Monday, October 1, 2012

The Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard launches its first tablet edition that is 'almost as good as paper'

I think it is fair to say that there appears to be two kinds of newspaper publishers launching tablet editions today: those that believe that the role of the tablet is to reproduce the experience of print, and those that believe the tablet experience is somehow a different reading experience.

Those that produce natively designed tablet editions obviously fall into the latter category. But those that are launching replica editions don't automatically believe print is superior - for them, the choice of launching a "page flipper" often comes down to ease of publishing and the lower cost of production.
But some publishers actually seem to believe that print is still king and want their tablet editions to be as close to print as is possible.

The publisher of Der Standard, the Vienna, Austria daily newspaper, probably fall into the pro-print camp. Their new tablet edition, Der Standard, launched this morning into the App Store and into the Apple Newsstand, proudly proclaims their app to be "Fast so gut wie Papier." Almost as good as paper.

Many would say this is setting the bar pretty low.

The app succeeds in duplicating print, though without the ink rubbing off on your hands, and greatly reduced in size.

The paper's e-edition duplicates the paper exactly through PDFs that weigh in anywhere between 10 and 30 MB, depending on the size of the paper. The app description talks about added content such as video, though the issue I saw did not contain any added material.

The app assists reading by having text version of the story available when the reader taps a story. Otherwise, the reader sees the newspaper exactly as it would appear in print, though reduced in size to fit the tablet's display.

I would think that while Apple would prefer that all publisher develop native solutions for their tablet editions, that the company understands the urge to reproduce print digitally. Skeuomorphism is the term many use to describe this way of designing and you can see it in many Apple apps such as Calendar or Contacts. There, the screen is designed to look like a physical printed calendar. Steve Jobs is said to love this way of designing products.

The problem with producing print is that the metaphor begins to break down when the reader is more used to digital than print. That is to say, as soon as the reader has little or no experience with a print newspaper than the idea of a reproduced print page makes little sense to them. Why is everything so small and hard to read, they may well think.

My own position is that since every platform is different, converting one platform's design to another is not the way to go. But for those that can't conceive of the newspaper looking any different than it does in print, these PDF driven newspaper apps are the cat's meow.