Wired's iPad tablet app: lookin' good


Although the iPad was a disappointment to us as far as what we were expecting, I’m still excited to try one out because I know it will be one of the devices that really helps introduce and popularize the tablet computer. And one consequence of this is the kind of app Wired is making, an alternative to print and perhaps a superior one. There are issues that will have to be worked out, but I can definitely see myself reading a periodical or paper on this thing.

Whether the iPad uptake rate will justify the R&D and the enormous amount of designer hours that goes into every issue — well, that’s still up in the air. But the truth is that most magazines were going to have to make this shift at some point anyway, so they may as well do it right, which Wired appears to have done.

I have some qualms about the interface, and its obsession with corners and edges, though: capacitive screens have bad edges! It’s just a fact. And furthermore, the “hot spots” for putting your fingers are no longer the corners, as they are with mice and such. I wrote this up at length a while ago and feel pretty strongly about it; moving into a truly new interface is going to require that we throw away some of the UI elements we have been relying on for years. Long, thin scroll bars and corner- and edge-based navigation are an artifact of mouse-based UI and should be expunged. Isn’t half the fun of making a new interface throwing away the old one with no regrets?

You know there’s a better way, and it’s up to the designers to find it. They talk about natural gestures, but half their UI is still based around the idea of an indirectly controlled cursor. Get creative!

The screen, while it’s hard to tell from this video, may also be an issue. At 160ppi and 1024×768, the resolution isn’t really a problem, since our monitors were about at that level five or six years ago. You’re definitely going to get a lot of eye fatigue if you choose to read longer items on this thing, though. Also, while in the e-book application you can change the typeface and font size, it doesn’t appear that’s the case with the Wired app. Homogenizing look and feel, and guaranteeing readability, are things that Apple will probably be setting their hand to personally.

And the prize quote from the video:

At the bottom we have what we call the scrubber. And it’s got a little thumb that you can browse through and you can see every page in the issue…and the advertising.

It really lets you know what it’s all about. I mean, I don’t blame the man, he has to pay the bills, but you do get an idea of just how many guns are being pointed at him from off camera. I can imagine if they let the camera roll a little longer he might have added: “Now please – let my wife and children go!” Well. It’s probably not quite that desperate, but they do spend as much time showing off the ads as they do the content.

After all, let’s not fool ourselves, media has always been a vessel for advertising, and here we have the newest vessel of all. Personally, I look forward to the next generation of advertising, but until that happens, I’ll just have to ignore advertisements using the same natural gestures I used in the real Wired.

Update: I neglected to mention that the demo video is in fact running in Adobe AIR, which does not run natively in the iPad environment. So strictly speaking it’s a tablet app, not an iPad one, though from the timing it’s clear they wanted the two associated. Besides, the iPad is the only credible outlet for this kind of app at the moment, though that may not be true in six months. Whether it can be successfully ported over is a matter for the engineers, but we would be remiss not to mention the ongoing spat between Adobe and Apple, which could have an effect on the creation of apps like this. Adobe is really pushing their presence in the video, obviously, though they will have less to do with the software you might actually get for your iPad (they have a conversion tool but I suspect it will be insufficient).