Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Despite online claims, magazines do not look "so bad" on the new iPad, they are simply more accurately displayed

One can drive a lot of traffic writing about things that are simply not true – especially when it involves a new Apple product. But after using the new iPad a couple of weeks it is time to call BS.

An issue of Dwell from 2010, available through the Zinio digital newsstand app.

The latest meme being pushed is that magazines look bad on the new iPad. This time, however, the writers are placing the blame on the publishers and digital publishing vendors. The fact is, however, that magazines don't look bad, it is simply not true. Yes, some magazines are using digital publishing techniques that are displaying their fonts in a less than crystal clear fashion. But guess what? This has always been the case – where were these writers when these same magazines were originally released into the App Store?

The problem, as we've discussed in the past, is that many digital publishing systems are rendering text as images rather than using the iPad's text rendering system. The reason for this is so that the digital magazines will more closely approximate the look and feel of the print magazines, even when the digital magazines are being laid out in a more native tablet look. A reader wants their issue of The New Yorker, for instance, to look like the New Yorker, not some plain text document.

Dwell's  fonts may not be perfectly sharp on the new iPad, but they weren't that way before either, so why the complaints now?

But lots of problems arise when a publisher uses this method of design. For me, the lack of font customization means that I have to live with the publisher's font choices, which sometimes are good and sometimes not. While many newspaper apps have opted to use adjustable fonts, most magazines do not. The result is that digital magazines usually are better designed than their newspaper equivalents, but can also be harder to read.

I've looked at almost all the magazines inside my iPad, and while it is easy to see the difference between the new iPad's so-called 'retina' display and the older model, the fact is that those magazines that were hard to read on the old iPad remain so, while those that were well designed remain so.

Yes, if you zoom in as far as possible to examine the fonts of magazines that have not been optimized for the iPad you can see that smaller text is less than sharp. But it wasn't sharp before, either.

I find that many replica editions are actually easier to read on the new iPad. These magazines reproduce their 10-11 inch pages on the 7.5 inch tall display – meaning that fonts that were designed to be read at the larger size are shrunk down, making them far harder to read. But the iPad's display helps, somewhat.

I continue to be convinced that those who want their print magazines reproduced exactly for the iPad are making a big mistake. I am betting that a few years from now we'll look back and wonder why publishers thought designing a digital magazine this way was a good idea.

But let's not pretend that the new iPad is making something that once looked great now look unacceptable. Nothing has changed except that the iPad's display is simply beautiful. Digital publishing vendors are, no doubt, working hard to adjust to the new specs, but I can tell you that digital magazines inside the Zinio digital newsstand, for instance, look fine.

Yes, publishers who optimize their apps for the new display will see better results, any art director that believes that the proper way to design a page is to create on 30 percent larger than shrink the page is on drugs. The big issue facing publishers developing for tablets remains whether to go with a native solution or a replica one. The sidebar issue also remains the same: which solution to use and whether to accept the compromises made by the vendors.