Wired's iPad app finally launches. Does it live up to the hype?

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I was at my day job when I learned that the Wired app had finally hit the iTunes store. The future had arrived! I was as excited as Ralphie when he got his Ovaltine Secret Decoder Ring in A Christmas Story. I was so excited that I called home to ask my significant other if she'd grab my iPad and purchase it for me, since I knew it was about half a gig and so would take some time to download.

After all, the tablet edition of Wired has been a kind of poster child for bringing old media into the modern world. It was the most compelling evidence that tablets were going to save magazines!

After spending some time with this first 'issue' my enthusiasm has been tempered substantially. It isn't that the Wired app is bad; but neither is it the rebirth of magazines.

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For starters, as I mentioned, it's pretty big. I have bigger apps, but not many. And this 550 megs is for one issue. It's also expensive. $4.99 for a single issue. That's probably somewhere near the newstand price of the print issue, but my subscription to the print version of Wired costs me $10/year.

Once you start reading the tablet edition, you'll find that it's pretty much like reading the print version. The layout is a little curious. You swipe left and right to scroll between articles, then up and down to scroll through pages of a specific article. This seems arbitrary and non-intuitive to me. If you just want to 'flip through' the tablet version, you'll be mixing side-to-side and up-and-down swipes constantly. To make matters worse side-to-side swiping feels very finicky. Use very short swipes for best results...almost a tap with a tad of lateral velocity.

Eventually I found a layout view that showed thumbnails of all the pages, and started using that. I could quickly see which articles had multiple pages and which didn't. And swiping on this view (pictured below) was properly responsive.

You can also navigate by tapping on stories on the front cover, via a scroll bar along the bottom of the interface, or via a list view. So there're lots of ways to navigate and everyone ought to find some technique that works well for them.

So what about interactivity? There're some videos (including some in ads) that run full screen when tapped. There are places where bullet lists have been replaced by numbered circles that you tap to bring up individual items. There are slideshows where you tap thumbnails to change a main image. There's an 'explore Mars' feature that is basically a canned animation that you can pause at will. Basically the videos are videos and the rest of the interactivity feels like fluff.

One of the biggest disappointments for me was that you couldn't zoom pages or change font sizes. You get the font size that the Wired layout people choose, and that's that. There are a few pictures that can be zoomed in and out of, but not many. In this way at least, the Wired app delivers less functionality than the Wired website viewed through iPad's version of Safari does.

On the other hand, as long as you're happy with the size of everything, the presentation is crisp and pleasing, and layouts change depending on the orientation of the iPad. For instance in portrait mode a page might have a few paragraphs of text floating above an image. Turn the iPad to landscape mode and the page re-arranges so that the text is on the left and the image on the right. This works really well to deliver a pleasing reading experience no matter how you're holding your iPad.

All in all, I'd call the Wired iPad app a mixed success. In order to get me to keep buying, they first have to reduce the cost, then work on the swiping response. I'd like to see a lot more zoom-enabled photos and in general more interactivity (there's an piece on manga that let's you toggle between a sample manga page in its Japanese and English formats; that's a good example of how simple interactivity can really add to an article). In some cases, having video play while embedded in the page could be more satisfying than being taken out of the magazine metaphor to watch a clip; for instance if there's surrounding text to support the vid. Lastly, how about a way to deliver the skeleton of the magazine and let me start reading it while the rest of the content streams in. The iTunes Store isn't always lightning fast and I don't want to have to wait 30 minutes after I make a purchase before I can start reading the latest issue.

This is a first issue and of course originally it was going to be built in Flash, then when Apple went all Big Brother and changed its license agreement, Conde Nash & Adobe had to start over again. So I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and I hope we see future issues execute better on the potential of this new medium. I'll be sampling another issue sometime in the fall.

This is the navigation technique I found most useful. That center article will require up-and-down swipes
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