Rethinking my opinion of magazines on the iPad

By Steve Safran 

Not too long ago, I wrote that magazines wouldn’t present a good experience on the iPad because they were still too magazine-y and too expensive. I wrote this, of course, without experiencing more than one iPad magazine (Wired – which was $5). In retrospect, that probably wasn’t a good idea. Since then, I have read three iPadded magazines: National Geographic, MacWorld and Popular Mechanics. (Disclosure: National Geographic was sent to me for free when I wrote the original article. Apparently they, too, wanted me to have some facts behind my writing.)

The experience is actually pretty good, even if it’s still too much like a conventional magazine. To varying degrees, the publications take advantage of the platform; Popular Mechanics, for example, used some good animations to help flesh out a story about airplane races.

MacWorld is simply ported from its print publication – ironic, given that it’s being displayed on an Apple product. And it has way too many full-page ads. Still, I like MacWorld and the subscription was cheap – about $20 for the year. Note to MacWorld: you’ll need to improve the resolution of your graphics. Once you blow them up, they get very fuzzy.

National Geographic shows the most promise. It has the most interactive content and presents the best multimedia experience of the three. Stories are fleshed out with video, slideshows maps and charts. And, of course, there are the magazines always-wonderful pictures, which look good on the iPad. It is designed to be read in landscape mode, which is an interesting choice. You can read it in portrait mode, but you’ll only get one page at a time, and you won’t see some of the great two-page pictures. It does take a few minutes to download, probably because of all the rich content.

MacWorld and National Geographic are available through the free Zinio app. Think of Zinio as an online magazine shop. (Though it sells books as well.) The subscription rates are, for the most part, perfectly reasonable. When a new issue of your magazine is available, Zinio sends you an email. Good idea. And it’s free to try out – they’ll give you a free trial subscription for signing up (no credit card required).

So, will the iPad be the savior of magazines? Who knows. It certainly presents a good opportunity and a potentially great experience.