“Writing for the iPad Is Like Producing TV After WWII”
Must-have edit and design tips for the early days of tablets.
For a lot of publishers, creating an app for Apple’s iPad is like blazing a new trail—in more ways than one. Condé Nast’s The New Yorker launched its first iPad app in late September, and in an introductory note the editors said they were “at once delighted and a little bewildered” by the launch, adding “…we’d be liars if we said we knew precisely where the technology will lead.
These are the early days. Right now, editing for the iPad feels similar to making television shows just after the Second World War, when less than one percent of American households owned a television.”
The business model remains a struggle—publishers still aren’t able to sell subscriptions to their magazines via the iPad, and publishers have flocked to the iPad far more enthusiastically than advertisers at this point (although Financial Times recently announced that it has generated more than $1.5 million in advertising revenue since launching its iPad app in May).
Yet, early experiments have yielded invaluable lessons on how to approach iPad design. Here, some early adopters share their tips, best practices and lessons learned on creating a magazine for the iPad.
Development Time: Six Months to Build an App, One Week to Convert Print
Initial development of an iPad app can take up to six months, according to Fitness editor-in-chief Betty Wong.
However, translating the print issue to an established app takes about a week, according to Scott Dadich, who recently resigned as creative director of Wired to focus full-time on his position as executive director of digital-magazine development for Condé Nast.
Rodale set out to get all its titles on the iPad in relatively rapid order, so it didn’t build a single dazzling platform that would only serve the particular features of Men’s Health, according to brand editor Matt Bean. “The admin tool is meant to be a practical iPad platform that will work across Rodale’s portfolio,” he adds. “The iPad edition of Men’s Health has been followed by Women’s Health; Runner’s World came next, then Prevention. Organic Gardening just launched and Bicycling is up next.”
Rodale takes InDesign files and high-resolution art and exports them as PDF files. It then takes ads from the printer and lays them out in the order of the issue. “We need to maximize the file size and the quality, which is not something that the printer has been able to include in their workflow,” says Bean. “Then we upload everything to our Web-based admin where we tag everything—including URLs or page jumps—and insert hotlinks to create actions such as allowing for Facebook, retweets, e-mails, polls, basically any interactive extras that make digital special from print. If we’re working on the iPhone version, then we have to create flash screens and reformat the text.”
Rodale has added an assistant editor and a couple production assistants. “Their jobs are Photoshop-intensive, and include ‘hotspotting’—creating links and resizing images,” says Bean.
Must-Haves: Navigation Tools and Calls-to-Action
Last month TIME updated its iPad app to include the following features:
• Resumable downloads
• Horizontal navigation
• Hot Spots to reveal more layers
• Hot Zones to turn pages
• Two finger swipe to go from story to story
• Back button in App browser
• Scrollable text
• Push notifications for new issues
• Pull down contents
• Continuous play video or slideshows if device is rotated
TIME also includes a Help Guide that walks viewers through the app and makes them aware of different features.
Wired spent the better part of last year working with Adobe to drive its iPad navigation model (Condé Nast also announced that it plans to introduce digital replica editions across its entire magazine portfolio using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite). “The convention of magazine reading is a single axis experience—flipping pages right and left along the X axis,” says Dadich. “We felt like it was time to expand that navigation model and embrace the digital conventions we’re used to on the phone where reading is more of a scrolling or vertical experience.”
Wired mixed those models into a dual navigation system. Users swipe right and left to change an article and swipe vertically to read it. “That navigation model really drives the overall content experience,” Dadich says. “Once you drill down to the content layer you need to be careful about a call-to-action.”
For Wired, that includes calls-to-action in point size or design display that’s a little smaller than a headline but clearly and instantaneously messages to the reader what they’re supposed to do, such as “Tap the number to read the writeup,” or “Touch image to learn more.” “Finger friendly” directional arrows and blinking buttons also serve as calls-to-action.
Rodale allows the reader several ways to navigate an issue and unlock enhanced content. The TOC is available from the nav bar at the bottom of each screen, which appears with a tap anywhere on the screen. An “eyebrow” at the top of the screen also calls out specific forms of bonus content—such as videos or a custom-crafted tweet. A blue plus sign “grows” onto the page above specific features.
Rodale also offered scalable fonts, text views, and bookmarking and integrated Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter functionality from launch.
“We can assign application functions or hotspots— such as e-mail, a URL, a video—using a Web-based admin so it’s more personalized, and it gives the editors more control of our content,” says Bean. “We retain a good deal of quality control this way and give great attention to maximizing fidelity to image clarity and crispness. We also don’t pay licensing fees.”
Are Production Tools Up to the Task?
Converting print to the app can be a struggle. Typefaces that have been engineered for print fidelity don’t always work on a screen—or may look great on a computer screen but not a tablet.
With InDesign, Wired has the ability to set layout per pixels that are the exact pixel dimensions of the iPad screen. That makes for a large layout. “As print designers we found it difficult to translate the notion of page design and the physicality of what we use,” says Dadich. “When you opened it, it was a really big document. We ended up working at half size—when you print it out or look at it on screen the typeface is normal size, and you can get a good sense of where increments need to be adjusted in terms of point size or leading or tracking. That helped us move more quickly in design decisions.”
The biggest challenge lies in the integration of linked copy flow for editors and designers, according to Dadich. “We’re still in a situation where content management tools haven’t really caught up with the workflow needs,” he adds. “We’ve got more to do and to process with the same team. We need tools like K4 and InDesign to work harder and do more linked copy flow for us. It really teaches you to clean up your act on the editorial side—the luxuries we had with time and decision-making are restricted now. I’m not satisfied when I get a straight PDF. The convenience is great, but eliminating the paper aspect isn’t enough for me right now to replicate the print layout. It really needs the feedback and dynamic content and ability to go beyond what we’re able to deliver in print. We have to start thinking of this not as replica of paper, but a specific experience of its own.”
Publishers Develop In-House iPad Solutions
Electronic Gaming Monthly to Offer “iPad-Style” Magazines over Facebook.
In January 2009, Ziff Davis Media shuttered Electronic Gaming Monthly. Later that year EGM founder Steve Harris purchased the assets back and by the first half of 2010, the magazine returned to print and the newsstand.
Like many magazines, the next step for EGM is to master the iPad but the magazine says it’s going a step further by introducing a digital magazine solution providing “iPad-style magazines accessible and viewable on Facebook” (a sample can be found at http://apps.facebook.com/egmi-magazine/).
In a tweet announcing the new service, Harris wrote, “It’s something that we’ll be making available to all publishers very soon. It seamlessly integrates a commerce front-end with viewing and sharing within the Facebook community.”
The effort started specifically for EGM but grew into the launch of a new company called Screenpaper Media that leverages Adobe’s AIR as well as the “one-stop shop” that other vendors tout.
“We wanted to make sure the platform we created isn’t something that required a separate back-end for a Web site or a separate back end for Facebook or the iPad,” says Harris. “We wanted to create something that with the same source files—not just PDFs or jpgs or whatever page it is that you’re trying to repurpose—enables you to graft on top of that video and audio and lets you output to all those sources—browser, Facebook, Android, iPad—with a single button push.”
Building a “Facebook Newsstand”
Using Screenpaper technology, publishers will be able to display their digital edition on Facebook. “The newsstand is comprised of a reader that lets you see the magazine on Facebook or pull it out of the Facebook environment, as well as access and purchase other magazines,” says Harris.
Individual publishers can decide their own issue price for the newsstand. Print editions of EGM will feature codes that allow readers access to premium digital content that people reading the free version can’t get.
While Harris won’t reveal specifics, he said publishers using Screenpaper technology will face upfront set-up charges, rather than a revenue share.
Meanwhile, wedding brand TheKnot.com has also launched a proprietary iPad application that it developed in-house. The Knot app includes a wedding community; a digital scrapbook with more than 700 articles and images; share and send capabilities with e-mail, Twitter and Facebook, as well as more than 20 videos including step-by-step guides.