I first read about this hoopla on The Pixel Peeps, then I saw it was picked up on Daring Fireball, now I’ve seen it on Mashable, Cult of Mac, Buzzfeed, and everywhere else from the industry-specific Publishing Business newsletter to the broader tech/media-y Jason Hirschhorn’s Media ReDEFined. I have had multiple people email me about this. The tech blog wormhole moves fast, and it is not kind.
As the founder of a startup that helps publishers create iPad magazines, I feel like all iPad magazines are getting a bad rep just because some high profile mags got caught with their pants down.
There are in fact someiPad magazines that look great on the new iPad. They were just not created with the Adobe Digital Publishing Platform.
Full disclosure, our CTO and Director of Mobile were both senior computer scientists at Adobe before coming to MAZ. ;)
How Our Issues Were Retina-Ready From Day 1
The biggest magazine titles in the United States generally all use the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (Condé Nast) or some derivation of it like Woodwing (Time Inc.). And so it is easy to generalize and declare that “all” magazines are not retina-ready. This is of course not the case.
MAZ has known for months, if not years, that retina screens would eventually come to the iPad. We planned accordingly way in advance, and that is why our magazine issues looked great from Day 1 on the new iPad.
It was because of a non-retina feature that we’ve had from the beginning that made this transition relatively painless: zooming. Many of our competitors are lacking this seemingly simple feature (all the Adobe apps for instance).
I am a firm believer that if you are reading on the iPad, you should be able to pinch, double-tap, and explore the page. Reading Wired on the iPad makes me feel like the app is broken; there is this disconnect between what my fingers think they can do and the imposed limitations. It’s like when you see a frustrated two year-old trying to tap a computer screen.
We included zooming in our apps from launch, even though we knew it would bring many challenges including file/storage size, memory management (something that developers need to worry about for mobile/tablet development in deciding how much “stuff” can be loaded into memory at any given time), scaling multimedia overlays, etc. “Feeling right” should be the #1 goal of any self-respecting software designer, and being able to pinch and zoom just feels right.
Because of this, all of our magazine pages are actually 1536px wide (768 x2), instead of the 768px width of the iPad and iPad 2 screen. 1536px crammed into 768px, so that when you zoom up to 200%, things still look purty.
Cut to the new iPad, and that’s exactly what needs to happen for retina: cram twice as many pixels in. (It’s actually 4 times as many, but twice as many in the width and twice as many in the height.)
As we heard rumors swirling that March was going to be iPad 3 time, we had many discussions about whether to extend our pages to be 3072px wide, essentially making them double-double, for retina. We decided to leave them as is so that we could make an informed decision after some real-world experience with the new iPad after its release. And we were comfortable doing this knowing that our magazine issues would already be retina-ready when viewed at 100%. We’re still evaluating the double-double scenario.
And so not only do our issues zoom, but they were retina-ready from Day 1 as you can see - these are some samples from the Inc. Magazine app, created using MAZ, on an iPad 2 (left) vs. the new iPad (right). Crisp!
Shipping Software Without Testing Is Bad Practice
First off, to all the nay-sayers that say all 60,000 iPads apps should have been 100% ready on the first day of the new iPad, let it be said that releasing a fully retina-ready app from Day 1 was highly risky, for anyone. Until you are holding the new iPad in your hands, doing proper quality assurance tests, you really can’t know 100% that it is going to look good.
This is the reason we did not ship apps with retina assets (buttons, icons, etc.) in advance, because we wanted to make sure we had it right. The issues were in good shape, so the rest could wait. You see if something is wrong in your app, you have to submit an update to be approved by Apple, and that can take weeks. I believe it’s better to properly test and be a couple of weeks late than have 3 million new iPad users opening your apps the first weekend and there being a problem and then those users need to wait weeks for the fix.
We are now submitting apps with an all-retina UI, after a week of actual new iPad testing - here is a screen shot of the improvement. Not vital for reading itself, but it sure does look way better. Look at the detail, even in the textures!
Bigger Is Not Better
The Mashable article over-simplifies a solution for Condé Nast (apparently quoting someone at Adobe) by saying that all a magazine has to do is export to a PDF and voila! Presto! Retina-ready!
What Vogue did — and what all other titles will have to do in the coming weeks — is begin exporting their digital editions as PDFs, said Koch.
There are so many problems with this. First off, rendering live PDFs in an app puts way more strain on the device and moves much slower than displaying images (which are already rendered). Secondly, PDFs are freaking huge.
Lastly, the mentality here is wrong. He talks about what they need to do, making the publishers shoulder the technological weight. I believe this is wrong. It should be the responsibility of the platforms to keep everyone up-to-date with the standards; that is one of the key advantages of using a platform vs. custom development in the first place!
A magazine that is around 400 megabytes on the new iPad will be around 280 megabytes on the iPad 1 and 2, Koch said.
How is either of those scenarios acceptable to anyone?! It’s embarrassing! 400 MB for a retina-ready version and 280 MB for a non-retina version. Neither is zoomable, for that you would need to double those numbers 800/560 MB. That is insane. Insane for download times, insane for storage space, and insane for memory management. Why do consumers and publishers put up with this nonsense?
Early on, we made file size and download speeds a huge priority at MAZ. We have a proprietary conversion engine that maximizes quality while minimizing file size that we are constantly improving to get files even smaller, looking even better, and downloading even faster. We also insist that all large multimedia be streaming which helps keeps things in check.
The first issue in the Inc. Magazine app, created with MAZ, (retina-ready and zoomable, mind you) is a 62.6 MB download. That’s 116 pages of high quality, beautiful, pixel-perfect magazine layout, clocking in at 15% the size of Vogue’s 400 MB. That’s an 85% faster download too.
Big Companies Move Slow
Time Inc.’s titles (Time, Sports Illustrated, People), created with Woodwing via Adobe DPS, are still not in the iOS Newsstand, which came out in October 2011 and was announced in June 2011, almost a year ago.
Memar, an Iranian architecture magazine that created its iPad app with MAZ, is on the Newsstand. MAZ had all our apps Newsstand-ready almost immediately.
Don’t you think Time Magazine has more resources available to it than Memar Magazine? So what’s going on here?
The only thing slower than one giant corporation is two giant corporations.
At a startup like MAZ, we are able to be fast and nimble and implement changes constantly. We live and breathe only this, only digital magazines; it is our sole focus. So we’re ready and able to keep up with the times at a moment’s notice. I, the CEO, decided we needed retina assets, and so I, also the UI designer, sat down and made them. I sent them to our dev team, and they sent me a working app to test within hours. That’s startup speed.
Obviously I’m biased, but I believe large corporations like Time Inc. and Condé Nast should work with small, agile companies when it comes to new technology, as behemoths like Adobe only further the cycle of complacency.
The Tech Elite Don’t Understand Magazine Publishers
Disclaimer: I love most of what John Gruber writes/says, but sometimes he and and others over-simplify things.
In the latest episode of his podcast, The Talk Show, Gruber says of image-based magazine apps, “I have no other word for it other than stupid,” and proceeds to say how stupid it is for a while. “It’s the stupidest way ever to do a magazine.”
In the case of The New Yorker having 600 MB (non-zoomable, non-retina) issue downloads, which he mostly refers to, it’s hard not to agree.
But I think he and many others overlook the realities of publishing a magazine to the iPad. Magazines are created by highly creative teams of writers, editor, photographers, and layout designers. They work side-by-side with marketing and sales teams and advertisers. These are not tech people. Nor should they need to be. The technological tools made available to publishers must be aimed at these existing teams. Making the apps look and feel like the magazine is essential, and to do that, the same people have to be creating both.
Layout design is exactly what separates a magazine from the web. It’s not an afterthought, it is the essence of the magazine experience. On the web, we describe content as just words and images, but content has a 3rd dimension, presentation, and that is what magazine publishers are trying to bring to the iPad. You can’t ignore that or else it’s just not a magazine any more.
And so far, pixel-perfect images or PDFs are the best way to capture that on the iPad.
It’s easy for an outsider to say, “Oh well you should just do it a different way,” but that’s the culture of a magazine. I work with publishers every day, and in another life I was a magazine designer myself, and for iPad magazine apps, the tools must suit the design first and foremost.
Will these technologies change and evolve over time? Absolutely. Will image-based or PDF-based iPad magazine rule supreme forever? No. MAZ is already working on tools for the future, as are our competitors I’m sure. But it’s a process. An entire industry can’t turn on a dime. At least not without some help, which is exactly what we’re here to do.
Existing MAZ Publishers - Your issues (including back issues) are all retina-ready, and the entire retina UI will be coming as an app update soon. We will contact you if we need any new branding assets from you.
Publishers Looking For Apps - If you want a retina-optimized app, check out MagAppZine powered by MAZ, we are shipping all new magazine apps retina-ready from the get-go.
Techies- some great posts re: designing for retina:
Designing for iPhone 4 Retina Display: Techniques and Workflow
Designing for Retina display
Designing for Retina display, part two