Despite my better judgement, I had an iPad delivered to my house last weekend. The reasons for the purchase varied from the inexplicable to the absurd, but one of my primary interests was how magazines would adopt/adapt to the new format. Like it or not, Apple's a leader in mobile content delivery and any publishing house is going to want to be on the "it" platform, just as developers downloaded the iPhone SDK in hoards and the App store became the dominant force for mobile applications.
I've checked out some of the general interest pubs (NYT, Time, etc.), which are obviously still getting their sea-legs (and falling on their faces, in many cases), but for gearheads the pickings are non-existent – save Zinio (iTunes link).
Zinio's been around for a while, digitizing both popular and somewhat obscure titles for online consumption at a reasonable (read: average mag) price. As expected, they've released an iPad app, and lo-and-behold, one of the "free" titles on offer was the May issue of Car and Driver. I'm assuming C/D was approached by Zinio to give away its latest issue to show off what Zinio is capable of while getting readers hooked (or re-hooked) on a few pubs. Interestingly, the two other free titles – Sporting News and Viv – are microscopic in comparison to C/D, so either Alterman and Co. are early adopters or Zinio stapled a handful of titles to the office wall and threw a few darts. Knowing Eddie, I like to think it's the former.
Obviously, the primary advantage to the digital medium is the lack of constraints. Designers, uninhibited by the standard two-page layout, are free to create dynamic elements that adapt to both the story and the medium. Unfortunately, Zinio's implementation is to take the mag's standard design and just digitize it. Easy? Yes. Interesting? Hardly.
In the case of C/D, the only additional elements on the digital version are galleries and videos. Each works, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The UI for the galleries is wonky at best and the video – while attractive and functional – doesn't allow full-screen playback. The only other notable addition is the ability to skip to specific articles designated by a blue box surrounding the linked text (think standard webpage hyperlink, but with an implementation that would throw most graphic artists into fits of rage).
To C/D's credit, the layout has improved dramatically under the Alterman regime. However, there's nothing new in the digitized version and the software delivering the pages lacks smoothness. Flipping through pages takes a fraction of a second too long, pausing momentarily to render, and while pinch-to-zoom works, the text gets instantly pixelated. They're minor annoyances and sure to be addressed in future updates, but they still render the experience "less-than" when compared to their print counterparts, despite the additional photos and video.
Obviously, the print pubs and the delivery systems are in their infancy when it comes to harnessing the digital medium. A few have tried (Winding Road, which has an iPad app on its way, and Drivers Republic, which ceased in late 2009) with varying degrees of success, but every effort thus far has been plagued by an unimaginative layout and the same staid design we've endured for decades. There's hope for the medium, but when it comes to Zinio, it's just a stopgap – a rickety bridge leading to the next great content experience.
Bonus: Here are two demo videos showing this new medium's (iPad or otherwise) capabilities. And while I'm fans of both Popular Science and Wired, we absolutely can't wait to see what EVO does with it.