For the last six months the magazine industry has been wetting itself about the launch of the iPad. It needs to keep the magazine format going (you'll see why in a minute) but doesn't really want to have to pay for mashed up trees (print media is going to die quicker than you think) and lorries that distribute mags to stores. So the iPad is a dream come true and one that might potentially provide a business model for beleaguered publishers. That's the theory anyhow. In practice the most high profile iPad mag to date, GQ, has sold less than 500 copies and not made enough money to pay even the Conde Naste cleaner.
The great hope is that technology magazine Wired will lead the way. Here you have a respected magazine, a technology savvy audience (many of whom already own iPads or will be buying one tomorrow) and a publisher, Conde Naste, with deep pockets and a will to experiment. If these can guys can get it right then there is hope for everyone else. So what is the new Wired iPad edition, which launches today, like? Well, you can find out more about the background here. For now though it is probably enough to say that it was build by Wired in collaboration with Adobe (makers of Flash - how ironic) and has taken a couple of years of development. It is on on sale for £2.99 and will be available in other digital formats soon.
What's it like?
Well firstly it is a pain to download. The mag is a whopping 527MB which is huge by today's standards. Download 30 issues and your 16gig iPad would be full. I guess this will shrink as time goes by, but waiting five minutes for it to arrive was not a good start. Secondly the desktop app for the iPad is horrible. I thought it might at least say which edition it was but nope it is a tacky orange symbol that just says Wired.
There are several ways of navigating through the magazine. You can flick through page by page in a retro magazine style, call up a list of contents from a menu at the top, or use a fast forward/reverse bar at the bottom. I would definitely recommend using the contents because the magazine is so stuffed with ads (the revenue must be huge compared with standard websites which is one reason why publishers are so keen on the format) that flicking through it is unbearable. Say what you like about online advertising but it is not that intrusive as you just see ads out of the corner of your eye and move on. Here there's ad after ad and I got so frustrated that I almost wanted to go back to playing Paper Toss. I do understand that companies will have paid a lot of money for those ads and that developing the ipad magazine was probably very expensive. I also like the way that some ads are interactive like Fidelity which has a mini gallery on its ad page (others have video too) but there is way too much advertising for this format to work properly. It needs publishers to be less greedy or just take on a couple of sponsors and charge them top whack. Incidentally, just like the mag, it takes about 20 pages before you hit any meaningful editorial - which online is an age and will drive non-magazine readers to despair.
Ok, on to the content. The front page looks good and you get a free exclusive trailer from Toy Story 3 - which quite frankly doesn't seem like an especially powerful way to get people to buy the magazine. Then there's a cute letter from Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, which mentions trees and experiments. It also says that future issues will also incorporate social media, which sounds interesting and may lead to some real innovation. As you'd expect the content is great. I am not personally a Wired reader, but there are at least three features that caught my eye. One another annoying thing though is that to read many features you have to pull the content downwards, as opposed to sideways. So first time round I missed a couple of interesting features as I thought they were only a couple of paras long.
The best parts of the magazine are the wacky graphics and the best of the bunch is the 'Invaders of Mars' feature which has a spinning Mars which then lets you see which missions have visited the planet and where they landed. Very cool. Though it is annoyingly difficult to get off the page. I resorted to the forward button at the bottom after swiping for about three minutes and getting nowhere. Elsewhere in the mag there are some nice galleries- Riverboat Resurrection to name one - which work more seamlessly than standard galleries on sites like this and others. There's also a touch operated feature that shows you what is inside a bottle of Worcestershire sauce and some nifty interactive stuff on the Editor's' Pick pages. Pictures, by and large, work well and you can tap on them to enlarge them or alternatively use the mag's pinch-to-zoom functionality.
I have to admit though, by this point I was starting to lose interest. I am now so used to having content presented to me in a way that I control, that dealing with a magazine that curates that content was starting to do my head in. I soldiered on though and looked at a feature on Constructing a song (complete with audio samples), though I found the article decidedly dull. The best feature was the article on Space Junk which comes with a really cool timeline that shows how much space junk has accumulated over the past fifty years. It is clever, but not really something that couldn't have been cooked up in good ol HTML.
In a nutshell, some nice fancy graphics, interesting integration of audio and the general feeling that a lot of time and effort (and love) has gone into preparing this. If you are Wired regular I guess you'll love it. I bet you still buy the paper version though! Incidentally the pages load quickly and easily which is not something that is true for all the iPad magazines I have sampled.
A ridiculous number of ads mean that you really can't flick through Wired in a magazine style way. I also was expecting something more. I thought Wired was good, but it did not blow me away. A few nice graphics and interactive timelines are superficially impressive, but I wanted more video, more audio and maybe a game or two to play. I also wanted to go behind the scenes at the mag too. I wanted videos of why the editors chose their glasses and maybe more visual content to complement the features. In short more behind the scenes stuff, more video and of course more social media. I'd like to see what other people think of an article too. The days of me reading anything without having the option of commenting are gone forever. I guess to add this the app will have to go online, but that really shouldn't be a problem. It would be fantastic to have live updates of content as you read a story.
Wired iPad edition is not for me. I am so used to accessing content in the why I choose via links, RSS etc that even on an iPad and with whizzy graphics the concept of a magazine seems so outdated. What might make me more interested is more making me feel like a member of the Wired club, delivering great content , but adding stuff from behind the scenes, enabling me to interact with the jounalists and editors. Even though it is on an iPad this is still very much push content and I probably won't be spending my cash here again.