The Economist recently launched a free iPad version of Intelligent Life, its quarterly lifestyle and culture magazine.
The user experience offered by many magazine apps has been the subject of criticism recently, with many resembling ‘an interactive CD-Rom from the 90s’.
Publishers’ iPad apps need to provide a credible and usable alternative to print editions, as well as adapting to the platform, if they are going to become successful. So, does the Intelligent Life do this?
The app is free to download, and the current winter edition is free, along with a sampler and the autumn issue.
This is thanks to sponsorship of the app by Credit Suisse, though there are plans to charge for this in future.
If publishers are struggling to sell iPad apps, as recent ABC figures from the US suggest, then this kind of brand sponsorship is an excellent way to cover costs and attract new users.
The navigation on the app has been well thought out, and works intuitively. Users can swipe left or right to move between articles, and up and down to read them. The app can also be viewed in portrait or landscape mode.
Tapping the bottom of the screen brings up five links which allow you to jump back to the cover, contents, shop, archived editions, and the main website.
You can also jump straight to articles within the magazine by clicking the headlines on the cover and the contents pages. This is very useful, though as it isn’t obvious that these are links, some people may miss this.
One of the main advantages of iPad editions over their print counterparts is the level of interactivity allowed, and this app does make some use of this.
Clips of films can be played for some film reviews featured in the magazine, and links are provided to the magazine’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.
In addition, users can tap to hear music which has been mentioned, as in this playlist article:
It is good to be able to click and listen to the music referred to, though the app could go further by linking to iTunes or somewhere else where users can actually purchase it. The same principle also applies to any other products featured in the magazine, something which could prove to be a useful revenue stream.
Rather than simply repurposing the content for the iPad, the developers of this app have at least focused on the platform and adjusted the content to it, and considered how people will use the app.
Other publishers, such as The Independent with its ‘i’ app, have simply rushed out apps without enough thought for the iPad user experience, and with little or no interactivity. This is not the way to do it.
Publishers developing iPsd apps need to look at the iPad’s capabilities, what users expect, and how they can use their content to take advantage of this to provide a compelling experience.
Intelligent Life is one of the better iPad magazine apps I have seen, and it has created an app which is easy to navigate, though it could provide more interactive content, and perhaps make more of it.