On the iPad, magazines and digital archiving.

So the iPad with all its hullaballoo and hype and backlash, and the backlash to the backlash has finally arrived in a blaze of publicity. People love it! People hate it! People think “looks pretty damn nice, but i’m not so sure I need to buy it”. Apple fanboys are heralding it as the Second Coming, Apple-bashers are lining up to see who can make the most sarcastic remark about its lack of USB-ports or something.

The reviews seem to be mainly positive, and the overwhelming opinion is that its really hard to judge it until you’ve used it. Its that different.

For me the most interesting thing about it, or the thing that would tempt me most to buy one, is the possibilities for reading, particularly magazine reading, that it throws up. Much has been made of its role as a potential savior for the print-industry, and some heavy weights are lining up to support it.

And we are not talking about just throwing up some PDFs. Some people, such as Popular Mechanics, are using this as an opportunity to reinvent the magazine. The results appear to be some mind-blowing publications, with untold possibilities. Brad Colbow has done a great little video exploring some of the first magazines to embrace the iPad.

iPad Magazine Art Direction from Brad Colbow on Vimeo.

The other aspect to these new-fangled magazines that interests me,however, is the idea of digital archiving. A few years ago I supervised a college project which was a prototype for a digital magazine. One of the chief inspirations for the project for the students was the idea of creating digital artifacts that would be kind of frozen-in-time. One of the guys involved particularly lamented the loss of the feeling you get in our web-era of flicking through old magazines and in addition to the content you can discover a treasure trove of design styles, photography and advertising. My Dad has been doing extensive research over the past decade into the history of Dundalk Football Club and in doing so constantly comes across the most amazing bits of design and advertising from by-gone eras, these are the delightful bonuses that you get when you go on a treasure hunt through old publications.

These days with dynamic website creation webpages are not static creatures; they morph and evolve and update on the hour every hour. I was reminded of all this this morning when I stumbled apron a 1958 Time Magazine profile of Alan Watts, maintained on Time’s website. Of course, its amazing that we have this ability, this open resource of history at our finger tips. But there was also something missing. As I read it, what I really wanted was to read it in context. I wanted to see how it sat in that particular issue, were there photos? how was it typeset? what other content featured in that issue? Sadly, none of that is reproduced. What we get is the content from that article neatly set inside the current Time website. Again, I’m not complaining about this, its kind of cool you can read a 1958 article about Alan Watts and get the ability to retweet it, or Share it on Facebook or Digg it. But at the same time, I really wish I could read it in its original format (or as close to its original format as you can get on a monitor…) I know some newspapers are doing archiving projects where you can bring up PDF or images of the original paper itself, and its this kind of thing I’d like to see more of.

This is somewhere where I think the iPad will be able to shine. Colbows video shows just how Time Magazine is going to do this. In landscape mode you get the original article, with its original typography, and layout. The people who are saying the iPad is just a glorified web-browser or that its missing X, Y and Z are missing the point I think. I don’t know of anything else out there right now with this kind of capability for reading and design. Of course, Apple won’t be the only people to make tablets, but I really think the tablet form factor itself will work because of these kind of publications.

Interesting times.

Update:John Gruber and Khoi Vinh weigh in on the Popular Science app. Vinh’s insights in particular are very interesting.