Friday, January 15, 2010
Review: GQ’s iPhone app
Apple has made a ton of money off its iTunes app store (with applications for the iPhone and iPod touch), as have many of the developers creating apps for the store (Apple takes 30%, the developers get the rest). With most of them priced between free and $4.99, they’re easy impulse buys for owners of these devices.

A number of magazine and newspaper brands have created apps, to varying degrees of success. One of my favourites is the New York Times app – it was unusable until version 2, but is now an easy go-to source for news, and simple to use. It’s a free app that brings in revenue through ad units.

Rodale is one publisher that claims to have found success in the app store. Their model has been to create brand spin-offs rather than re-creations of their magazines: Women’s Health and Men’s Health both offer workout apps, Runner’s World has a shoe guide, and there’s even an app for Eat This, Not That, possibly the most profitable four words in magazine publishing history.

Over at Condé Nast, they’ve developed a reader app for their magazines – essentially, the standard print content slightly repurposed for the iPhone platform. GQ is their first test case and they’re selling it for $2.99. I downloaded the January issue and I’m sad to say that I was underwhelmed.

To step back for a moment, I’m in favour of creating repurposed issues for the platform – we should at least see how it works. And you don’t (shouldn’t) have to create a new app for every issue – the platform has the capability to upsell within an app, i.e. you could have an app for your magazine that’s free and sell individual issues within the app – you can even have it set up to notify users that a new issue is ready.

But – and this is very important – it has to be easy to read and use. I know one of Condé Nast’s goals was to be able to count app downloads as part of their circ, which is why they opted to show the full magazine, page by page – you can scroll/swipe through it when your phone is in landscape mode. Of course, the screen size being somewhat larger than an open magazine, it’s unreadable in this format, which is where the problems come in. When you rotate your phone to portrait mode, a text-based version of the article appears. Not a bad idea. But there are a few problems that, in my opinion, make the app unusable.

First, you can’t flick from article to article easily like you would flip through the pages of the magazine. You can do this in landscape mode, but switching back and forth becomes extremely awkward and disturbs the reading experience – not to mention the fact that my phone has a hard time processing the changes.

Second, while they insisted on including all the artwork, they made it painful to access and view. Here’s how you do it: find your article, either by swiping in landscape mode or by accessing it through the table of contents. Select it and make sure your phone is in portrait mode. Touch the screen to display the menu. Click “display media.” Then select the photo you want to view. If there are more, you can swipe back and forth. Then you have to click “back” to go back…
And that’s when I gave up. It was too uncomfortable a reading experience.
It’s not a bad first try, though. Here’s how I would make it better.
First, art directors, I love you, but your print designs just don’t translate onto an iPhone screen. And the graphics are mostly unnecessary. Let’s have someone with experience in iPhone UI design a better template for on-phone reading.

Second, make use of the swipe. I want to be able to swipe through every page of the magazine in a readable format, not have to mess around with going back and forth between pretty print reproductions and actual readable content. You want readers to be sucked in by your content, not irritated by it. Again, take a look at the New York Times – their content is admittedly more text-oriented, but their app encourages me to keep reading.

And third, kill the sub offers on *every* page. Please. I’d hazard a guess that they’re not working, anyways.

- Kat Tancock
About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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