This week, News Corp announced that The Daily – the world’s first iPad-only newspaper – will shut down after less than 2 years and this has sparked a big debate on why The Daily failed and, more in general, why magazine apps suck.
Beyond the specific case, most existing iPad magazine apps suck because they offer essentially static content, they suck because they are far away from being interactive. Creating interactivity does not mean embedding some multimedia “bells and whistles”.
Most magazine apps suck because they are basically heavy PDFs with just some interactive elements. Almost all the solutions in the market are PDF-based systems such as Adobe’s DPS (clearly) or Mag+. The reasons are obvious. Publishing world is PDF-centric, people know how to use InDesign, and publishers want to reuse the knowledge and the investment done. So the solution is to create interactive PDF files with InDesign (adding some Flash-like interactivity on the top of the standard format) and to pay for a service that packages them into a bundle suited for distribution through iPad (or to pay for a commercial library for PDF-rendering). Understandable budget reasons (I, too, have developed an app of this category). But in this world a magazine app is a PDF reader.
Another digital publishing world is possible. And just to be clear, not a HTML5-based world where a magazine app is a browser. A magazine app makes sense if it’s a true native app, if it adds value to the user experience in terms of usability and functionality, takes advantage of the capabilities of the device, and makes a clean break from the incumbents.
Many have commented that The Magazine is the model to follow, and it is evident. Everything becomes immediately obvious when you see it. It is certainly the best example of how to distribute publications via Apple’s Newsstand, it is intuitive and immediate, but memorable editorials can not be the only lever to succeed in all situations. When I think of an iPad magazine app, I think of something like an iBook textbook, or an interactive children’s storybook, for magazine publishing. Truly interactive publications with diagrams that readers can rotate and pan-and-zoom, with photo galleries, videos, maps. A magazine should bring articles to life. Readers should be able to truly interact with the magazine, manipulate objects with their fingertips, search for content, highlight text. Magazines should take advantage of the fact that they are always connected to the web, for example with newspaper-specific modules that support polls, comments, photo sharing.
Science fiction? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple releases a sort of Newsstand Author. Or allowing the download of XIBs? Or what? Well. When I think of this, I don’t think ad hoc iOS apps, but a framework in which an issue is a bundle of resource files and metadata and the app is a sort of runtime environment that dynamically renders magazine issues delivered via Newsstand. XUL? XAML? Something like that. But there is no need to define a new protocol, the rendering instructions can be expressed in HTML (or its subset). In this way you can have truly native experiences, but also issues easy to produce, and portability. Time to start-up?
What do you think about it? Any opinion or feedback from you are welcome.