I'll Take the Boring App

Totally disagree with this:

All the designers seem to have done is to have shunted the original printed products on to the screen. There’s nothing wrong with doing that for electronic readers, including the Amazon Kindle or Sony Touch, but not when it comes to more sophisticated devices such as the iPad and all of the rival products now flooding on to the market like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. These devices offer thrilling possibilities for us to do much more than read words on a screen, and it is deeply disappointing that so few designers and publishers are embracing them.

I may be in the minority, but the last thing I want is to try and read a New Yorker article and be assaulted by some multimedia experience that a computer techie thought would be cool. In fact, probably the single best thing I like about the iPad is that I can send virtually any online article to my Instapaper app, where I can then read a fairly pristine version of said text, free from links, sidebars, etc.

Within limits, I’m fine with the Internet being a relatively busy place–that’s really what it’s designed to be–and if I want some kind of animation to accompany an article I’m trying to read, I’ll read it on a website. It just works better with a mouse and a real keyboard and a screen bigger than my hand. But apps, at least insofar as I understand them, don’t do terribly well when they get loaded up with too much gimmickry, and neither does the iPad’s interface. (As an aside, the iPad makes a pretty mediocre Internet platform, which, oddly, I regard as a feature, not a bug, as it makes it better as a dedicated reading platform.) The iPad makes a better place for paid content simply because apps can’t accommodate multimedia (e.g. ads) the way websites can. It’s where you go to pay a little more and get a calmer reading experience than what you’d find on the freewheeling, and free, web.

And, indeed, as a lover of print this is precisely the thing I don’t want to see:

As for books, children’s titles are leading the way with apps that include animated illustrations, often activated by the reader. My favorites are the fabulously surreal ones in “Alice for the iPad,” Atomic Antelope’s interactive version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and Oceanhouse Media’s “Dr. Seuss” apps. Kids can “play” the Dr. Seuss stories like movies — saving you from reading the same one again and again. Each word is highlighted when it is spoken on the soundtrack.

Anyone who would argue that Alice in Wonderland or Dr. Seuss is improved one bit by this kind of gimmickry is simply wrong. These books embody what is best about the codex, and to try and add to them is to make an assault against their simplicity and their genius–not to mention their readers.

If magazines really wanted to do something to improve their apps, they could offer their magazines at a more reasonable price. $5 per issue to read The New Yorker on my iPad? That’s insane.

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I’m intrigued by the idea of reading a magazine article or short story and then watching a video of an author interview through the same medium. That’s valuable added content which could be integrated well enough. But, that being said, my least favorite things about most major websites are the distracting ads, animated call-outs, buggy multimedia interface that disrupts the experience, and similar “stretching the possibilities” features.

Dan: At the risk of being overly frank, I find most author interviews incredibly dull. Usually they’re just full of talking points and banalities, unless you get an author in the hands of a truly good interviewer, who has time for a lengthy conversation.

I like the written medium because it allows us to get beyond those sorts of thoughts that tend to fit into a conversation–exactly the thoughts that we hear over and over and over again–and so for me something like an author interview rarely adds anything.

I don’t mean to discount all multimedia. But it seems to me that these days the emphasis is very much on “value added,” without anyone stopping to ask if the value being added is actual or perceived.


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