Digital Magazines are Too Interactive

Went to the Apple store this afternoon to pick up a Mac Mini for my dad. (Yes, my weekend plans consist of traveling to Houston and doing the big technology conversion at my parents house – destroying their 8-year-old Dell Windows XP PC and bringing them full bore into the 21st century, complete with WiFi Internet!)

But regardless of my intent for being there, I always love going to the Apple store because I usually pick up on a couple of interesting insights while messing around with products and stuff. And this trip was no different.

  1. Challenge: You’ve got a mobile touch app with a page that has more content than will fit within the viewable device screen. How do you communicate to the user that there is more information they can view if they scroll down? Remember, this is on a mobile touch device, so there are no scrollbars to help provide a visual indication. I’ve seen this issue tackled a couple of ways, but saw one very interesting way today for the first time in the iPhone 5 Demo App running on an iPad.
    In this particular instance there are multiple tabs at the bottom of the page to display marketing information about the iPhone 5. On the Compare tab in particular, it is a lengthy page that is larger than the viewable screen area. To indicate this to the user, they actually load the page about ¼ of the way down the page and have it auto-scroll to the top. It instantly sets the context that there is a lot of information on the page and I can see more by scrolling down.

    Check out the video I shot here.

  2. I personally don’t own an iPad. But I love reading books on my iPhone. Digital books are brilliant. I can carry 100 in my pocket all the time with no noticeable limp. I can highlight passages, make notes and reference said items at random points in the future in seconds. But for the most part a physical book and a digital book are the same. A bunch of words that I can read and consume. Easy peasy.
    But why is it that digital magazines have to be different? I’m personally far less infatuated with magazines in general (physical or otherwise) since I gave up on Wired magazine back in 2004. But I’m at the Apple store and there are about a million iPad Mini’s completely surrounding me, so I’ve got to play with them.So I fire up the Newstand app and start messing with the Wired magazine they’ve got loaded up.

    The first thing I notice is all these tedious animations that add nothing to the content or the experience. They are simply eye candy, but real candy usually makes me smile or feel happy inside. These animations do neither, only serving to briefly distract me from the words on the page that I came to read. In fact, on one page there is a full 30 second movie style animation that MUST PLAY before the rest of the article content even displays. So my experience was watching the animation for 5 seconds, then spending 25 seconds trying to figure out how to stop it, skip it, kill it, or ultimately dissipate my growing rage against it.

    And the 30 second animation was again, just eye candy that added nothing to the comprehension of the actual article it was associated with.

    And then, for a brief moment, all was well in the world as it turned into a standard page turning application. Just like reading a book, I could read a page, then swipe and read the next page, then swipe to the next. The navigation made sense. No silly animations vying for my attention. Finally a decent experience. Or so I thought.

    I randomly discovered that one of the articles I was reading had more content below the visible area of the screen. I discovered this because my sloppy side swipe to get to the next page was randomly recognized as a vertical swipe and the page scrolled up to reveal more content. THERE WAS NO VISUAL INDICATION WHATSOEVER THAT THERE WAS MORE CONTENT. So I went back a few pages and found another article that I had simply thought was done, but sure enough there was more content if I scrolled vertically, but again, nothing to indicate this was even an option.

    Now maybe Wired magazine just sucks at digital publication (and physical as well, thus my abandoning it 8 years ago) and other magazines don’t release these lazy pitfalls. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. My point is that for digital books we don’t demand exotic animations of the main character running through a back alley as we navigate from page to page. So why do we expect (or do publishers expect) magazines need to pile on layers of useless interactive sludge? I, for one, certainly didn’t ask for it.

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