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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.