13 maj 2013

Great news from the global kiosk

THREE YEARS CAN BE A LONG TIME. On April 3, 2010, the Apple iPad was released – and wow, what a breathtaking development the app market has undergone since then. To a news junkie, a very fascinating aspect is that it has become so easy to go shopping in the ”global kiosk”. The App Store business model may not deserve recognition for its fairness but from a customer’s point of view, it’s a winner.
Try downloading a couple of issues of LaPresse+ (it is free) or the iPad version of Dagens Nyheter (price 19 DKK) – just to name a few examples – and enjoy the quality of these publications, design-wise as well as regarding content. To newspapers and magazines with more limited budgets, like those published in my own country which only five million people will ever be able to read, this is pretty harsh competition.

The new app from the weekly magazine New York caught my attention a couple of weeks ago and is certainly worth a look. Not least because it challenges a couple of tablet format guidelines which had already more or less become conventions.

NEW YORK was founded in 1968 by Milton Glaser and Clay Felker. It was conceived to be an unorthodox competitor to the well-established The New Yorker and soon became a cradle for new journalism. Over the years, such notable writers as Nora Ephron and Tom Wolfe have contributed to the magazine. A tablet edition has existed since October 2010 but this new app is a completely revamped version.

What impresses me most with the New York app is its bold and original approach to solving the dilemma between linear and non-linear publishing. Everybody knows that the contents of a digital publication can be updated every second, contrary to a printed publication which is by definition static and basically must have a linear narrative pattern. Consequently, in a digital environment, users may find it strange if nothing is happening for twenty-four hours (not to mention seven days).

On the other hand, if the contents are constantly changing, it can make you feel like you are never ”done”. Many readers appreciate volumes that have a beginning and an end. As Mario Garcia wrote recently in a comment to the new desktop app from The Economist: ”Readers want to read news editions that come to an end”.

So here we have a dilemma. And trying to combine the two types of publishing can lead to confusing results, as I described last year in my review of the first version of the Berlingske app.

THE NEW YORK SOLUTION is solomonic. The magazine has simply split the opening page in two and introduced a ”slider” which the user can draw up or down in order to switch between the magazine and an iPad-adapted version of the nymag.com news updates.
At first glance, this looks as strange as it sounds. However, as the entire app design is corresponding very elegantly to this ”two-face” architecture, it didn’t take me long to get used to the concept. In fact, I think it is pretty smart, rather than odd.

Another bold New York move is the decision to refrain from landscape mode. If you rotate your tablet 90 degrees, a small icon will appear on the screen which simply tells you to return to portrait mode.
Now wouldn’t it be great for all the magazine designers of the world if it might become standard procedure to make this basic choice – either it’s horizontal format, or vertical – instead of always having to offer users both options … with all the practical drawbacks, and very few actual benefits, this freedom-of-choice gives them?

THE FACT THAT NEW YORK CHOSE PORTRAIT MODE indicates that its editors must value words higher than visuals, because it cannot be denied that photography loses impact.
The overall visual appearance of this app is very concincing, though, with only one small minus for the body text which looks a little crabbed on my iPad 2. But perhaps it works better on a Retina display?

An ice blue colour marks everything that has to do with navigation and multimedia (mainly audio), meaning that users will quickly learn how to work the new app and enjoy its contents – which are impressive, in quantity as well as quality. To those who plan to visit the Big Apple, this is a must-read. And to the rest of us, it is definitely worth a look.

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