TIME, Inc.'s Newest iPad App is a Winner
I've spent my fair share of time in the trenches when it comes to magazine design and publishing. I know how hard it is to produce great work on deadline — especially when there are a hundred moving parts and multiple levels of approval needed for everything from editorial content to artwork and photography. The fact that great material gets produced at all is a testament to the work ethic of the people who toil in publishing. You simply have to love the job.
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IMAGE CREDITs: ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
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Throw into this pressure cooker the need to get finished art to the printers (in time for them to actually print the magazine), the requirement that you repurpose all content online and publish a corresponding iPad version — and you have a recipe for disaster. And yet, with the advent of Entertainment Weekly (EW) for iPad, the folks at TIME, Inc. (EW's parent company) have managed to cobble together a smorgasbord of an app thats worth the cost of subscription.
I know what you're thinking, you've seen PROJECT Magazine and WIRED Magazine with their gee-gaw factor of video clips, interactive-rotating 3D models, embedded sound clips, out-bound hyper-links and real-time commenting. It is true the folks at PROJECT and WIRED do a splendid job but, they are working on a monthly deadline. EW works on a weekly deadline hence their name "Entertainment Weekly".
I'm not privy to the inner workings at EW but, I suspect they knew their publishing cycle would not allow for these types of "gee-gaw" features in every issue. So I assume they did the next best thing and exploited the one advantage they have in their favor — great access, great photography and a publication the reader can consume in a single sitting. With this "assumed advantage" they have provided readers with the best reading experience on an iPad regardless of orientation.
This in itself is not an easy thing to do. Other magazines like Condé Nast's WIRED magazine or Virgin's PROJECT magazine utilize a layout that switches from two columns to three columns when rotated. Readers then scroll up and down to read more content while swiping left to right takes you to the next story. EW does this too but, because of the brevity of their articles they are able to more often instigate a user-interface where the reader taps for more content or swipes within a fixed window. This in itself does not seem to be radically different until you see how EW exploits this feature.
In the end, what is amazing about EW's implementation of the digital magazine is simply that they have been able to preserve the natural reading experience of their printed edition and port it, without compromise, to the iPad. It doesn't hurt that the app is rock-solid in its its stability.* It took me more than 45 minutes of constantly changing the orientation of my iPad to force the application to crash — I have a feeling the app was doing so out of spite.
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A VISUAL OVERVIEW
EW Doesn't bother with landscape versions of its cover. It stays fast and true to the portrait orientation for some of its key features like the "BullsEye" a weekly compendium of pop cultures's hits and misses. The app offers a clean and unobtrusive UI (user interface) and a quick one page, mostly visual , tutorial readers are up and running in a flash. Working in both orientations, the primary UI menu fades from view when unneeded. Readers need only tap the bottom of the screen to make it reappear — a standard convention in most magazine apps.
Adverts are kept to a minimum, for a bonafide reading experience. Advertisers are given the option of producing two versions of their ads or the use of a magnification feature in landscape mode. Being a magazine that covers books, music, movies games — I forsee more interactive ads in EW's future.
Short Stories that require little copy are the bread and butter of EW. These are snippets of information too long to be contained in a sidebar and to short to be a long-form feature story. Photo features also qualify for this category. EW allows readers to view the photography in all its glory before tapping the cues to reveal the copywriting behind the image. In some cases, the image is the story and rotating the story from portrait to landscape gives the user a different perspective on the content. Either the content can be seen in it's entirety or more of the subject is shown for a richer - more contextual experience.
EW's design genius really gets in gear with an adaptive grid that allows sections like "The Year that Was" to shine. It appears that many of the visual elements are isolated, rather than existing as a composite, allowing EW's designers to leverage image size, proportion, different type treatments and custom wraps/containers to provide unique layouts for portrait and landscape.
EW pulls out all the stops for special sections like "The Year in Covers" and "Best and Worst of 2011". In some cases they worked in practical, section-specific sub-navigation that not only becomes part of the design, it is actually useful.
For most applications, after the wrapper has been taken off and the novelty has worn thin, users rarely come back to use for extended periods of time. For the Entertainment Weekly app, with two issues under it's belt, I'm taking a wait and see attitude. This app is good enough that I want to make it my primary way of consuming entertainment news, Flipboard be damned. Lets hope the writers, editors, designers and publishers keep up the exemplary work. Five out of five stars.
Entertainment Weekly for iPad can be found on the itunes app store.
*Running on an 32GB iPad2 with iOS5 installed. EW for iPad now in the itunes app store. Bonus! Print subscribers get the digital version for free.