Where magazines and digital meet
and have a fun time together.
So far most of my reviews for iPad editions of magazines have been for releases from the big publishers, and there’s a reason for that — right now, entry to the iPad market is still an expensive one, with digital tools provided by Adobe and WoodWing squarely aimed — in terms of pricing and licensing — at the big boys. Sure, there are a few companies out there that will format magazine content for you for the iPad, but they’re usually not much more than glorified Zinio-like PDF viewers. If you’re an indie publisher and you want a native and “true” iPad magazine, you need to get yourself a programmer who will be able to build you an app from scratch. Oh wait, there’s another option: If you’re like Tim Moore, then you learn how to do it yourself.
The result is the first issue of his art/culture magazine Letter to Jane, subtitled “Late Autumn,” made specifically for iPad — although the first issue was published for print, the second issue is digital-only.
The first thing you’ll notice when opening the app is the beautiful intro page, that plays a simple trick to present the list of contributors for each article, and the table of contents itself — the background and list of numbers (matching articles) doesn’t move, with only the text being swiped either way.
In fact, this intro alone tells you a lot about Tim’s intention with the magazine: To produce something that not only has a minimal beauty to it, but also boasts navigation that is easy to use, with no need for instructions. There’s not much to moving around in the magazine, it’s very intuitive, and that’s a lesson a lot of other iPad magazine designers could learn something from.
The simplicity and aesthetic continues as you go through the issue. Swiping pages moves you through the “pages” of the article — like in the intro section, for text-based articles, the background image is stable, and you swipe “pages” of text.
Menu options are always on-screen, at the top: “Menu” brings you back to the start page, “Text” brings up a plain text version of the article (see below), and “Next” brings you to the next article. The one issue I had was that you can’t continually swipe to move to the next article, only touching the “Next” button will allow you to continue. Although it does make a certain sense — forcing a physical stop so that you realize it’s time to start a new article — when I mentioned this to Tim, he replied that the decision to do that was mostly due to a programming issue he encountered. Links for articles are found at the bottom of the articles — you flick up the “Links” button to reveal the links, it’s a nice effect.
The idea to give you an alternative way to read the article — in plain text form — is something I’ve mentioned as a good solution in the past, and so I was happy to see it used here. It means you can copy bits of text to share or for notes, and is also set larger, for those who find the original article text to be too small.
The magazine is made up of two kinds of articles, interviews and photo galleries. For the galleries, things are presented quite simply with either two photos one on top of the other, or as a full-screen landscape photo that you need to turn your iPad to view — Letter to Jane doesn’t support dual reading modes, but that’s fine, as it’s a good way of emphasizing certain photos by having you physically turn over your iPad to completely take them in.
An interesting choice — and one he addresses in this post he wrote about his experience developing the app, which should be a must-read for anyone with an interest in iPad magazine publishing — is the decision to have all links load up in Safari, instead of through an in-app browser which has been the most popular way to do it so far. It’s certainly something that makes more sense now that we’re in a multi-tasking iOS 4.2 environment, but his other reason for doing it is that he feels it’s better to view a website in the full-featured Safari, instead of viewing and navigating sites through a crippled in-app browser. I agree for the most part — most magazines and apps indeed give you a browser that sometimes even lacks a simple “back” button. But if you could include a browser that has all of the functionality like the browser found in the Reeder app, then I wouldn’t have a problem.
So in case you couldn’t tell after having read all of this review, I can’t recommend Letter to Jane enough, and I think it’s a definite step forward in how indie publishers can — and should — approach the creation of an iPad edition of their magazine (without having Conde Nast budgets and Adobe support). By keeping things simple, Tim not only manages to make it easy for readers to actually read the magazine, but it also benefits the overall look and presentation. And he also does pricing right — Letter to Jane is sold for 1$ on the iTunes App Store.