iPad: The Future Of Everything Everywhere

If this is the future of publishing... we're screwed.  Ok, maybe that's a little over dramatic given the iPad has only been around for a couple weeks.  But, taking a look at the ratings and comments on the current crop of magazines and newspapers available on the iPad, people aren't too impressed.  Obviously all of the magazines are still trying to figure things out... But I was hoping for something better than what we got for the iPad debut.

The biggest complaint in the user reviews... surprise surprise... was pricing.  Yes, as hard as it is to believe, people don't want to pay for anything anymore.  It's not even that they could get the same content for free on a website... I believe people would still complain about paying for things like news, photography, and media, even if all the free content were to go away.  It's just the unfortunate current mindset.

I however don't mind paying for content.  I would gladly shell out for an iPad subscription to my favorite magazines (or better yet, a combo dead-trees edition and an almost free iPad edition subscription... I still like physical magazines).  So you won't hear me complain about paying for the content.

But, aside from price complaints there were just a lot of problems with the iPad magazine apps.  From bugs (Time), to low resolution content (Men's Health), to confusing interfaces (Popular Science) to apps just not working at all (Outside Magazine, which has been fixed).  In the short term, things are just not looking good for the future of publishing (if you believe the iPad or tablets are the future).  Long term, TBD.

Another complaint is the iTunes App store itself.  Finding the magazines is a major PITA.  Some are located under News, some under Entertainment, and some under Lifestyle.  And, within those categories the magazines are mixed in with the many (mostly crappy) iPad apps:  Do I want the latest Outside Magazine or "Cat Fun for iPad"? (which by the way has a higher rating than any magazine app)  There needs to be a category just for Magazines/News.

I'm probably not your typical magazine consumer.  I have about 10 magazine subscriptions.  In addition to that, I'm always buying one-off issues of many other magazines.  At any given time I may have 10-20 current issues of various magazines laying around.  Aside from the countless wasted trees and coffee table real-estate these magazines account for, I certainly don't want 10-20 iPad applications floating around my iPad desktop (yes, iPhone OS 4 will help with the new folders feature).  And from the looks of it, that is what will happen since every magazine is going to have their own app in order to have their own experience.  Worse than that, some magazines, as currently implemented, will put an icon on your desktop for each issue... Something I have no doubt will change since that is clearly a bad implementation.

Books have iBooks and the various other readers that contain all your eBooks, but books aren't expected to be as visually rich and engaging as a magazine.  A one stop application or iMagazine format isn't likely.  Right now there is Zinio, which allows you to download a wide selection of magazines and those issues are all contained within the Zinio app.  However, these are little more than PDF versions of the magazines and far from what people think of when talking about publishing on tablet devices.

Another problem is, how do we really want to consume our magazines on these devices?  For example, take a look at what Viv Magazine has come up with as an iPad concept.  It looks visually amazing and engaging.  But, do I really want to go through all of that just to read an article? (and, can a magazine really sustain the costs in developing an entire issue like that?)

I'm sure there are many great Art Directors designing some great iPad/Tablet versions of their magazines as we speak (I'm talking to you Wired).  But I think there is a long way to go before we see a good selection of well designed versions of our favorite magazines available on tablet devices... a really long way.  What we'll have in the meantime will likely be a majority of magazines rushing out what are little more than PDF's with a some interactive menus and video thrown in and a few well designed and thought out magazines.  Hopefully over time the well designed magazines will prevail.

Now, I've got to get back to "Cat Fun for iPad"... it really is the cutest damn thing.