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Saturday, January 01, 2011

More thoughts on iPad magazine apps

Recently released audit figures from the United States suggest that the iPad magazine apps which launched in a blaze of glory last year have not built on their success. While the owner base has expanded at a staggering rate, downloads of iPad magazine apps have gone in the opposite direction. Geeks blame this on file size; publishers on the absence of an appropriate subscription model. I think it's a lot more fundamental than that.

The new figures don't merely suggest that the early adopters have not been convinced. They suggest that a lot of people aren't particularly curious to know what a magazine on an iPad might look like. If they were curious the figures would at the very least have sustained their previous levels. Why should they be bothered? If you like reading Vogue or Vanity Fair then one of the things you like most about it is the feel of it under your fingers. An iPad version can only be an expensive second-best. On the other hand if you're a reader of a high frequency, information-heavy title like The Economist, who offer a very good iPad version to their subscribers for free, then you appreciate being able to have it with you at all times.

I just read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom on the Kindle, on my iPhone and on the iPad. Since it syncs across all the different platforms you can set it down on one machine and resume reading at exactly the same point on another machine. Hence I read it far more quickly, and probably with more understanding, than I would have done on paper. Electronic readers are perfectly suited to the efficient absorption of information. They're no good at replicating the idle serendipity of the standard magazine experience.

It's interesting that the iPad application which styles itself "your personalised, social magazine" should call itself "Flipboard" in honour of that very inadvertent leafing.