Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wired makes its iPad app debut today

Weighing in at 576 megs, the long-anticipated Wired magazine app has made its debut in iTunes this morning. The app (iTunes link) for the June issue of the magazine features Toy Story on its cover and contains a long feature on Pixar -- the animation studio formerly owned by Apple's Steve Jobs, and now owned by Walt Disney Company (whose largest individual share holder is Steve Jobs -- it's OK to roll your eyes).
Wired was one of the magazines that, like Sports Illustrated, produced a demonstration video that showed its early vision of tablet publishing. Unfortunately for both magazines, the demonstrations relied heavily on Flash, something that would not be allowed on the actual iPads Apple produced.

Wired also said they would be working closely with Adobe on developing their iPad app. Adobe promised cross-platform publishing, making it easier for publishers to port their print products over to the iPhone OS-based iPad, as well as future Android-based tablets. But that's where Apple supposedly stepped in to put a put a crimp in Wired's plans. Apple changed their developer agreement rules in such a way that it appeared that Wired would not be able to continue working with Adobe.

Feature stories can be read in portrait or landscape mode, with the layouts changing to accomodate to reader.

But, surprise, surprise, that doesn't appear to be the case. According to a post by editor Chris Anderson, Wired was able to get their app created and approved by Apple and still work with Adobe -- a move that forced Adobe to write the app using Objective-C, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Wired, which has been working on an e-reader edition since last summer, has pursued a different path than its Conde Nast brethren by partnering with Adobe Systems. That decision later landed Wired on the wrong side of Apple, which has banned Adobe’s Flash technology from its devices. Wired and Adobe had to rebuild the magazine’s app in Apple-approved code," Russell Adams wrote today.

Feature article in portrait mode 

"To deliver this rich reading environment, we’re using new digital publishing technology developed by Adobe," Anderson wrote this morning on the Wired site. "The yearlong effort, spearheaded by Wired creative director Scott Dadich, will allow us to simultaneously create both the print magazine and the enhanced digital version with the same set of authoring and design tools."

First off, let's declare this right now: this is the best magazine app so far for the iPad. Vanity Fair's app was nice, and the Financial Times app is the best newspaper experience right now, as well. But Wired takes things one small step further, as you will see.

But flipping through the many pages of this June issue, one also gets the sense that there are elements missing. Anderson hints at this in his editor's note stating: "Over the next few months, we’ll integrate social media and offer a variety of versions and ways to subscribe in digital form. We’ll learn through experimentation, and we will watch closely as our readers teach us how they want to use tablets."

Wired obviously worked with their advertisers as many ads feature both landscape and portrait versions, as well as embedded links and video. 

So, what is missing? Probably more animation -- animation that just happens when the reader opens the page. This was the "wow" factor in the first Sports Illustrated video -- it was all eye candy to be sure, but one senses that Wired might have wanted a little of that for themselves, too. But, of course, using Flash for that type of work would have made the job easier (not because it can't be done outside of Flash, but because of the fact that so many publishing animators are so familiar with Flash).

It's possible, though that the editors decided to tone down the eye candy and work on the substance of the issue. If that is the case, it was probably a wise decision. I imagine that there was a bit of pressure, either self-imposed, or from corporate, to launch an app sooner, rather than later. There is, after all, always the next issue.

The Wired app will set you back $4.99, and since it is dedicated to the June issue, one can assume that the July issue will come in a separate app. The advantage of this is that every month the app will appear as a newly launched app and will, therefore, appear on the first page of the new apps. Time magazine used this approach for the first few issues, then launched a free app that will require readers to subscribe through the app.

So far, at least, iTunes downloaders appear very happy with the app, with a vast majority giving the app five stars and very few complaining about the price (everyone seems to want free in the app store).

As I mentioned above, the app is a hefty download as it contains all the embedded video and animation, making the magazine easy to read when not connected to the Internet. In other words, the reader gets the full content no matter whether you are online or not. In contrast, the Vanity Fair app only really shows its stuff when you have an Internet connection (either through WiFi or 3G, assuming the owner bought that version of the iPad).

Another advantage to having buyers get that big an app is that it gives the impression that you have bought something tangible. It's not just access to content that the reader bought but the magazine itself. It's an illusion, of course, but a useful one.

Like Vanity Fair, the magazine can be read in either portrait or landscape mode. Unlike the VF app, the interactive content is available in either form (as far as I can tell at so early a stage of familiarity). I don't know whether this will be in compliance with the new ABC rules governing electronic copies, but it should be. And if it is not, then it is ABC that should make changes, not Wired.

← One of several features that use animation. Refresh page, or click photo to view.

The most original element in the issue is the use of animation -- specifically, the ability to have multiple frames on a page. In the example seen here, the Pixar feature gives you five different things to see on the page when the reader presses the numbered buttons. This technique is used several times, and is also used on several ads. In essence, the advertiser gets multiple pages of ads within the app. The first issue features nine premium ads -- that is, ads with embedded or added content.

Wired's use of video, unfortunately, is not the best. Video links open up new pages, just as you would see if the video had originated from YouTube. This is one area where I would hope to see improvement. Keeping the user within the page is a better solution, in many cases. Of course, one reason the publisher may be doing this is to take advantage of the high-quality display and larger screen available on the iPad.

Wired's app should be the answer to those critics who have expressed doubts about the future of tablet publishing (though they would never use that term). While still a work in progress, the first iPad app released by Chris Anderson, creative director Scott Dadich, and the rest of the staff is something to be proud of.

Their promotional video (below) is another story -- oh well.

So where do we go from here? For starters, European buyers will be receiving their iPads later this week, expanding even further the size of the tablet publishing market. Le Figaro, The Daily Globe, Publishers Weekly and Geo have all released apps in the last couple of days. (The Daily Globe actually released two: one free and one that is enhanced and costs $1.99). Many more will be coming now that Europe is in one the game.

Updates: a couple of paragraphs were revised for clarity, plus the quote from the WSJ story was added.