As regular readers know, I love my iPad. What I like most about it is how easy it makes reading. Books have clear nice pages that can be flipped and navigated. Children’s books are even better making the words and pictures come alive. And just the generic digital stuff like email, webpages and pdfs; it is so nice to have it in your hand but not in miniature. That said, I have yet to come across a Feed Reader that does the job. Nonetheless, Instapaper is a good substitute. When I encounter an article I want to read later, I click a button on my browser and the text — not all the other gunk — is sent to my iPad. It makes reading articles book like and hence, a pleasure to read.
But there has been this undercurrent of interest in bringing print media — most notably newspapers and magazines — to iPads with advertisements intact. Personally I would happily pay for The Economist and New Yorker in this way — or at least I thought so (as Instapaper is a pretty good substitute). So today when Wired released its long awaited app, I decided to pay the $5 and see how it all went. And the answer is terrible.
Now, this is not for want of trying. The iPad app is a better version of the print magazine and has some smooth interactive bits. But it is 500MB (not great if you are on an Australian download cap) and, because it was not constrained by paper, highlights exactly what is wrong with paper. First of all — and this is fixable — when you read a magazine you often encounter full page ads but they effectively take up half the reading space — you know, per flip. On the iPad app, they are a whole page which means you have to flip past them. That makes reading an article somewhat annoying although articles flip vertical so you can get around this. But I found a whole page ad taking up my view confronting. Second — and this also fixable — there is no way of ‘saving’ articles and coming back to them easily let alone sharing them. On web pages, I like to do that. I know I can’t do that in print but once you are digital being without that function is a pain.
But the big problem is that it isn’t fun to read this way. And the reason for that is that it isn’t fun to read print magazines. They have columns and ads and pictures which are nice for browsing but when you want to actually read — you know, the text — it is a big pain. When I think about it, it is pain to do this in print — the text is too small, you have to search for the next bit of the article, etc. For some reason we put up with it, but we know it is bad. That is why some cruder electronic media actually work out better. Crikey, for years was an unsophisticated long email. But you know what, it is was easy to actually read. You got to an article and it was an article. And they all were the same. I knew what to do with it. But with magazines that is never the case. Same with newspapers. We put up with small columns to save paper but really, do we have to have the same when it is all digital?
This isn’t Wired’s fault. They were leveraging off what people seemed to like in terms of reading and they did it well. But I think it highlights exactly how far we have to go. Put simply, someone has to work out what the best way to reading is. I think Instapaper is a good place to start but there is a ton more experimentation still to come. Until then, the spectre of doom over the news media wont go away.