Monday, March 7, 2011

Grupo IMPRESA launches impressive, confusing tablet edition for its flagship newsweekly Expresso

Some of the best media apps being produced for tablets are not coming from the US but from Europe. A little over a week agp Grupo IMPRESA released its iPad edition for its newsweekly Expresso.
Expresso is the flagship newspaper of the publishing group, with a circulation of over 100,000, the paper includes supplements and a magazine, and most of that can be found here. Pedro Monteiro, Digital Art Coordinator at Impresa Publishing, tells me that real estate supplement is not yet available, which implies, of course, that it will be soon.

The free app (links: US App Store and Portugese App Store) creates the shell, a library where readers can buy and download individual issues.

Individual editions cost $0.99 (0.79€), which seems like a hefty discount off the print cover price of 2.90€. Monteiro says that the price represents a special launch discount, so readers may be faced with a price increase at some point.

Once downloaded and installed the reader has access to five separate sections: Primeiro Caderno (the main news section), Economia (Economy, the business section), Revista Única (the magazine), Atual (the cultural magazine), Emprego (the employment section).

The main section is, itself, a hefty download at 226.7MB. The file size is pretty much the result of embedded video and other animation within the download. The photography, as you would expect looked great.

The app has been well received inside the Portugese App Store. But the one complaint has to do with the orientation choice: horizontal. The app is, of the most part, designed in horizontal mode.

"Like Visão, we've decided this for two reason," Monteiro told me.

"First, it is our belief that the iPad, for reading in a lean back position, is mostly a horizontal device. Also, the vertical 'paradigm' is very much associated with the print product and the design for the iPad doesn't republishes any design made for print. Second, we wanted to have the automatic vertical text mode enabled in Expresso and that makes it impossible to design vertical and horizontal layout."

I think this is the right choice, but some readers are obviously confused by this. This reveals itself in the choice of making the thumbnails in the library vertical when they should be horizontal to remind readers. Also, the encourages the reader to turn their tablet to see the gorgeous shot of Sandra Barata Belo pretending to be Emmanuelle in full screen.
In the end, it is the time constraints imposed on the designers and development team that keeps this being a mostly horizontal product -- but this still a good decision because it keeps the file sizes down, as well.

Monteiro told me that the team is using WoodWing's digital product tools to design their tablet editions. The design of the navigation is excellent. I particularly like the swiping to move from story to story (this is common) with the scrolling to reach second pages within stories. I know John Gruber has said it finds this confusing, but I still think this works well. The one hiccup I found in the app occurred when I opened Revista Única: I got stuck on the cover page and only after quite a while did I manage to access additional pages or the navigation tools found on the bottom. I think this was because the section was loading its content. The user's impression, though, is that the app has crashed, frozen in place. Eventually the section loaded and I could start exploring the section.

I think this is an app US developers should download and look at closely. A replica edition simply can not compare to the user experience of this app for Expresso.