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.

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16 thoughts on “iPad Magazines – Beautiful Castles, But A Future Built On Sand…

  1. Ralph

    Agree. In a blog post a while back I wrote "an eBook is no longer a "carbon copy" of written text, but a digital media experience. Stop thinking book."Although my post is about eBooks and not iPad magazines, the glossy PDFs of iPad magazine pages still lack interactivity. By which I mean there is no internet integration like "search" or social media sharing. While reading, I'd like to share my thoughts directly through a multitude of social media channels and link to passages from the eBook or magazine which can be accessed by others. http://bassfeld.posterous.com/an-ebook-is-no-longer-a-carbon-copy-of-writte

    Reply
  2. Pete Cornell

    I'm glad you covered this topic and agree that iPad magazines leave something to be desired, particularly in terms of honoring the legibility of text. Having scalable, clearly rendered anti-aliased type is very important. Some of the iPad magazines I've looked at have scalable type while others do not.When Apple announced the iPad I was disappointed they didn't introduce an App for magazines that would enable publishers to make beautiful magazine quality layouts. It looks like they may be working on it now. I just saw this article about negotiations with publishers yesterday.In terms of display quality of the iPad for rendering type, I'm surprised you haven't made comparison to the iPhone 4 display. While the iPad does well at 132 ppi and I enjoy reading on it, then new iPhone displays 326 ppi and text looks gorgeous on it. It leaves me wanting an iPad with higher pixel density. Maybe in the next release?

    Reply
  3. Bill Hill

    @Pete Cornell: Battery life is the real issue in terms of increasing resolution. If you want to go from ~100ppi to ~300ppi (in round numbers) then you have a 9x increase in the number of pixels you must compute – n-squared.That's why we've seen high-resolution screens on phones, but not on desktops and laptops, although everyone knows their screen resolutions are still too low to match the resolution of human vision. Refreshing that many pixels takes a lot of graphics processing = increased power requirement.As I've said in other posts, the iPad's ten-hour battery life at 132ppi was a real achievement.I'm not holding my breath for the 300ppi iPad, although if the rumors of a 7" model are true you might see increased resolution there. But I'd expect something more like 150ppi as the next step.The problem of creating beautiful magazine-type layouts becomes pretty complex if you allow text scaling, since you can't just scale text when there's precision placement of graphics elements, pictures etc. The problem of adaptive layout to handle this is fairly complex. The simple Web solution of having a bottomless scrolling window to hold an expanding/contracting amount of text doesn't work for this type of layout.It will be interesting to see what tools Apple produces, and what they output. Personally, I would expect the real breakthrough in this area to come from Adobe.

    Reply
  4. Chris L

    History repeats itself. A lot of these magazine apps are just CD-ROMs from the 90s (we had QuickTime, Hypercard, Macromedia Director…) with a "Share on Facebook" button stuck on.

    Reply
  5. bowerbird

    bill said:> 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.i'm not sure you realize all the contradictionsthat are inherent in what you just said there…-bowerbird

    Reply
  6. j.Tree

    Those are good points on battery life issues. A challenging problem indeed. I would be happy with magazine quality layouts that use fixed text and when you zoom it renders the enlarged text at higher resolutions. Safari on the iPad does a nice job of this when you zoom a web page, thereby getting enlargement of the text and graphics while maintaining the same layout. I tested the Zinio reader briefly and it seems to render text fairly well. Whichever solution we end up with, legibility is critical.

    Reply
  7. Bill Hill

    @j.Tree: I wrote in an lot more detail about the issue of resolution in a post some time ago.The Safari-type zooming of fixed text works only if the text is stored as text in the layout, because it has to be re-rendered at the new zoomed size.Apologies if I'm stating the obvious here, but text-as-graphics can't be zoomed by graphical zoom because it looks awful.Scaling of text is non-linear.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    You do realize the reason it is an image is that Wired is working with Adobe tools which were designed for Flash and so they had to convert it images that weigh 500MB in order to sell on iPhone.All the media people want Apple to give them free ride by hosting their content buy not getting a cut and also share customer information.If the rumors of iNewsStand is rightthen this should be corrected by Apple. but I doubt it will what we want anyway.Have you tried Times Reader 2.0 which is an Adobe AIR product from NYTimes.

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  9. Mike Garrish

    Adobe PDF already offers scaleable text and images and provides an 'article' feature that isolates the text from a page and makes it easier to read. This has been around since the early days of PDF.I have never understood why this feature is not more widely used but it would seem to be ideal for viewing magazines on an iPad?

    Reply
  10. H. Doug Matsuoka

    I was just cleaning up my apartment when I came upon my old Casio EM-500 which was a PDA operating under Windows Mobile (or CE I think it was called). It had your Microsoft Reader on it along with my old library including a couple of books I had written and were published by Scorpius Digital in the .lit format. I started "thumbing" through the book and noted its similarity to the current Kindle app on my iPhone. Actually, of course, it must be the Kindle app that resembles its predecessor, Microsoft Reader. One thing I did notice, and this is germane to your post, Scorpius inserted various graphics into the book as chapter markers etc., and these flowed very well regardless of the font size etc.I remember formatting the text using html and css and that leaves me wondering two things: (1) What the heck ever happened to Microsoft Reader .lit format? (2) Couldn't an updated form of .lit do everything you describe here? After all, HTML has come a long way (to HTML5). Just wondering.Best,Doug

    Reply
  11. Bill Hill

    @ Doug: Yes, we launched Microsoft Reader in 1999, so it was a Kindle ancestor for sure. Readability was based on my paper, The Magic of Reading:(http://www.billhillsite.com/osprey.doc)The team always believed two things were necessary to succeed: build a device, and create a bookstore.There were management mistakes – too much resource spent on PR and promotion, for instance, and not nearly enough on development. Projects such as eMagazines – running on TabletPCs – were not pursued. We built mags that looked like the ones running on iPad – many years ago, although they did not use .lit.AFAIF, while Reader is still available, development work has been moribund for years.If you look at the Reader website, you can see that it's still suggesting there are 60,000 title available – a figure that hasn't changed in years.For those of us who wanted to build the future – and made a good start on it more than ten years ago, it's a bittersweet memory.

    Reply
  12. Romy Klessen

    I hadn't checked your blog in a while. Returned to see what's new. I, too, have been comparing reading experiences (on Kindle DX and iPad) and have been "taste-testing" magazines on an iPad. They are gorgeous, indeed, but I still want more control over my experience as a viewer — is that "odd" for a print designer to say? Soon I hope my students will be ready to start creating content in Digital Publishing courses for these new media devices. Having gone to CS5 will make that easier in .pdf workflow; but I'm still hoping we will get to the point of _true_ text flow without having to "go PostScript" to get it. I resisted an iPad for a while because I didn't think the text clarity would make the cut without higher res, yet I have moved my Kindle book content over to the iPad and it's mostly been very good!If only the various reader apps (programmers?) understood the point of H&Js in print software and gave the reader more options for column width and text alignment. Bad spacing overall is even more disruptive to flow than limited font choices or fluky character hinting.(Strange how I can live with the anti-aliasing now at a level that I hated not so long ago — can I blame presbyopia?)–romyfolding dummy at mac dot com

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  13. Bill Hill

    @Romy:I agree whole-heartedly! H&J is a major missing piece; as you say, bad spacing (inevitable without hyphenation) is one of the most disruptive problems.And yes, we need true text-flow, which would allow the reader to adjust the size of the text for his or her comfort, yet retain a high-quality, designed layout.It's a complex problem, but it can be done. I've seen it.Print designers have been accustomed to precision control over everything. They need to be able to relax that in some measure, yet retain the essential control of their design.I have written about this in the past. For 35,000, designing the display of information meant first deciding the size of space you had to fill.This was The First Age Of Design.We need to move into The Second Age, in which design means a dynamically-changing display to suit the device on which and the reader by whom it's being.Designers need a new mind-set, and new tools. They're still missing.

    Reply
  14. Anonymous

    another issue that arises with 300ppi versions of the magazines is the file sizes will more than double. They already seem way too large and take way too long to download, especially when web pages load in a matter of seconds. the trade off of magazine quality layouts for huge file sizes and long download times just doesn't seem worth it overall to me.

    Reply

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