17 4 / 2014
16 4 / 2014
How to Shine in Cupertino
How does Apple choose what apps to feature in their store? While it certainly comes from high downloads, positive ratings and good press, these numbers don’t just show up overnight. They can only happen if people know about your app and like it enough to spread the word. How do you create an app like that? Give users a reason to keep coming back.
Each time a user launches your app, it should have something new to offer that wasn’t there before. Think of your app like a social networking site that you refresh to find something new. Magazines, for example, generally publish their content monthly, or weekly at best. Imagine if magazines pushed out new content more frequently; users would be launching the app multiple times a day to read what’s new. Free trials, previews, and incorporating all your social networking sites into your app can be useful tools to showcase such content, and engage users new and old alike, as seen below in our storefront.
Point of Difference:
Another important reason for a user to return to your app is what I call its “point of difference.” What makes your app stand out from all other apps? Besides basic functionality, figure out what that extra oomph to the user experience could be. Whether it’s amazing graphics, especially fast and fluid performance, or a novel feature unique to your app, this distinguisher is key. A feature unique to our apps is Stream, demonstrated below, it is a visual archive from both the publication and reader of shared and saved content in app and from the web.
While in a perfect world, I would be able to simply say, “Follow these steps and your app will be one of the best on the App Store” — I know it is easier said than done. But to me, these are truly the most important considerations an app developer can do to draw more downloads and keep users coming back for more.
Areeb Ahmad is Director of Quality Assurance in Noida, India. Follow him on Twitter @areebahmad.
10 1 / 2014
MAZ partner FOUR hailed UK’s Best Food Magazine
Congratulations are in order: MAZ partner FOUR just won Gourmand World Cookbooks Awards’ Best UK Food Magazine for 2013! We are proud to power the app for such a superlative publication and team. Read FOUR’s news post here, and check out their app here. Treat yourself!
31 10 / 2013
New interview with Paul
We are always working on new things– updates to the platform, new designs, new features, and so on. Currently I am spending a lot of energy on exploring how people share content on mobile and tablet devices. We have a great tool called Clippings that allows anyone to “cut out” something from the digital page and then share it across social media, email, or save it for later. I want to take Clippings even further by understanding why and how people share while reading online. Some of our innovation comes out of customer demand, and some comes out of our own anticipation of what will be important in the future. You have to have the right balance.
BillionSuccess just posted an excellent interview with MAZ CEO and founder Paul Canetti. Over the course of the conversation, Paul touches on what makes MAZ different, building a startup, his time at Apple, and sound business advice writ large.
It’s a great read! You can find the full interview here.
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15 10 / 2013
Re-Designing Hundreds of Apps for iOS 7
I remember the exact moment it hit me– we had gathered couches in the office to watch the WWDC Keynote like it was a movie, and as they unveiled the iOS 7 video segment, it became immediately clear: we were going to have to redesign everything.
Like many app designers that day, I was feeling incredibly inspired after that Keynote and immediately got right to work.
We had already been planning on a UI overhaul of the Store section of our apps, and so now I had a really good excuse to do exactly that.
The tricky part was (and always is) that the app I was designing was actually a template for hundreds of apps that use MAZ to publish onto iOS, and so while I wanted to be on the bleeding edge design-wise, it still had to be vanilla enough to look good with all the types of content we help publish.
I’ll give away the ending of the story here, but these are our new iOS 7 designs for iPad and iPhone:
Here is a journey through the process:
Version 2.6 of the MAZ Publishing platform marked the last major update of our apps’ UI, which was back in February of 2012. We launched v2.6 with the premier of Inc. Magazine for iPad. This marked an important transition as we added a web button and a Twitter button in the Store section of our apps, allowing users to visit websites in the Store. Prior to that users could only purchase/download content to view it - this was the first move toward offering free web-based content inside the apps as well.
(look at the RSS and Twitter icons toward the top right)
A year and a half later, we released MAZ Publishing 3.6, which looked like this:
Same general concept but with some tweaks. There had actually been five updates to our apps between v2.6 and v3.6, culminating in this modern and polished UI, but one clearly built for iOS 6.
Concepts for a New Storefront
Soon after v3.0, which was April 2013, well before iOS 7 was announced, I was already working on some concepts for a brand new Store UI.
My basic goals were to:
- give a fresh new look to the apps
- emphasize new content
- give even more access to web content
- not stray too far from our current layout so we wouldn’t need to re-process all the assets on our servers
- make Clippings more prominent (trivia: Clippings was introduced in MAZ Publishing 2.8)
My first design was one which in retrospect is actually pretty iOS 7-y with it’s bright colors and white background, even though I didn’t know about iOS 7 yet!
I took our “full cover view” and made it the default view, instead of “grid view” which had always been our default previously, so that the newest cover would be the main event when a user launched the app, instead of many small thumbnails with none weighted over the others.
I added a Clippings Button to the right of the cover so that a user could very easily create a clipping of the cover.
I also introduced more social buttons so that the user could load any of that web-based content right inside the Store. I borrowed from our iPhone UI which had a sliding drawer and applied it to iPad.
This was the birth of the “hub” idea which is now a cornerstone of MAZ Publishing - basically that a publisher’s app should be much more than the converted print product - it should be a one-stop-shop for all content, including web, social, etc.
I killed content descriptions since the content was big enough to be legible (as opposed to the thumbnails), and most descriptions were redundant with what was already designed into the cover.
Another thing I brought to the new Store was the draggable overlay that we were already using within our content Reader, instead of a full-page web view inside a UITableView as we had previously done for web content accessed through the Store.
Now when a user tapped on one of those buttons along the left, the site would open in a draggable overlay like this:
Initial Concepts for iOS 7
The very day of the WWDC Keynote, after catching a glimpse of iOS 7, I got to work on updating my designs. Ironically, I didn’t really think I had that much to do.
First, I changed the fonts and toned down the gradients of the buttons. Then I changed the drawer background color to light grey to make the whole thing feel airier.
I thought I was done!
Of course, a lot of my initial impressions of iOS 7 were incorrect - my buttons were wrong, there should be no separation between nav bar and status bar, and as it turned out, going lighter was the wrong move…
Seeing is Believing
Even though I was still tweaking buttons, colors, and fonts, the new Store UI was actually already well underway with our dev team at the time of the WWDC announcements.
Soon enough, I had a live build to run on my iPad. I thought it was going to blow me away (after all, it was my own design come to life, how could I not love it?), but the truth is, I didn’t really like it as much as I thought I would.
It didn’t really make sense– I had really seen it a million times as I worked on it, had previewed it on the actual devices (Skala Preview is the greatest invention in the world) and simulated interaction (I use Keynote for all my prototypes and even most of my final design work - builds/transitions = fast prototyping), but using the actual real app is just different. And it wasn’t good enough.
Not to mention, my initial attempts at updating to match iOS 7 weren’t actually right. Once I had time to read through the new iOS Human Interface Guidelines and actually use iOS 7 firsthand, I realized that there was a lot more work to be done.
Buttons Without Buttons
For the purchase/preview/download buttons, I toyed with various arrangements, but came to find that the new iOS 7 button-less button (i.e. only text) would work well. I made the colors of the text to match the colors our users were accustomed to. Green to buy, blue to read, and so on.
I also used the fact that we were dealing with pure text to add some more descriptive language to the buttons.
I couldn’t really do all the buttons as text-only because they would all be competing for attention. So for the subscription buttons, I added a simple thin border, and slightly emphasized free trials with a lighter blue.
Back to Black
Okay, well not black, but dark blue. One problem when I was using the live build of the new Store was that the covers were being drowned out by the pure whiteness of the background. Sort of like in the new Photos app for iOS 7, your eyes don’t know where to focus when the pics are against the white, and really pop against the black (especially when using a black device where the black screen/black hardware border is ambiguous).
Here is a version of the UI that is very close to the final version, in light grey and in dark blue.
See how much more the cover pops out on to the dark background? Our v3.6 design for iOS 6 had a subtle dark blue gradient, and so I decided to backtrack to that palette, but without a gradient.
I removed all the drop shadows, even on iPhone behind the drawer. We also added some gesture based navigation, like swiping back to the Store from the Reader instead of needing to tap the back button.
For the navigation bar icons, I made some modifications to our buttons to make them a bit larger, more geometric - I made them solid white with no drop shadows, and generally made them look cleaner.
Similarly, for the interactive buttons inside the content, we flattened all of them and made them feel lighter.
Here are a bunch of other side-by-side comparisons between our iOS 6 iPhone design and iOS 7 (two different apps but you get the idea).
So that’s the story! It was a long process, but I believe we landed on the right final product. Submitting those hundreds of app updates was no fun, but that is a story for another post another time…
To send you off, here is a classy animated GIF of the various iterations of our iOS 7 design. I recommend listening to a Justin Bieber song while you watch.
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27 9 / 2013
Introducing MAZ Publishing 4.0
We are extremely excited to announce the release of MAZ Publishing 4.0, our fourth major release and the most ambitious one yet.
Not coincidentally, this update follows on the heels of Apple’s iOS 7, and MP 4.0 is a total reimagining of our iOS apps.
We also took it as an opportunity to rethink the platform as a whole. There are updates for Android on Google Play and Amazon’s Appstore, plus powerful new marketing and design tools in MAZ Control.
iOS 7 Design
The most striking difference in our new iOS apps is a total overhaul of the UI (user interface) that we had been using for the last three years. Our new iOS apps are cleaner, flatter, and more subtle, allowing the content to really pop.
Web & Social Content in the Store
Inspired by the use of web buttons inside the content our publishers create with MAZ, we now have web and social media buttons right in the Store- where users can access them as soon as they open the app.
Featured Web Content
Users can now see the publisher’s latest news or promotions as soon as they open the app. Regardless of scheduled frequency of the publication, Featured Web Content allows any publisher to update their app with new content whenever they would like.
Custom Push Notifications
Push notifications can now be sent on the fly and say whatever you want, instead of only coinciding with new content going live. There is no better way to provide value to users than by providing them with important news as it happens, even if they are not in the app.
Used in conjunction with Featured Web Content, push notifications can alert users to specific content and breaking news, and when they open the app that content will already be queued up. Push notifications now work with Google Play apps as well.
Clippings has become a staple of MAZ apps. 1 out of every 5 times someone downloads content, they create a clip. Each clip has a Clippings Link attached to it, which refers traffic back to the app or to the publisher’s website.
We have now introduced a Clippings button right in the Store and on every website, so it is easier than ever for users to spread the word across social media.
Users do not always understand how to take advantage of the amazing features available to them when reading on a mobile or tablet device. Now these simple prompts can be placed anywhere on the page to help educate users about how to best navigate and use their apps.
New Design Tools
We have added grid lines and zooming to the Design Tab of MAZ Control. Now you can have even more control and precision as you lay out interactive elements on the page.
The Organize Tab now displays page numbers in real time as you make adjustments and shows you what page you currently have selected.
Visual Page Linking
It is now easier than ever to link from page to page. Instead of needing to know the exact page number, you can simply select the thumbnail of the page you want to link to.
Our Best Release Ever
We’ve been hard at work building these improvements over the last few months, and MAZ Publishing 4.0 is by far the best version of the platform we’ve ever had.
We hope you enjoy using it as much as we enjoyed making it!
-The MAZ Team
23 9 / 2013
Transitioning from Fine Art to UI Design
User interface design is an intricate art. Learning what I can of it from Paul Canetti — my older brother, and the visionary behind MAZ — has been a challenging gift.
As a student, I always loved visual mediums: drawing, painting, printmaking, mixed media and all. While honing my skills in college, I found my favorite techniques were ones of abstraction. My work was frequently marked by blurred lines, distortion, and collage tendencies. The only computer design I tried resembled what I liked to do paper: layers upon layers, with inverted pictures and upside down texts.
When I began my internship (and, more recently, part-time work) at MAZ, I entered the world of precision boxes, perfect squares, beveled rectangles, and pixels, shadows, angles, specs, margins, bleeds, PNG, TIFF, GIF, and Keynote galore. My past skills were refined into a different set, one I’m still just beginning to grasp. User interface design trades some of traditional 2D art’s abstraction for a crucial layer of hands-on utility. With its focus on the mathematically exact and experientially intuitive, web and app design has encouraged me to confront the things I avoided as another kind of artist in college.
But even though apps require buttons, text fields, and practical functionality, abstract creativity is not lost. In fact, I’ve never seen such an in-depth and conceptually demanding process before. MAZ’s design blends colors, bends shapes, tricks the eye, and envisions what could be a dull and generic interface as something far more pleasing.
For example, take this seemingly simple hand Paul designed for our upcoming upgrade to MAZ 4.0…
…and check out how it was actually created!
It’s especially cool to see it in motion:
If you want to learn more about UI and UE design, here are some resources I’ve found useful lately!
- The courses and seminars offered at General Assembly
- Code School’s online instruction
- Keynotopia’s tutorials
Carolyn Canetti does digital marketing for MAZ.
16 9 / 2013
Why Apple’s Push Into Asia Is Big For Publishers
Apple’s big reveal of the iPhone 5c on Tuesday has market gurus and trend pundits fiercely debating the company’s fate abroad. Everyone can agree that the plastic, price-reduced model of the iconic phone is Apple’s first real bid for Asia, a rapidly expanding market where Android giants like Samsung, Sony and Nokia reign. And with smartphone shipments in China dwarfing America’s by more than 50 million units last quarter alone, the incentive is clear.
The disagreement stems from whether the 5c’s price point - higher than most estimates projected for such a device from Apple - is in fact low enough to curry favor in the East. Outside of the American teen and tween demographics, the 5c’s contracted $99 pricetag is a bit of a red herring: Chinese consumers will have to shell out a whopping $735 to buy one unlocked, a pricey practice often necessary in emerging markets. Tech In Asia scoffs that after import duties take their toll, the iPhone 5c will actually be more expensive in China than the superior 5s will be in the US. ZD Net Asia concurs, corroborating reports that social media banter in China and India sounds anything but impressed. Josh Ong at The Next Web thinks that the 5c will still do well in Asia, and his colleague Kaylene Hong even argues that backlash from China’s longtail will pay high-end dividends for Apple. CNBC predicts that if and when Apple’s long-bartered deal with carrier giant China Mobile finally comes to fruition, the 5c’s premium exclusivity will help it dip deep into China’s mid-tier market, which has eluded Apple to date. (In any event, their fresh partnership with Japan’s primary service provider, NTT DoCoMo, has salarymen spending their entire year’s vacation just to queue up at their local Apple Store a week in advance of the new iPhones’ release.)
The outcome could have big ramifications for digital publishing writ large. It’s no secret that most magazine apps are coded for and enjoyed on iOS: even as the Google Play Store has recently surpassed Apple’s App Store in mobile app count, the App Store continues to pull in 2.3 times the revenue Google Play does. iOS’ app ecosystem and overall UX seem to better encourage app use and content purchases, a fact reflected most pertinently by data from China: in Q2 2013, the country ranked 2nd and 5th place in global iOS app downloads and revenue, respectively, while China did not crack either chart’s top five for Android. Considering Android boasts a 70% market share of smartphone devices in China, this engagement gap is salient.
Of course, there’s a third variable to consider: it makes sense that Chinese consumers able to justify buying the premium smartphone will also be able to justify buying premium smartphone content. But even then, the iPhone 5c is a compelling prospect for the digital publishing industry. Whether or not the 5c is a bona fide smash in China, it will certainly expand the iPhone’s user base in a market large enough that even a modest showing will bring iPhones into many more hands. And Apple’s coup with DoCoMo can only expand the iPhone’s considerable popularity in Japan. An Asian surge in iPhone sales bodes well for iOS apps in general, but especially book and mag apps: the uniform screen size helps ensure an optimized reading experience, and Apple’s more inviting marketplace helps drive in-app purchases of serialized content. We may soon be seeing many more Asian publications unrolling iOS apps, and more issue sales for international titles among East Asia’s bilingual populations.
In any event, we’ll soon see. The new iPhones launch in China, Japan and Singapore on September 20th, the same date as in America - the first time Apple’s given Asian markets their newest device from day one.
Jakob Dorof is The Editor at MAZ. He tweets about tech, publishing, and Korean pop music @soyrev.
16 7 / 2012
Happy 2nd MAZiversary! Thoughts After 2 Years Of MAZ
Two years ago today, I registered magappzine.com.
I had left Apple about 16 months prior and was working hard with my band Love and Logic, riding the heels of two popular videos that had taken off on YouTube. One had over a million views and one found it’s way onto MTV - that one featuring a single seamless video playing simultaneously on 4 iPhones. Go figure.
I was paying the bills doing home computer consulting and training under the name Paul The Wizard, teaching people how to use their Macs, iPhones, and iPads, setting up routers and printers, and so on. I spent a lot of time observing and understanding the way that “normal” people use technology.
The iPhone 4’s “antennagate” was underway with things like this circulating on the web.
Steve Jobs was alive.
I was working with a couple of friends on custom iOS development, including Simon, where I did UX/UI design for iPhone apps.
The iPad had been on the market for only 3 months and already was changing the world.
Articles like this were cropping up left and right. In those 3 months, we had been getting many inquiries from magazine publishers to develop iPad apps for them. I was out there, pitching my heart out to these publishers. I was selling something we didn’t have— a native iPad app where a publisher could add (and sell) new content over time. But nobody hired us, because it was just way too expensive. In retrospect, we were actually quoting too little at the time.
We knew that there was a very real need. We kept getting calls. And we knew that the only real solution to that need while staying price sensitive was to build a platform, a way to empower publishers to publish to this new and magical device, without having to write a single line of code, or hiring a custom developer. We wanted to build a platform that would put ourselves out of a job.
So I registered magappzine.com that day, and we began figuring out how we were going to build it. And we spent a lot of time, a lot of late nights, building it.
It was 6 months before I started selling again, when we started our beta. (that was less than 2 weeks after my apartment burned down and I climbed down the fire escape with my backup HD, but that’s a story for another time) And this time I actually had something to sell. I could walk into an office with a finished app, for my first meeting! That’s the beauty of a platform.
A few brave souls tried us out then, including BUST and City Journal, who are still with MAZ today. They will never know how big of an impact they had on our fledgling company (well unless they are reading this, in which case THANK YOU!!!!!!)
In these two years, I have become even closer to my best friend and co-founder, Simon. We found an amazing partner and CTO in Shikha, who lives halfway around the world, and yet I talk to her more than most people I know in NY. We met on LinkedIn, the best way for the partners of a global startup to meet if you ask me.
I have learned so much about technology, about design, about finance, about law, about fundraising, about selling, about marketing, about running a business.
We have touched the lives of countless readers who now can find their favorite publications on the iPad, and we have empowered publishers from around the world (40+ countries!) to create rich, interactive digital experiences, all without writing a line of code, just like we set out to do.
We have built our team out from sitting on the floor of our apartments to staffs in the US and in India comprised of hands down, the most talented, devoted, ambitious, hard-working, and most thoughtful people I could have ever imagined working with. In case I don’t say it enough, thank you to our incredible team. You amaze me every day.
All of this in the first two years, and yet I feel like we have only just begun. We’ve just scratched the tiniest surface of what is possible, of what we want to accomplish. We are still hungry. More now than ever before.
We still spend a lot of late nights. We are still building.
To my family and friends who have been so supportive over the last two years, to our clients, to our end users, to our investors, to our advisors, to our team— thank you. Thank you for believing in us.
We have only just begun.
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