Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tablet media design: the web apps versus native tab apps misses the real issue facing publishers – design

As many TNM readers have been, I've been very interested in the new tablet design start-ups that are experimenting in HTML 5 services for publishers. Companies like Onswipe, Pressly and others are doing interesting things and their solutions may, in fact, be just what the doctor ordered for many publishers.

I've played around with some of the online services that let you build your own tablet compliant websites but have always been put off by the same issue: design.
PhotobucketThe basic look of most of these digital publishing solutions is the RSS feed driven layout of boxes. This is the issue The Guardian recognized when they designed their own native tablet edition. How do you allow for enough flexibility of design, and how do you adjust for story importance? The Guardian's tablet app is a step in the right direction, I thought at the time, but in the end I did not like it enough to subscribe once the free trial period came to an end.

Google's Currents has many of the same problems involving tablet design, but publishers who want to be part of the Google app have few options but to play along – design becomes of secondary importance when the issue is reaching an audience or not.

TabTimeshas launched its own tablet website through Pressly this morning and one can immediately see the advantages and disadvantages of the solution.

The first thing one notices is that the basic design suffers when compared with the regular website seen on the same Safari browser on the iPad – or at least that's my opinion.

But the advantages of these same solutions can be enough to make a publisher choose this solution. A website that built around Flash, or is Flash heavy, would naturally want a web app solution that will work on a tablet. Also, publishers who use long form content may prefer web apps that allow for more natural swipe and scroll options.

One of the big issues I have with web apps is that while they create a new product, the tablet edition, it takes away another, the normal website. My instinct is to always look at new devices and technologies as new and separate mediums. The rise of tablets can create a new platform, but do we want to trade in our web platforms? One might argue that you aren't losing the web platform, you are only making it easier to read on tablets. I strongly disagree.

Just as the OC Register has concluded that its app is for leisure-time reading, so, too are most other tablet publications. If a tab owner wants immediately news and information they will use the tablet's browser, and their expectation is a traditional website.

The same logic is why is distain replica editions in most circumstances. When a publisher moves their print product onto a tablet in the same format they don't lose that print product, but do they really gain a new one? Or are they simply making their old product harder to read?

But I recognize that this may be generational or simply a matter of taste. I drive a used Jaguar rather than a new Nissan Cube.

Maybe the problem lies in my career track: newspapers to magazines. Both platforms are limiting, but page design becomes so much more interesting and exciting in the magazine publishing world. Look and feel, readability and text flow are paramount. A magazine may have a feature article layout it considers "standard" but it tries to limit its use, and the art director uses it only when pressed for time or bored.

Web and tablet design, IMO, is still in the dark ages, design-wise. Web app solutions may be moving the ball forward when it comes to technology and ease of publication, but as for design... well, that's a matter of opinion, isn't it?