Mark Potts decries the efforts of print media organizations for their initial attempts at bringing their content to the iPad:
And now comes a new digital medium, the iPad, and…yep, they’re doing it again.
Some of the biggest names in publishing have made a big splash with the introduction of Apple’s new tablet by releasing iPad apps for their publications. Alas, too many of them have fallen into that same old trap, trying to replicate a print experience on the iPad’s screen.
This is bullshit. The platform isn’t even a month old, and we’re already critiquing what’s not been done with it? Developers realistically had but a generous month to quickly build these applications (without the devices to run them on, even!), attempting to effectively translate their content and the experience. Consumers should be so lucky to even have these media on the device at launch, and I’ll personally say that I’m tremendously impressed by the applications that were available at launch. Yes, some floundered, but on the whole, the offerings were (and are still) quite impressive.
And while there is clearly room for improvement and additions to these apps, who’s to say he or she knows what approach will be best for this platform? I think a lot of ideas of what’s conceptually possible sound incredible on paper but stack up to be underwhelming or of little use once implemented. Marco Arment nailed it when discussing his approach to building his wonderful service, Instapaper:
If I let users steer product decisions, the result would be a massive codebase producing a bloated, cluttered product full of features that hardly anyone used at the expense of everyday usability and polish on the features that matter. Like Microsoft Word. Or Firefox.
By listening too much to outside suggestions, I’d destroy the very reason why I’m receiving them.
This is the problem the Popular Science app faces. They implemented what sounded like a great concept, one that’s been posited in science fiction film and literature, and is indeed an impressive technical achievement. But after repeated use, the interface gets tired and stale, and eventually, the app as a whole becomes a frustrating experience. It’s worth noting that users of the app are already expressing this very sentiment in reviews in the App Store.
If there’s one thing printing daily has taught publishers (or perhaps has invoked upon itself), it’s people’s desire for a routinely great, simple, and straightforward daily news experience. So, that would seem the logical place to start with this platform.
Potts also argues that the experience of the website counterparts of these media exceeds that of their native applications:
All of these publications’ Web sites are all far better than their apps—and on an iPad, hello, the Web is just a screen-touch away. Not surprisingly, these apps get fairly low user ratings in the iTunes app store. Customers know when they’re getting shoddy products.
I think this evaluation is rather subjective, but I personally find almost every native app to be a better experience than the website. Links and general interface elements on websites are designed to be interacted with a pixel-precise cursor, not a comparatively giant and clumsy fingertip. Text is rendered at a size and in a font that’s optimal for browsers, not at appropriate, comfortable reading sizes on a screen that you hold or in rich, native typefaces. Photos are smaller, and the majority of video on websites won’t play because they have to cater to the unwieldy universe of browsers with various capabilities. If you want to adjust these to fit the screen by constantly pinch-zooming to scale each story, photo, and video, be my guest, but I personally find the experience tiring and frustrating.
All said, Potts does go on to admit the time window for development was small:
We’re still very early in the game for publishing on the iPad, of course—the device has only been on the market for two weeks. It’ll be a while yet before software developers really get the hang of it and create apps that take full advantage of the new power and user experience the tablet computer (and its coming competitors) represents.
But this time concession effectively invalidates the entire argument. Even without acknowledging the time constraints, which is how this piece initially reads, I find it nauseatingly self-entitling to demand and expect something so groundbreaking without considering the real-world constraints of actually building the damned thing.
Perhaps we should re-examine Potts’ argument in a year or so, after adequate time’s been given for the platform to mature and we can see how those fare who build something “of” the platform instead of “on” it. Then we’ll see who can say “they’re doing it again.”