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iPad: iLaunch, therefore iAm
by Sam McMillan

For two decades, computer manufacturers, software engineers and interface designers have been trying to create a tablet computer accepted by the masses. The result: the Grid Pad, AT&T Eo, even Apple’s own Newton. In short: a string of expensive failures. Machines of astonishing technical achievement. Too bad nobody bought them. That changed on April 3, 2010, when Apple launched its iPad. One month later, more than two million units had been shipped, and the tablet computer was here to stay.

The acclaim, along with the sales figures, was astronomical. Reviewers marveled at its ease of use, its simplicity and brilliant screen. One media maven breathlessly claimed his four-year-old daughter and his grandmother were able to pick up the iPad, and without ever reading a manual, use it for what they wanted. But can designers use it for what they want? In other words, how useful will the iPad be as a tool for getting work done?

The answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!” from pundit Tony Bove, who co-wrote iPad Application Development For Dummies. “For all graphic designers, this is as big an explosion as desktop publishing,” Bove says. Using many of the same production tools they are already familiar with, the iPad offers a design environment that reimagines nothing less than the experience of magazines, newspapers, advertising, video and even software development. “This is the vanguard of content delivery,” Bove states. The new domain includes a new sensory relationship to content that offers engagement, depth and immersion. The iPad, says Bove, “literally opens the user’s senses” as touch, motion detection, sound and location are included in the experience. Engage with an ad on an iPad, he says, “and it actually feels like you are handling something.” Twirled, twisted, shaken, the iPad delivers the illusion of touch, and a new tactile relationship with content.

At Hot Studio in San Francisco, the developers of the Zinio magazine reader app for the iPad had just six weeks to redefine that relationship. A month and a half before the iPad launched, Rajan Dev, president of Hot Studio remembers getting a call at home from Rich Maggiotto of Zinio.

Surf’s up! Hot Studio reinvents the way we browse magazines for the Zinio app. The bottom slider bar provides at-a-glance access to content.

Zinio, which calls itself the largest newsstand in the world, makes the digital content of over 50,000 magazines available to readers. As Maggiotto told Dev that night, Apple had extended their “special love” to Zinio with regard to the iPad release. Which meant that Zinio had an iPad prototype literally chained to a desk in a locked room. Was Hot Studio interested in developing the Zinio Magazine Reader for the iPad?

For Matt Carlson, the lead on the Experience Strategy and Design Team at Hot Studio, the first few weeks felt “like we were designing for a fictional device. It could have been a unicorn. Seventy-five percent of the design was accomplished on a white board. And then we jumped straight to pixels.”

According to Shalin Amin, Hot Studio senior designer of the Zinio app, “We wanted to elevate the reading experience for the larger screen. Our notion of a magazine meant hi-fi content that was well branded and well curated. How we interact with it is wide open. The question is, ‘How can the device enhance a print magazine in a meaningful way?’”

It’s clear our experience of magazines will never be the same. Open an issue of Road & Track and you can watch a video taken by a racecar driver’s helmet-cam as his Formula One car zooms around a track. Instead of reading a review of a CD, you can sample audio tracks. Or listen as an author reads excerpts of her works. And instead of viewing a few photos taken by a photojournalist, you can now see hundreds. As envisioned by the designers at Hot Studio, the magazine would become a repository of baseline content leading to an arsenal of media that can be deployed to help tell a richer story.

Gentlemen, start your engines. Zinio’s reader for Car and Driver uses helmet-cam video clips to put you in the driver’s seat.

On the Zinio app, the humble table of contents has been reinvented as the homepage. You navigate to the story by tapping the page title. That’s just the beginning of a new way to navigate to content: Zinio lets you choose from linear, mosaic view or slider viewing. Pages flip, scroll or slide. Slideshows built into magazines like National Geographic let users scroll through imagery one at a time or choose a gallery view. Tap a photo, spread your fingers and it enlarges to fill the screen. McMillan
Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at