Five months ago, veteran Apple reporter Jim Dalrymple made a bet that people would want to pay two bucks to read articles about tech, music and more in a minimal iPad magazine. Now, he’s moving to a relatively unknown new platform called Glide that may end up kicking off the next era of tablet media publishing.
Dalrymple has been publishing on the web since 1994, but earlier this year he launched an iPad magazine to take advantage of Apple’s Newsstand delivery system. Recently, Newsstand has come under fire for changes made to it with Apple’s iOS 7 redesign. The app is now a static icon instead of a shelf with visible covers, and it can be tucked away inside other folders, burying periodicals that may fall from mind until the subscription reminder arrives and it’s opted out.
But Dalrymple says that he’s happy with the platform. “Newsstand is the way to go,” he tells me, “We’re committed to it. Apple does a good job of exposing Newsstand content [in the store]. The onus of having a good app and a great experience — and good content — that’s on us.”
Because Apple takes care of the distribution and surfacing the Newsstand content in the store, says Dalrymple, it allows the creators to put more attention on the app’s content and experience. This is especially useful with small teams like the one that publishes The Loop and market companion The Magazine.
The first app that Dalrymple put out on Newsstand was simple and focused, with a design focused on delivering the medium-and-long-form text content that formed the majority of the articles. The new design, says Dalrymple is about an expanded reading experience that isn’t like any other magazine on iPad.
To do that, he’s turned to Glide Creations, whose CEO Chris Harris has been working on perfecting Glide and the accompanying Glide Creator for several years. Glide, though a newly minted product, has been behind the media presentation powers of other apps in the past. A prime example is Brian Cox’ Wonders of the Universe, a compendium of video and text programming that was published on the App Store in 2012. The app presents video, images and text in a smoothly scrolling interface that has to be seen live to be appreciated. It was so stunning that it was awarded Apple’s Best of App Store award, the Mobile Digital Impact Award and BIMA Award in 2012 and was selected by Apple to be featured in its ‘Together’ iPad commercial.
The Loop Magazine is a coming-out party of sorts for Glide as a publishing platform. Harris says that magazines in general are the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of media, but has plans to expand Glide’s capabilities to other kinds of content publishing.
The result is a radically redesigned Loop, with iOS 7-inspired background blur, beautiful animated issue covers and an immensely clever system for presenting video and images right alongside text as first-party content.
“I wanted the text to look as good as the images do,” says Dalrymple, “the articles had to look as beautiful with no images as they do with them.”
Despite the interest in typography, the magazine immediately pulls you in with an attractive carousel of covers that have been updated with clever animations. When you open an issue, you’re allowed a peek inside even if you’re not a subscriber, and the subscription flow is very well done. You simply tap to confirm and continue right on reading, rather than being drug through a separate, complex purchase system.
The launch issue of The Loop Magazine 2.0 is a coup as well, as it features an article written by actor Matthew Modine, exploring the lessons he learned from director Stanley Kubrick while shooting Full Metal Jacket. The article is illustrated with beautiful images from Modine’s private collection.
Opening the article, you’re presented with a single flowing column of text and images. Scrolling downwards past an image expands it automatically to fill the screen. Continuing to scroll automatically reduces the image back to column-width. The same goes for videos which smoothly expand and play, and can be scrubbed by just sliding a finger anywhere on the play surface. Continuing onwards past the end of an article automatically moves on to the next article, and the next issue.
The crazy amount of thought that has gone into creating Glide becomes apparent when you realize that you can navigate the entire publication by simply scrolling upward with a single thumb.
Then, you realize that the magazine’s format works on both the iPhone and iPad seamlessly, and in any orientation. The experience of reading The Loop really is different than any other magazine on the iPad or iPhone. The image and video content are given the same care as the images, and all of them feel like part of a cohesive whole. This is not a template or the scanned page of a magazine that’s been crammed into an app frame. It’s a wholly native experience that feels like it was born on the device, and in a way it was.
How it works
The reboot of The Loop is in many ways about the Glide platform and what Harris and his team have been able to do with an arena that many have written off as hopeless. iPad (and iPhone) publishing is a melange of bad repackaging and slapdash coding that hasn’t done much to make Apple’s tablet the savior of magazines it was touted as. Even the hot platforms of the moment like Prss leave a lot to be desired and require complex web content management.
“Not only was it the most advanced option,” says Dalrymple about why he chose Glide, “I loved their level of commitment to perfection. We don’t read by flipping pages, we read by scrolling. The interface is gesture-based, you can use a single thumb to read the whole thing. It uses standard navigation concepts like pinch to zoom. You already know how to navigate this app. The transitions between articles and menus are beautiful, I don’t believe there’s anything out there like this.”
Though the interface is indeed well executed — and you do have to try it to see what I mean — the power of Glide for publishers becomes clear once you start to get into the bones of how it works.
“It doesn’t have a CMS,” says Harris. “There’s no website where you type things into boxes. That’s what makes it so fast, it’s a simple Dropbox folder that you can share to people with various permissions.”
The Dropbox folder contains an hierarchy of folders that lay out the issues and articles, and you simply drop text, image and video files into their appropriate spots. The changes are reflected live in the administration app, called Glide Creator. And it’s truly collaborative as well; Harris says that 100 people should be able to work on the same project at once without trouble. The publications are scaled using an Amazon S3 instance which syncs with Dropbox using a Glide service.
The files inside the project define what you see on the device, and the device is always providing you with a canonical view of what your finished product will look like. There is no web CMS or imperfect simulation. You’re simply always seeing exactly what the publication will look like when it’s pushed live for your customers.
And the power of the platform goes well beyond images, text and video. During a demonstration session, Harris showed this off by pasting a section of HTML code between two paragraphs in an article. A few seconds of synchronization later and an animated rectangle of color caromed across the page, bouncing between the edges of the article’s bounds.
The Glide platform, which is launching soon, comes in a self-service version with a simple hierarchical structure and a true SDK which allows for customized architecture. The Glide Creator app, which allows you to view your creations, will be live in the App Store soon as well. For now, Glide will help you turn those creations into apps which can be published independently. Harris hints that the plan is to eventually allow content creation, editing and publishing right from the devices themselves.
“We really see Glide as a broadcast platform,” says Harris, noting that the product is really about displaying your content — whatever that may be — live to any device. For many, The Loop Magazine is their first exposure to Glide, and it’s likely to set a good impression.
Note: An article I wrote previous to coming to TechCrunch appeared in The Loop a couple months ago.