The iPad is a natural device for magazine content—it may be the future of the genre, in many ways. But successes have been few and far between so far, so Apple may be trying to help digital magazines by building in a template to the code. Is this a good thing?
Apple's rumored to be building code hooks and extensive developer guidelines into a future version of Xcode (the software suite that lets coders create apps for the iPhone and iPad) to aid the construction of iPad-friendly digital magazines. It's a move designed to smooth out and unify the in-app experiences that end users get when they activate apps with this kind of content, a principle we know Apple adores, and also to increase the number of magazines available (by making it easier to craft a digital mag in the first place).
Apple's developer guidelines are all about creating consistency between the way users interact with apps—it's a principle the firm applies to its desktop systems (by limiting the code hooks to the UI) as well as its mobile apps, but in terms of the iPad and iPhone Apple's been extremely strict in enforcing UI design decisions on its coder community. The idea here is to create a slick user experience, with apps behaving in predictable, reliable, and smooth ways when you interact with them—Apple's been known to reject apps from the App store simply because they violate UI guidelines.
Meanwhile the number of newspapers, magazines and new-media news mag apps on the iPad has been slowly growing, each with its own hand-crafted user interface with unique tweaks, responses to gestures and foibles (the New York Times app was bedeviled by an incredibly slow lag at first, Wired's e-magazine behaves totally differently to, for example, The Daily...and so on). Part of the difficulty in building these apps is creating a UI and user experience from scratch—possibly mapping in thinking from the Adobe software that the hardcopy is often created with. Moving from one of these apps to another requires users to remember how each one responds to a page-turn gesture, or a tap.
And that's what Apple would be targeting if the rumored code tweaks are true. A consistent UI/UE will definitely boost how magazines look and feel, it could even boost use of in-app subscriptions, and it will definitely increase the number of e-mags available as beginner app writers/magazine publishers embrace the template as a simpler way to craft an app.
But is this a good thing? Part of the joy of paper magazines is the differences between them—the way they layout pages, the way articles are structured. Will an Apple-controlled magazine template result in too much consistency, less creativity? And will the flood of self-published magazines, comics and so on result in too much clamor? Let the debate begin.
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