Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Engadget Distro gets update that pulls it into Newsstand; simple digital publishing model still works

The fairly new iPad magazine app from AOL owned Engadget, called Engadget Distro, received an update last night to bring it into Apple's Newsstand.
The update probably was forced on them due to a misunderstanding of Newsstand rules that do, indeed, allow for free publications to be inside Newsstand. But no matter, the update has now been issued and the app functions as advertised.

For the reader, whether you like this app will be totally determined by whether you enjoy Engadget's web content, since the app is a simple repackaging of the tech site's work there.

But for me, the app remains a great example of a simple digital publishing solution for the iPad that creates a logical, easy-to-read, easy-to-navigate tablet magazine. That doesn't mean its perfect, as I will soon point out. But it offers so many great lessons in what a publisher should be thinking about when designing their own digital magazine for tablets.

(This post, by the way, is not going to be much different than the original post I wrote in October when the app was first launched. But I think it is worth writing about this again.)

What makes this app work is its simplicity. First, there is a library page where all the issues reside – you've seen libraries like this a million times. There is a subscribe button at the top that when pressed quickly makes you a subscriber – since this is a free magazine no need to double confirm a purchase.

What could be improved here? A pop-up or a more prominent subscription promotion would be nice, to encourage subscribers, especially since this app is now in Newsstand. What else? Well, it would be nice to know how big these issues are when they are being downloaded. Many readers won't care, but I like to know how much space I have giving away to a publisher. My guess is that these issues are not that large, but it is still nice to know.

Left: The library page inside the Engadget Distro iPad app; Middle: the same full page ad that was seen in the first issue remains here in the most recent issue; Right: simple story navigation is consistent with other digital magazines.

Once the issue opens up one sees right away that the publisher has decided to create their issues in portrait only orientation. This saves space – quite a lot of space really. I can't criticize this decision as it speeds production, saves space, and replicates the print magazine experience. But other publishers might decide to go landscape-only, or put the time into make their digital magazines use both orientations. It will all depend on how much time and resources you have. For a weekly like Engagdet Distro it probably makes sense to go with one orientation only.

Inside the magazine the story flow is simple and consistent with other native designed magazine apps. In fact, this is standard magazine design, I would say. The readers scrolls within a story, swipes to get to the next story. This way of doings was outlined by Bonnier was back in December of 2009 in its concept video. You can see that video on the TNM YouTube Channel.

For B2B publishers especially, this way of making digital magazines for the iPad and other tablets seems ideal. It is simple, quick, and repeatable. For web publishers like me, this is just what I would produce if Mag+ or some other digital publishing solutions provider would go insane and make their digital publishing solution free.

Endadget's app is, in essence, a replica app. What it doesn't use, for instance, is in-page text boxes that allow for scrolling while the background image stays the same. Using Mag+ to build the app would allow for this. There is also no embedded video or audio, something that many publishers would insist on. In fact, this is something you would expect from a tech site.

So why write about such a simple app twice in three months? Because I see this app as what many publishers who are unfamiliar with tablet publications should look at first. This is like taking a baby step. But this app is far more instructive to look at than a normal replica app. This is lies somewhere between those hard-to-read PDF apps, and apps that try and use all the bells and whistles available to them. If a publisher starts with a simple vision of digital publishing, something like this app, then they are starting at a good place.

And readers seem to agree: this updated app is getting only good marks from those who have downloaded it – something not often seen inside the App Store.

1 Comment:

Tablazines said...

You could replicate Distro's type of magazine using some Dreamweaver templates and Pug Pig which is free (though Newsstand compatibility will cost you).

As far as the scrolling while the background image stays the same. This can be done using a little CSS.