From the outset, the Post Print Project will address a couple of different audiences — interested parties in the traditional publishing industries and geeks approaching the iPad ecosystem from the technical side.
If you’re just starting out, check out some of these longer pieces for some much-needed context.
Here’s what cracks me up about the whole initiative — taking a soft-and-silly tack with ad (while throwing a few clutchjabs in the process) and a “just friendly guys” stance in the letter and accompanying boardroom photo. (Think Ben and Jerry in pinpoint oxford shirts.)
“We’re just hangin’ out… bein’ approchable. And Apple wants to “undermine this next chapter of the web.’ Should one company ‘control the World Wide Web’? Shucks, we don’t think so. We don’t like bullies or monopolies.”
Yes. Worldwide domination through open standards. That’s the plan. Thank god you fellas saw the threat and are countering it with GeeWhizz Public Relations.
But while you’re at it — howzabout HTML5 authoring tools. How are those coming along? (Serious snark-free question.)
For the last few weeks, I’ve been handing my iPad to random people to gauge their reaction to the device and their reflexes once they actually HOLD one. Seems that iconfactory’s Craig Hockenberry has been doing the same. He did a great post on his site furbo.org recently about the communal/campfire nature of his family’s First Encounter:
I was particularly interested in how my mother, the quintessential technophobe, would react to the device. She picked up on things quickly and was flipping through photos in no time. It astonished me how the interface disappeared for her: at one point she subconsciously licked her finger before “flipping” to the next photo.
As interesting as it was to see someone non-technical use the device, the real eye opener was how several people could interact with the iPad at once. Much of my mother’s fear of computers was overcome because she was looking at the pictures alongside my sister-in-law who helped her out when she got stuck. Learning was organic.
I like the idea of the iPad as a multi-player device, even when it’s not being used as a gaming platform.
This showed up on today’s twitterstream from Our Man in Tokyo CraigMod: A website tailor-made for fans of long-form journalism who happen to be iPad/Phone savvy.
Longform.org is a linksite dedicated to the joys of the WAY long article — you know, those pieces that make journalism students long for the New Yorker glory days o’ John McPhee. The site’s simple mission, according to its founder/editors Aaron Lammer and Max Linsky, is
We post articles, past and present, that we think are too long and too interesting to be read on a web browser.
We started this site to bring together our enthusiasm for both great longform reads and the excellent Instapaper reader.
The site itself is minimal and clean, with a well-curated list of works ready for Instapaper linking.
The editors’ collection spans magazine, newspaper and web-only content — an interesting mashup that currently includes a 1994 Rick Bragg NYT piece alongside Stephen B. Johnson’s Glass Box and Commonplace Book talk delivered at Columbia U’s journalism school last week.
I love the simple approach: Lammer and Linksy track their favorite examples of the traditional narrative non-fiction across the open web and present it for use on the new-jack readers. Another great resource that shows how new technology can be put to use in the service of traditional, in-depth writing forms.
This just in from some of the folks who brought you Fray and JPG magazines, back in the day — The 48 Hour Magazine — a full print magazine completed from submissions to print in one calendar weekend.
The team includes web/print activist/gadfly Derek Powazek and the fresh-off-flickr Heather Champ Powaek, among others. They’ll be wrangling a team of international content folk (writers, photographers, designers and illustrators) to get a full-fledged magazine wrangled and out the door by 5PM on May 9. Their goal?
Here’s how it works: Issue Zero begins May 7th. We’ll unveil a theme and you’ll have 24 hours to produce and submit your work. We’ll take the next 24 to snip, mash and gild it. The end results will be a shiny website and a beautiful glossy paper magazine, delivered right to your old-fashioned mailbox. We promise it will be insane. Better yet, it might even work.
According to the newly-launched site, they’ll have an editorial team working in San Francisco, and interested parties can peek in via webstream if they’re interested in watching the editorial “boiler room” in action.
Webfolk, if you’ve never seen a print publication put together in real time, you might want to peek in just to see the printed page in action. May 7 can’t get here soon enough…
Great discussion today from the folks over at the O’Reilly blogs regarding information design in the wonderful world of books. Various members of the O’Reilly team chime in on possibilities for integrating helpful annotations (end/footnotes, dictionary capabilities, weblinks) into iPad/ereader space.
Editor Russell Jones makes a great point on bodies of text in the web-enabled world:
There’s a difference between linked information (where links can become obsolete) and embedded information, which is persistent. I’m sure you’ve all had the frustrating experience of clicking on a link only to find that the information is no longer available. In contrast, footnotes or endnotes in a book are always available. Ebook publishers can use both, as needed. If the information is critical (and small), embed it; otherwise, link to it.
Managing Editor Mac Slocum also chimes in with a great point about reductionism when we look at the future:
Ebook discussions sometimes degenerate binary debates. Digital vs. print. Disconnected vs. connected. Sometimes even good vs. bad (although that’s a bit much). But what I found most interesting about this conversation is that everyone approached the topic from a use-case perspective. And use cases vary wildly between people, and even within people. It all depends on the particular need, goal or subject.
I’ll be interested to see how ebook publishers deal with note-heavy works like The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James or anything by David Foster Wallace.
About a week ago, Omni Group software took a quantum leap forward in AppStore best practices by offering something unprecedented in the whole iPhone/Pad universe — a 30-day money-back guarantee.
As the makers of high-end MacOS productivity software (OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, etc), OmniGroup is accustomed to giving their users a complimentary test drive to make sure the program suits their needs. The standard run is 14-30 days to put the app through its paces. A little grace period, if you will, to make sure you like the dang thing before you plunk down $150 for a project management package or $100 for a diagram/charting app.
It’s a great system for MacOS, but until now, noone’s been able to pull it off in the Phone/Pad realm. The problem being that in the current incarnation of the AppStore, it’s like buying last-minute tickets from a scalper a block from the stadium. Cash only. No refunds, no returns.
In other words, no test drives allowed. If you want to experiment an app, you’d better make sure it’s either within your price range (gimme lowlowprices) or in the feature-hobbled FREE/LITE category. Once the dough changes hands, you get nothing back.
Think Before You Click
Now OmniGroup does good products, and I’ve had my eye on one (the iPhone version of OmniFocus task management software) for awhile. It’s apparently robust, sleek as all get out, and synchs well with the Mac. My biggest problem is the price tag — $20.
Not that that’s a big hit, but given the average price points of mobile apps, it would be the biggest chunk of change I’ve laid out for an iPhone app. I’ve been close to clicking BUY a few times now, but something in the back of my head always stays my hand.
A $20 price point makes me reconsider the worst case scenario — what if I buy it and I find out IMMEDIATELY that it’s not for me? Twenty bucks always makes me think twice when the rules are the same as record store liquidation sales.
The Ballsy Move
Any AppStore purchase contains a bit of calculated risk, and the good folks at OmniGroup seem to have enough faith in their product to put their literal money where their mouth is. That is, rather than live with Apple’s safe reimbursement rules, OmniGroup is willing to gamble a bit on the following philosophical point:
(N)o one here wants you to buy something from us that you won’t enjoy using. Our primary goals are to help you decide if our products are right for you before you buy, and to help make things right if you aren’t happy after you buy.
Let’s just be up front about the fact that this choice obviously opens us up to some risk. We pay 30% of our App Store sales to Apple whether or not we refund a purchase, for one thing.
So why are we doing this? Because we want to give you the same confidence in buying our App Store software as you have when you buy our Mac software. Because it’s important to us that we continue to provide the same support and service we always have. Because we believe the benefit outweighs the risk.
From my consumer’s perspective, this new policy does the following:
It makes the math a whole lot easier to do. My overall risk is reduced to just about nothing. That gnawing “what if I hate it” feeling just evaporated.
It makes me think that OmniGroup has really put some skin in the game and that they’re willing to risk $6 to keep me experimenting with their products.
What better place to begin than with a very basic basic question:
What the hell is an iPad?
The answer, it turns out, depends entirely on who you ask.
Most folks take a look at it and say “it’s a big phone,” while others see a robust gaming platform, a shiny futuristic gadget, the transformational piece of consumer tech or another fix for cultish Mac zealots. Others see a dangerously monopolistic business model, a thumb in the eye of the Open Source community or the death of recreational computer programming.
Different strokes, I guess.
But let’s start with a look at the hardware itself, and gradually wade into the cultural/business/techno perspective.
iPad Mugshot (from the Apple site)
Sitting in your hand, the iPad is a slab of glass and aluminum roughly the size of a thick letter-sized legal pad. It weighs about 1.5 pounds and feels like an iPhone with a SERIOUS thyroid condition.
As the iPhone’s gigantic baby sibling, it’s got strong familial resemblance to its older brethren. There’s no keyboard, mouse or visible controls, just a few switches along the edge (volume, on/off control) and a single “go to home screen” button on the front. Dead minimal.
Look with Your Hands
The shiny glass front acts as a single touchscreen that reacts to fingertip motions instead of mouse clicks. Want to launch a little application (to look at photos, for example)? Tap the icon and the screen changes to a screen of snapshots. Touch a picture and it zooms to fill the screen.
An intuitive set of fingertip gestures (pinch thumb and finger apart/together to zoom in/out, sweep fingers left and right to turn pages/switch screens, etc.) A quick tap of any text field (email address, password field, text address) brings up a full (though admittedly tiny) QWERTY typewriter keyboard.
(Inside Baseball Alert: Yeah, it’s a Flash movie. We’ll talk later about the hilarity/irony.)
Deeply Practical Technology (DPT)
So, it’s a big phone. Big deal.
Well, not exactly. As any designer will tell you, it’s hard to make a complex project simple. And any iPhone user will tell you that the tiny little slab in their pocket isn’t so much a phone as a powerful computer, infinitely customizable with little programs called “apps.”
These apps help you do things like instantly check weather forecasts, read/write email, edit photos, surf the web, search recipe databases, check stocks, do language vocabulary quizzes, get customized maps, check Facebook updates or twitter to your heart’s content.
Once you get the hang of the apps, the iPhone — along with its non-cellular twin the iPod Touch — you realize that these devices are like an electronic Swiss Army knife. Infinitely customizeable and always in your pocket.
NYC, When's the next train? (CityTransit on iPhone)
Sports geeks can grab the latest live scores from the ESPN app. New Yorkers always have a updated subway map on hand. Photographers can check how sunrise/set and weather conditions will affect a shoot. Gym rats can mix up their workout routines and track goals with fitness apps from Men’s Health magazine. Perspective parents can track “ideal times” with ovulation trackers and other fertility-related apps. Fishermen can tag into live radar feeds via the Weather Channel. Mostly free, a few bucks tops.
A lot of information that you might find on various websites (in the office, back at home) are accessible from anywhere you can get a phone or wireless signal. IMDB, Wikipedia, Dictionary — they’re all there.
Of course, NONE of these things might sound interesting to any given reader — but I guarandamnTEE you that if you’re a Twins fan, photog, commuting Brooklynite, or wannabee babymama, these little things might make your life easier.
If you’re looking for your pocket device JUST to be a phone (and that’s a viable emotional response to technology and change), then this might not be for you.
But when technology makes anybody’s life easier, it gets truly personal and deeply practical.
Family photo: Phone and Pad on Pad (legal)
Extra Real Estate
Of course, a lot of people never see the practical side of the iPhone because they see it as a phone instead of a miniature computer. The very limits that make it pocket-friendly make it a deal killer for most uses.
If it’s going to fit in your pocket, the words are going to be rendered in Matt Groening’s patented technology from Life in Hell: Teeny-Tiny Squint-o-Vision.
By making the whole unit bigger (basically running a steamroller over an iPhone), the extra acreage makes it more practical for traditional uses. (Books, magazines, etc.)
The iPhone’s DPT can now appeal to people who wouldn’t touch Squint-o-Vision with a ten-foot stylus. (I’m lookin’ at YOU leading-edge Boomers.)
It’s a matter of interface, and we’ll dig into more of that later.
Which brings us to the last bit of hardware overview (and a riff on our initial question): What does this damned thing do?
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in late January, he put it through the a series of paces in a invite-only dog/pony show for the press. He walked the audience through a series of functions
Little Brother and Big Brother reading Alice
Internet Device: Web Browser, Email Client
Bare-Bones Work Computer (versions of Mac’s Powerpoint equivalent, a word processing program, spreadsheet program).
And of course, he made sure to emphasize that all the apps written for the iPhone would work on the iPad come LaunchDay.
So if you used some combination of iPhone apps to simplify your everyday life, it would be the same. Only bigger.