iPad Magazines Go to ’11

It’s still too early for me to say “I told you so” about iPad magazines, but nevertheless I think it’s worth pointing out that the current evidence shows that this format is not doing well. The Audit Bureau of Circulations, which is sort of like the Nielsen of the print magazine industry, reported that sales of magazine apps across the board, from Wired, GQ, Vanity Fair and others, slumped precipitously towards the end of last year. More on the specifics in this article from paidContent. The bloom is off the rose, I think, and the reality that people just don’t like to consume magazine content in the monolithic, issue-centric form that these apps take has caught up with the irrational enthusiasm that we saw in 2010.

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What’s Old Is New Again on iPad

There’s a brief article over at The Atlantic about “Fresh Flowers,” a current show of David Hockney’s recent iPad and iPhone paintings. Using the popular painting app Brushes, Hockney is creating a new painting every few days, then electronically transmitting them to the exhibition space in Paris where they’re displayed on screens. I find the paintings themselves very unremarkable (some are quite bad, even) but I do think they’re interesting for a few reasons.

First, they imply an endorsement of the touch devices like the iPad as a tool for making art by a big (huge) name artist whose fame was forged in the pre-digital world. That credential matters to some people, because it demonstrates, however weakly, that this new and unfamiliar device is not just a passing fad. Hockney’s motivation for creating these paintings was presumably that he found the iPad interesting and worthwhile; he certainly doesn’t need it as a gimmick to burnish his already sterling reputation. When a leading light of the art world shows interest in a medium so young, it speaks volumes. To some people.

More telling I think is the kind of work that the artist decided to create. You can argue over their artistic merits all you want, but what strikes me about Hockney’s iPad paintings is that they’re surprisingly unimaginative emulations of another medium. The iPad is a full-fledged computing device capable of doing many, many different things. But reproducing the quality, texture and aesthetics of analog paper, canvas and paint seems to be one of the least interesting of them all, at least to me. Someone like David Hockney, you’d expect, would be able to show us entirely new worlds through drawing on a device like the iPad. Instead the works in “Fresh Flowers” are faint echoes of a world we already know very well. They’re pretty, but they’re boring.

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More on iPad Magazines

I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming response to my post from yesterday, “My iPad Magazine Stand,” in which I laid out my thoughts on why most of the current crop of iPad magazine apps have dim prospects for long-term success. The thoughtful comments left here on the blog as well as the steady stream of RT’ing on Twitter have been terrific. It reminds me how lucky I am to get consistently intelligent and lively conversation in response to what I write. For a blogger, there’s nothing better. (It also makes me glad as heck that I didn’t follow my original instinct; when I finished my first draft of that piece on Monday, I actually decided not to publish it, fearing it was too shapelessly reasoned.)

In fact, I had wanted to jump into the conversation myself earlier but I’m under two deadlines at the moment so life is kind of hectic. Plus, I often like to see comment threads play themselves out without my interference before I engage — I find that the general direction of a conversation evolves more naturally if I hold back from potentially derailing it too early. After following along for a while though, there were a few quick things that came up that I felt I should respond to. So this morning I started adding a comment at the end of the thread but, as it got lengthier and lengthier, I decided to publish it as this blog post instead.

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My iPad Magazine Stand

Because I recently left a job at one of the most prominent publications in the world, people often ask me about my opinions on the cavalcade of publications rushing to the iPad — those apps designed and developed by newspapers and magazines principally to deliver their print content — and the chances I see for their success. So here it is.

To start, I think it’s too early to say anything definitive about whether these apps will become lasting delivery mechanisms for print content and brands. There’s still a lot that we don’t know about the iPad and its forthcoming competition, particularly about how user behavior will evolve as these devices become more integrated into daily life. So while I may use some definitive language in this admittedly very long blog post, I freely grant that the future is a mystery to me as much as anyone.

Actually, in conversations with people I know at various publications, I’ve been quite surprised by stories of strong advertiser interest in these apps. Anecdotally, publishers report heavy demand for advertising space, and in some cases apps have sold out of their ad inventory through the end of the year or even further.

That’s an encouraging indicator, but I think it may be more a sign of a bubble than the creation of a real market for publishers’ apps. According to Advertising Age, the initial enthusiasm for many of these apps has dwindled down to as little as one percent of print circulation in the cases of some magazines.

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iPad Gripe Session

After a few months of owing it, I keep finding more and more uses for my iPad, many of them not possible on my Mac or my iPhone, and my affection for it keeps ratcheting up accordingly. At the same time, there are at least a handful of irritating shortcomings on the platform that I’m impatiently waiting for Apple to address. I know it’s been less than a full year since the iPad debuted, and perhaps there’s a significant upgrade due soon, but for now, I find that using the iPad is more frustrating than it needs to be.

In large part this is owing to the fact that iOS 4 is so good, making its current unavailability for the iPad feel particularly vexing. In the few short months since I’ve owned my iPhone 4, I’ve become thoroughly reliant on the iOS 4 unified inbox within Mail, for instance — I’m amazed that I ever lived without it on my iPhone and annoyed that I have to live without it still on my iPad. Also, the major efficiency gains that iOS 4’s multitasking makes possible have become second nature to me on the iPhone. Meanwhile, switching between apps on the iPad and having to wait for each app to load from scratch every time I access it seems like an archaic custom leftover from the first decade of the century.

Among features that the iPad does share with the iPhone, the ability to undo actions seems more rote than useful. As a gesture to invoke the Undo command, shaking a handheld device the size of an iPhone is clever and workable. Shaking a much larger device like the iPad is awkward at best and violates one infrequently violated but nevertheless important law of good user interface design: don’t force the user to look like a fool [original euphemism deleted in deference to British sensitivities] in order to use any given feature.

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The Hurry Up and Wait Startup

I’ve gone on record with my general lack of enthusiasm for magazines on the iPad, at least the way they’ve been imagined so far, but I think the self-described “social magazine” Flipboard shows a lot of promise. It’s a smart idea but like a lot of the smartest ideas it’s not a particularly ingenious one on its face: the app aggregates recommendations and links to content made by people within your social network. The beauty is in its execution, which happens to be gorgeous and an example of truly superior user experience design (from what I’ve seen so far). Flipboard’s developers have built an impressive mechanism for automated layout intelligence, and the pages within the app winningly transcend the paradigm of digital templates as aesthetically unremarkable, one-size-fits-all showcases for content.

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Settling Scores with MLB At Bat

MLB At BatOne of my favorite uses for my increasingly useful iPad is to keep current with The New York Yankees, an activity made possible — and enjoyable — with the outstanding MLB At Bat app. For baseball fans like myself who have canceled their cable service and therefore have little access to regular gameday broadcasts, paying just a fraction of the cost of a ballpark ticket once for an app that gives this kind of access for the full season is a bargain: it offers of course a full box score, an excellent complement of statistics, play-by-play summaries, radio simulcasting and, most importantly for me, a healthy trove of after-the-fact video.

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