castles, But A Future Built On Sand…

Fig. 1 – The cover of the iPad edition of Wired.

If you were one of the defenders of the Amazon Kindle reading device to jump into the comments fray after my last post – in which I stated that the iPad had blown the Kindle hardware out of the water – then you’ve failed to understand what this blog is all about.

Look at the title at the top: It’s not “The Future of eBooks”. It’s “The Future of Reading”…

Commenters mostly ask the same questions, or make the same statements: What about the new Kindle, which is smaller and has better contrast, it’s really cheap, much lighter than the iPad, the battery runs for a lot longer? Isn’t it a better reading device?

They may be completely correct from their own (limited) viewpoint. For me, personally I can’t go back to a Kindle now without feeling somehow cheated after the enriched reading environment of the iPad.

Leaving aside the issue of readability in sunlight v. readability at night, every one of the commenters in favor of Kindle is still talking about reading only text, about books without color photographs and illustrations, great layout and typography, or video.

The iPad offers the vision of a future which offers not only all that, but the emergence of a new business model which can include paid-for or free content – the latter perhaps funded by a superb advertising platform, creating a publishing business model that actually works…

Kindle defenders are looking at the world now, whereas I’m trying to envisage publishing ten years into the future.That’s always been my horizon.

So let me try to explain how the iPad has confirmed my longer-term vision for onscreen reading. A word of caution. It might look as if that future is already here – far from it. All of the beautiful-looking edifices I’ll be showing in this post are real – but so far they’re all built on sand…

Every one of these illustrations is an iPad screenshot of real content. They’re all magazines or “newspapers”. You can buy them today. And the sophistication of the layouts displayed clearly demonstrates that beautifully-laid-out books are also completely possible.

The first “emagazine” I bought was a copy of Wired. As you can see from Fig. 1, the cover is stunning. The high-quality photography, layout and typography you’d expect. Now walk with me through a selection of lovely screenshots from some more iPad publications. It’s worth clicking on each of them to see the original full-size pages. See you after the last graphic!

Fig. 2 – Wired again, an inside page. Lovely, clean layout, great use of graphics and type.

Fig 3 – Another inside page combines a photograph with great type and precisely-placed graphic elements.

Fig. 4 – Same great layout, precision text and graphics, this time combined with video.

Fig. 5 – Leave it to the French to demonstrate real style in a eMagazine – the cover of the free promotional issue of ParisMatch.

Fig. 6 – Inside page of ParisMatch. Lovely, clean layout, great use of type, photographs, graphics.

Fig. 7 – It wasn’t the Dior model that made me salivate when I saw this – it was the thought of how many of the advertisers who sustain magazines today would be lining up to pay for ads of this quality. Elsewhere in the same edition of ParisMatch there were similarly-glossy ads which also contained video, or – in the case of one Alfa Romeo ad – the sultry tones of a French model declaring, “Je suis Guillietta!”.

Fig 8 – ParisMatch feature story on Dimitri Medvedev – full-page high-quality photo overlaid with creative typography. Dammit – it looks just like a magazine!

Fig. 9 – Lovely type and layout!

Fig. 10 – Great layout, great type, great photographs – and video!

Fig 11 – Great typography again, with precision placing. Note the text precision-wrapped around the huge “J”.

Fig 12 – Another gorgeous combination of full-page photo and precision text.

Fig 13 – Front page of the New York Times Editors’ Choice.

Fig 14 – Inside page of NYT Editors’ Choice showing story layout.

Looking at all these great pages, you’d be forgiven for thinking: “Wow! We’re there!” But nothing could be further from the truth…

No iPad “reader” app laid out any of these pages. Every single one is a “picture” of a page. You can’t scroll the text – except to the next full “page”. Even worse – you can’t increase the size of the text if you need to. If the layout folks made the type too small for you to read, then you’d better pick up a magnifying-glass, because no amount of “thumb and index-finger stretching” on your iPad screen will make it any bigger.

Each of these publications is its own iPad app – in effect, an interactive slideshow.

The other problem is that because these pages are graphics, they are totally iPad only. Even if you could view them on another screen, as soon as they’re scaled, the text – which of course is really only a “picture of text” and does not use scalable text technology – breaks badly.

Now, I don’t mean to be too harsh here. These are beautiful iPad-only magazines, and if the layout folks get the typesize right, they’ll do for now. But even if the iPad continues to sell at its current rate, it’s still going to be only a fraction of the potential market for onscreen publications of this calibre.

What we really need is an onscreen layout engine capable of creating this level of quality and precision from Web-standards markup.

I’d like to see some of the HTML and CSS gurus who read this blog picking up the challenge of reproducing these pages using only markup. In the process, I think we’d all gain a better understanding of what can be done today, and where markup and layout need to go to truly create the future of reading – not just books, but ALL reading…

The iPad has shown that it can display pretty much anything the designer can create. Now we need the markup to support this level of sophistication, the tools to create it, and the browser-type applications which can parse it.

iPad Blows Kindle Out Of The Water – But Amazon’s Kindle App Is Best iPad Reader…

A tale of two eBooks: A quick side-by-side photo of Kindle and iPad in the same lighting conditions – quite acceptable light for reading a paper book or on the iPad, but a real strain for Kindle reading.

The Bottom Line: Since I got my iPad, I find reading books on it so good that I can no longer bear to use my Kindle – although the Kindle app is the best eBook reader on the iPad, and the only one I use. Picking up the Kindle – after using the iPad for several weeks – is like stepping back into the Dark Ages of eBooks – a small-screen world of poor contrast, in which you can read comfortably only in perfect, bright lighting. It looks somehow pathetic alongside the iPad. You can never go back home again…

Doubts Resolved: My only doubt about the iPad, before using one myself, was whether Apple’s text rendering would be good enough at the resolution of the iPad – or whether I would miss ClearType. The answer’s unequivocal. The text rendering is great – so much better than Kindle – and I don’t miss ClearType at all.

I had always believed that our invention of ClearType was a brilliant Band-Aid for the problem of low-resolution displays, back in 1998, but that it was a technology with an expiration date. At some point, increasing screen resolution would obviate the need for it.

However, I expected that it would take screen resolutions of 150ppi (pixels per inch) or more to make ClearType redundant. Apple’s display technology on MacBooks, and now the iPad, at 133ppi, is good enough that it’s no longer needed. And that raises a whole raft of issues about the value of future investments in font hinting.

Alfred North Whitehead

Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947), an English mathematician who became a philosopher, once famously said that the entire development of Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.

When the history of reading on screens is written, it might well be seen as a series of footnotes to the iPad. Yes, we’ve had other eBook devices before now. And yes, the Kindle broke new ground with long battery life using the eInk technology. But as I said in an earlier post, eInk is essentially a backward-looking technology, too slavishly bound to emulating paper, and it’s an evolutionary dead-end.

The iPad, with a crisp, bright high-resolution screen capable of handling color and video, yet with acceptable battery life, has moved us out of the Dark Ages. It’s the first eBook device I’ve seen that really feels like it’s changed the world. I vastly prefer it to paper.

The emergence of the iPad does not necessarily mean that Amazon will lose out. The company which pioneered online book sales did a great job on the Kindle application for the iPad, which is definitely my favorite eBook app – in fact, it’s the only one I find myself using. It looks fantastic on my iPad – my “Library” looks like a shelf of “real” books, with high-quality, color covers. And Amazon’s Kindle bookstore is far superior to any of the others.

There are still issues which the Kindle app – and all other eBook apps I’ve seen – need to address if they are to truly match the readability of well-set type on paper. It’s all do-able, there’s zero rocket science involved. It’s simply the case that the companies creating eBook readers have not made the investments required to completely nail the issues. All the readers can certainly be improved. There’s work still to be done.

The main problems with the Kindle hardware device are these:

First, the iPad screen makes Kindle look incredibly dated – and cheap. I know, Kindle is a lot cheaper, and eInk is more readable in bright sunlight. But honestly – how much of your reading do you do in bright sun? In any other light conditions, the iPad wins hands-down, with its clear, bright display, which is also capable of displaying great video and animation. At night, reading in bed, there’s just no contest. With Kindle, I need a light. With iPad, I can read for hours without disturbing Tanya. And its larger screen also gives more real estate, and feels less cramped than the Kindle. It’s worth the difference in cost, by a long way.

Second, the iPad does a lot more than just let you read books. I find myself popping out to the Web to check a fact, or get more information. I use it to play videos, check my email. I even use it as an emergency cellphone (using Skype). Flipboard is an excellent way of checking a few news sites, my Facebook page, etc., all at the same time.

I refuse to pay a data charge of $25 a month or more. So I use only the WiFi connection. I figure that if I need to make an emergency call, I’m always able to find a Starbucks, or a Borders Books…

I’ve reached the point where I’d be glad to ditch thousands of paper- and hard-backed books from my bookshelves. I’d rather have them all on an iPad. More in future posts.