Monday, July 9, 2012

A few thoughts on designing for smaller tablets, as well as those endless Apple small tablet rumors

Designing digital editions from print products is a royal pain, let's face it. Vendors may provide easy solutions, but the any added costs or added work is still more than many small to mid-sized publishers bargained for when they got into this business.

The introduction of both the iPhone and then the iPad, while creating new opportunities, also is challenging the ways production has been designed. Many companies have been downsizing their art direction staffs for so long that the idea of suddenly staffing up is, well, unnatural.
Because of this, some publishers have been taking it one platform at a time – develop a tablet edition for the iPad first, add other platforms later. Vendors are trying to help but creating easy ways to port-over their digital designs for other platforms.

A great example of this is Mag+'s latest release which adds support for iPhone apps.

For me, the iPhone is not an attractive platform for magazines. I rather loudly laugh when I see replica editions on an iPhone. Do publishers really expect readers to enjoy the experience?

But what about smaller tablets? Should designers see a 7-inch tablet as a completely new platform that deserves is own native designs? Possibly, but the reality of designing over and over again surely will lead you to make a compromise. Would you put a mobile edition on a small tablet, or put your iPad edition on the smaller tablet?

Until recently, when I've seen very few exciting mobile magazine products, I would have advocated designing for the iPad and then simply porting over the end product for the 7-inch tablet. But I think I would really enjoy reading the British Journal of Photography's mobile edition on a small tablet. The BJP mobile edition is not as stripped down as a Kindle Edition, and the larger display size would make fonts easier to read. (See full report on the new app here.)

Now, I understand that digital production vendors offer outputs to all sorts of platforms – what I'm talking about here is not what is possible, but what is desirable.

I've been running in my mind a scenario where I am discussing with my art director what sort of digital edition we would produce for a new Apple 7-inch tablet. I would like to think that this art director would take on the challenge, but it is just as likely that they would say "in what hour or what day do I have the time to design yet another digital edition?" Taking the mobile route, that is to say, the good mobile route, may be the way to go.

So, Apple is going to come out with a 7-inch tablet. Well, at least, the tech sites are saying so. Their credibility on such matters is less than convincing. But after proclaiming this would happen for two years it looks like the tech sites will finally be right.

I think Apple will launch a smaller tablet for two reasons: first, I'm sure Apple knows that Amazon and others will be launching larger tablets soon – I doubt they are shaking in their boots, but competing at the smaller end of the tablet market is a good way to fight back; second, a smaller tablet reaches a somewhat different market, the eBook first market, if you will.

I really do not enjoy my Kindle Fire for newspapers and magazines as much as the iPad. But the 7-inch size is still very nice for books. I like reading books on my iPad, usually in landscape, but a lightweight smaller version of the iPad would certainly be a desirable platform for many.

I guess we'll see later this year. But in the meantime, you know what they say about no pictures?