Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Screen Savior

In this digital and mobile age, the idea of carrying around a weekly or monthly magazine in anticipation of flipping through its ink-stained pages is about as antique a concept as the word “periodical.” So I feel like Andy Rooney going on about how I prefer paper and a stitched-up spine to a cold, hard screen every time. But I do — or, at least, I did. And then I tried Wired magazine’s first iPad issue, which came out this month.

We all know the Internet’s economics have proven punishing for publishing. Just in time, Steve Jobs pronounced the iPad as a “magical” device — the savior of a dying industry. Still, it was with some trepidation that I downloaded Wired’s app.

Of course, more than most magazines, Wired’s content is uniquely positioned to make the transition to the tablet — both in form and function. The editorial has always favored high-gloss print, great photography and cool graphics. The irony of the move is not lost on Chris Anderson, the magazine’s editor. In his opening letter, he noted that “Wired is finally, well, wired.”

The app is chock full of extra animation and video — including a clip from Toy Story 3 — and the download takes a while. (Although author of a provocative book, Free, about the future of the Internet marketplace, Anderson did not acknowledge the irony of charging a hefty $4.99 fee for the app.)

Here’s the down low on the download: the experience is worth the time and every penny. The magazine looks super inviting and eyeball friendly, the backlit type bigger, crisper and more welcoming than on the printed page. It provides an equally tactile but more intimate experience than print.

You can tap, pinch, unpinch, or flick the contents, which technically brings the reader only one degree closer to the material than using a mouse. But your fingerprints are literally and figuratively all over. It just feels more personal; the interaction provides a physical bond that, to use a cliché, is a game changer. It really is intuitive.

What first struck me as cool was the “scrubber” — a thumbnail file on the bottom of every page (ads included) that you can move through like a souped-up flip book or deck of cards. Depending on how you flick it, it moves and changes shape like an accordion or a piece of origami.

Apparently, the Wired crew of editors and code writers were building this for a year, and it shows. Users can build a virtual Maserati out of Legos and in a piece called “Riverboat Resurrection’’ can touch a photo and see how a buried, pre-Civil War relic was brought back to life. I probably spent double the time I would have with the print version, ads included.

Unfortunately, advertisers didn’t have as much time to prepare as the editors did, and some ads are the regular, old print versions with no bells and whistles. But I preferred those to ads that provided an Internet link. Touch them and a box pops up asking, “Are you sure you want to leave this application to open this link?” and gives “Cancel” and “Okay” options. I cancelled every time. Why would I want to leave the stimulation and intimacy of this protective bubble? It’s like being curled up with a good book and told to go outside in the rain.

There are a couple of exceptional ads. Two are naturals, involving technology selling technology, if you will. For those who think high tech has no heart, GE, in one of a series of ads from BBDO promoting “The world’s first high-def CT scanner,’’ provides us with a gorgeous 3-D version. We can make it jump and spin around, which had nearly the same effect on my own ticker. (I wanted a medical lesson, however, on how the blood moves, and where the valves and ventricles are. Alas, this heart is more like a clear, see-through laser sculpture.)

Another standout is a series from Mullen for the Olympus Pen E-PL1 camera. It’s targeted to the user who wants more than a point-and-shoot device, but might resist anything too complicated. By clicking on the camera in the ad, readers can try up to eight different lenses and see the resultant photos.

There’s no doubt the iPad reinvigorates the magazine experience, and presents a potential gold mine for publishers and advertisers, not to mention Apple, which has already sold 2 million units. (At press time, the June Wired app had been downloaded more than 80,000 times, which beats the 79,000 or so print issues sold monthly on the newsstand. ) So far, there are no analytics on how long readers are spending on the ads — Apple keeps that proprietary — but for me the app makes interacting with the ads, for now, more appealing.

According to a magazine source, advertisers will be making use of more advanced technology by the second issue. It feels like the beginning of something revolutionary, like developing the first TV commercials in the 1950s. At a time that otherwise seems like the end of everything, for this new medium, advertisers have just started to scratch the surface.