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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

iPad magazines remind me of "Stonedhenge" by Ten Years After

In the late 60s every rock band suddenly wanted their album to be in stereo. To convince themselves and whoever was paying that they'd put the expensive new technology to the best use they would always have at least one track where the stereo panned from left to right and back again. Some kind of nadir was reached on Ten Years After's "Stonedhenge" when drummer Ric Lee used the stereo "picture" to play "Three Blind Mice". It's a trick that wore out its welcome very quickly.

I was reminded of this when looking at Project, the all bells and whistles iPad magazine from Virgin Media. Jeff Bridges, the "cover star", moves, for instance and every "page" has buttons and panels which scroll or expand or plunge you into a gallery or otherwise animate the experience. It has so much functionality that it needs a "spread" to explain it all. Like the other ambitious iPad magazines I've tried so far, it's so full of functionality that you can't access its primary function, which is to be something you can read. The very reasons that advertisers find this new medium attractive, the chance that you will brush your finger on a button and find yourself watching a TV ad, are the same reasons I never go back to these apps.

On the other hand I can easily see the appeal of those apps, such as The Economist, the Daily Telegraph or New York Times, that simply take the publication's material and arrange it for the screen. As a means of accessing a magazine that you already have a relationship with, they seem to do that job pretty well and the publishers are either making them available for free or providing free access to subscribers. I'm sure there are iPad developers who would call their policy timid and would criticise the publishers for not taking advantage of the manifold possibilities of the medium. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

I fear at the moment we're in the psychedelic stage of iPad magazine development, where the digital equivalents of stereo panning, extreme reverb, phasing and backwards tapes are being used to distract attention from the fact that in the end it's all about the tunes.

8 comments:

  1. A great metaphor for the bells 'n' whistles approach. Has the iPad already had its Sgt Pepper? I agree with you about what I'd prefer, but what of the young?

    I read a lot of text on screen, and there are obviously others that do, but I teach young people every day who are as averse to reading any text of any length as I am to playing a first person shooter game.

    To find a 16 or 17 year old who is willing to trawl through a lengthy magazine or news article, let alone an A4 handout, is increasingly rare. I suspect they'll love the stuff that moves, mainly because they won't know what they're missing.

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  2. I don't think it's quite as bad as Stonedhenge (and I loved 10 Years After) There are some interesting ideas in the interface that I think will actually stick and be copied. It probably needs a couple of issues to settle down. It's better than Wired anyhow.

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  3. I'm just so impressed that anything at all reminds you of Stonedhenge by Ten Years After! I'm the only person I've ever met who owned that album.

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  4. The same stuff happened with web sites ten or more years ago. The dreaded whizz-bang but actually unusable flash interfaces.

    One example I remember was working for a design company and someone produced a 3D website that you had to travel around like Quake, and literally walk to different pages in a maze. Thankfully this was an internal design experiment and not client work, but the stuff that did go out the door was only marginally less wrongheaded.

    But eventually most things settled down to the rule, "stick the new stuff on the front page at the top."

    I've had an iPhone app produced for one of the sites I own, and it's proved popular (about 21,000 ratings on itunes, unsure of downloads off hand) - and all it does is stick the latest content at the top of page. Press refresh - bang!. The thing I think it did for us most was alert a different bit of the world that we exist, and traffic on the mother site is up about 50% over since it went out.

    BTW: Just called up Three Blind Mice / Stonedhenge on Spotify and the stereo is brutal, full of hard clipping noises as it swaps channel. However the main thing wrong with it is that it's a comedy number without a live audience - it's completely flat.

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  5. "Stonedhenge" has some great non-novelty tracks. As I recall, the mono version has its own distinct audio effects from those on the stereo version. Often wondered why labels bothered releasing albums in two versions, especially since the norm at the time was that the mono version was the "true" version of the album...

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  6. I was looking through Product this morning. I really wanted to like it, and while the cover was lovely it's not exactly intuitive.

    I'm pretty sure they've used the same software that Wired do to produce their iPad version - swipe to move forward, up and down to read - and I think that's the greatest problem. They're thinking about how to produce a magazine for the iPad rather than thinking about what a magazine on an iPad should be.

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  7. I was looking through Product this morning. I really wanted to like it, and while the cover was lovely it's not exactly intuitive.

    I'm pretty sure they've used the same software that Wired do to produce their iPad version - swipe to move forward, up and down to read - and I think that's the greatest problem. They're thinking about how to produce a magazine for the iPad rather than thinking about what a magazine on an iPad should be.

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  8. So we have to wait about 7 years for the iPad 'Never Mind The Bollocks'?

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