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Sneak Peak into iPad Newsstand Reveals Some Apps, Some Crapp

An iTunes update includes the key to the newsstand of the future, where iPad news apps are beginning to fill the shelves of the App Store. There are some bright spots — nice job, Rupert! — and a lot of disappointments. Of particular interest:

The Right Time at the Right Place.

Time magazine has entered the building and they've set a high standard for magazines. The iPad edition is beautifully designed, as if every page were a poster. Every page has a dominant visual element, and even the pages without images use typography as a dominant visual. I may be biased — disclaimers galore: we do a lot of work for Time; I was previously its Graphics Director; Design Director D.W. Pine is a close pal; I used to subscribe — but this is the best of show to date. It will be interesting to see how their pricing strategy plays out; at $4.95, it had better be good. It even comes with a licensing agreement — never saw that in my newsstand copy!

Bravo, Wall Street Journal!

The Journal maintains its look and feel, reconceived for the smaller screen. The landing page is clean and slick, like a gaming interface, and the front page bears the familiarity of the paper edition. I love the newsprint-like gradient, reminding the viewer that he or she is reading a newspaper and not a website. There's a typographic hierarchy in place that gives the page movement. Also interesting that they have a "Today" edition, which one would assume is posted at a set time every day, and a "Now" edition, updated whenever you refresh your screen via WiFi or 3G. It is interesting to note how the WSJ handled advertising — curious whether the Coke ad takes you offsite to a web page or to additional content within the app.

NYT-picking the NYT . . .

The understated design of the Times, where headline sizes tend to be fairly consistent, works against the design of NYT Editors' Choice, the sampler of the Times that is offered free through the App Store. It feels like TimesDigest, the fax edition of the newspaper that is distributed on cruise ships. No sign of the NYT newspaper app just yet — perhaps they have something more robust in store. The bylines seem a bit odd — are they gray because they are links? In general, these pages would feel stronger if there were fewer stories per page, maybe even one story. (See NPR example below.) High hopes for Saturday morning, and the non-Editors' Choice edition. If anyone knows how to make the online experience worthwhile, it's the NYT.

USA Yesterday.

I can't figure this one out. USA Today, with its Times Roman headlines, Helvetica body copy and bad headline breaks, looks like it was produced by FedEx Kinko's. They've completely failed to transport their print experience to the iPad. Instead, their sample pages look like Netscape web pages. Boo hiss. I do think that their approach toward advertising is worth noting, however. The Courtyard ad is the best-looking part of the page. In addition, it is large enough to command good money, yet unobtrusive to the reader.

Associated unimPressed.

Somewhere along the line, the designer of the AP app (APp?) got carried away with the virtual thumbtacks and paper stacks and turned what could have been a go-to site into a mess. People trust the Associated Press for a quick read on the latest news, but the iPad app fails to deliver that immediacy. Instead the pages look like the walls at Applebee's. All you need are a few college pennants and football trophies. Pass the ketchup, please.

Shots Heard Round the World:

The iPad doesn't land in Europe until the end of the month, but the BBC app is already online and quite impressive. The digest resembles a box of candy, a tray of enticing choices presented gridlike and attractively. The articles are designed for reading. Very much looking forward to downloading this app. This shows the power of design on the iPad — I don't think I've ever visited the BBC website, but I expect this iPad site to be a much-visited bookmark. It also shows the global reach of the iPad. Launches are not just local, they're global. Suddenly the BBC has a potential subscriber in Montclair, NJ, and advertising reach as well.

Paris Match and Le Monde have also entered the scene, and both are impressive as well. So fascinating to see how different publications addressed the challenge of reinventing themselves for the iPad:

Worth noting:

Strong poster-like graphic design can be particularly powerful on the iPad. Here's the landing page for a Gap app (Gapp?) that commands your attention. Perhaps newspapers ought to consider making their digests visual like this, transporting readers to single-story screens.

Here's another approach, from National Public Radio. It's helpful that they have two types of pages, a digest you can pan and scan, and a text-driven page designed to be read. Very friendly, and thoughtful.

Finally, The Elements: A Visual Exploration is not a periodical, but a gorgeous periodic chart is magnificently designed. Whether it's worth $13.99 is another story. But still, it represents the potential of eBooks and ePublishing, and a model for newspapers and magazines to consider. It's also an example of how incremental apps could provide additional revenue streams for publishers.

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