A tablet demo too far

I find this concept demo both beautiful & technically impressive:

I have a very hard time thinking, however, that this represents the future of magazine publishing–any more than that such rich short films would take over the magazine world via CD-ROMs.
Sure, hardware’s better and the delivery pipe is fatter, but the cost of producing something visually beautiful & creative remains (and will remain) much higher than shoving text into a template. When moving content online, publishers often trade dollars for pennies, and even high profile sites grind out content for a pittance (e.g. I’ve read that Gawker pays its writers $12 per post).
Then there’s the question of audience demand–especially in terms of increased willingness to pay. If people want this kind of richness, why isn’t it all over the Web right now? I worked on rich, interactive narratives on Urban Desires, a side venture at my old Web agency, more than 10 years ago. All that graphical cleverness came and went, replaced by simple content management systems that enable quick sharing of text & images.
Thinking that tablets will change everything makes me remember an article in The Onion’s Our Dumb Century, ostensibly written in the late 40’s. It breathlessly trumpeted how the new marvel of television would revolutionize society for the better (“Every man a professor!”)–not like that tawdry, shallow radio and those filthy newspapers and books. No, this time everything would be different… It was a great satire of dotcom hype in ’99 and remains a good corrective to tablet hype in ’10.
Believe me, I’m very excited about tablets (counting the days), and I think you’ll really dig how forthcoming Adobe tools will make it much easier (and thus more cost-effective, and thus more plausible) to add richness to content. I just think we’d do well to keep our expectations realistic.

19 thoughts on “A tablet demo too far

  1. I personally find these pretty close to animated DVD-Menus. Every DVD nowadays seems to have an animated menu, but sometimes i just think “I’d trade this 13 second menu-switch for a simpler menu” because sometimes it’s just annoying.
    While the result is aesthetically pleasing, I don’t see it changing the world, either. But as always: Yeay for new tech-demos!

  2. Hey John, regardless of the whole iPad/Flash debacle I’m always very impressed that you’re looking forward to tablets and the iPad in particular. Great UI design for the iPad starts in Photoshop so Adobe will always have a big hold on that market.

  3. Is it just me, or is that close to the most obnoxious way to deliver written content imaginable? Loud music, distracting animation, busy layouts, busier backgrounds, and off-kilter columns.

  4. Great design starts in our heads – the idea is everything. But such tools helps us to get the work better and faster done.

  5. I liked it a lot. Reminded me of MYST. Considering the time WIRED spends on their infographics, I don’t see this as that big of a leap. Maybe top stories get this treatment, and maybe it’s necessary to keep viewership.

  6. I don’t think it’s about “written content”, it’s just about “content”… Anyway, I’m with the ones who find this most annoying. It’s just conceptually wrong on all accounts.

  7. I don’t think the transitions would be nearly so annoying if they were between, say, video segments. After all, that’s basically how television shows are edited together to begin with. But between print segments? Unbelievably jarring and obnoxious.

  8. Where were the grown-ups during the process of creating this piece? Technically impressive, creatively unbearable. It reminds me of the first stereo records in the 60’s – they were recordings of a ping-ping game (left-right-left-right, get it?), trains roaring through a station (comes in from the right, goes out to the left). Ughh. Same thing – technically impressive, creatively brain-dead.
    Listen to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s on headphones. Even the great Sir George Martin hadn’t quite figured out how to exploit the new medium of stereo sound recording. But it always takes time (…sometimes an entire generation…) for the novelty of a new medium to wear off so that good art can be conveyed.
    Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Somewhere, taste and proportion have to enter into the equation. I have no doubt that very smart people with a great sense of taste and proportion will step forward and show us how to use this new thing.

  9. Hah, this demo reminds me of the mid-90s CD-ROM game called Bad Mojo. Anybody remember that cockroach game? Sorry, but not everything needs a metaphor. 😉

  10. Hey John. Have you seen the desktop application for “New York Times” running in Air?
    If not, you absolutely must see it.
    THAT is the future of newspapers, both on desktops and on portable tablets.
    [Yep, I think that’s much more in the realm of the useful/possible. –J.]

  11. How about fixing the deluge of bugs and performance issues in Adobe Illustrator before dipping into yet another “new media” foray with your beloved Flash?
    Or is my $40,000 CS4 site license not worth the time?

  12. Perhaps the blog of the Photoshop PM is not the best place to be asking for help with, or complaining about some aspects of, AI, or is this an expression of the “acceptable levels of disdain” that you’re apparently noted for demonstrating?

  13. The point about needing to design for the iPad taking a lot of time is well taken. But the obvious question comes to mind: isn’t that why people have been doing for years with print?
    These flashy iPad demos show that publishers are finally waking up to realize that the web isn’t just shovelware – online deserved to be designed just the same as print did – and it helps that design can be more powerful online.

  14. I would hate that. When I’m reading a magazine, I want to read, not to watch that stuff. We’re oversaturated with videos being played everywhere. It’s too much visual pollution, in my opinion.

  15. A couple of weeks to write the content, months to create the transitions…
    OK, I don’t know, but what I do know is that this is not practical. I don’t mind transitions when they make sense and aren’t annoying, but when they go to this extreme, for a “magazine” concept, I have to wonder what people are thinking?
    This has moved beyond the WOW factor into just being ridiculous. This might work in a choose your own adventure book though, well, not the angled text — not on a 1024 x 768 screen.
    The only good thing I see coming of this, is more work for some of us until the returns don’t justify the effort.

  16. I think there’s a key difference between the web as we know it and emerging platforms like the iPad. The distinction is that iPad is an explicitly single-tasking experience.
    The web as we know it is accessed via browsers on devices with multi-tasking OSes and multi-window interfaces. Users constantly and rapidly switch and progress through a deluge of information, valuing clarity and succinctness over beauty and engagement.
    The single-tasking experience on the iPad creates an explicit opportunity for immersion and reciprocal desire for it from the user.
    The iPad and the class of devices that will emerge around it (as a class of smartphones has evolved around iPhone’s parameters) provide opportunities the web can’t match: fixed screen size and resolution, consistent touch interface, and most likely an emerging tradition of attentive full-screen UI design, as we’ve seen on the iPhone.
    When users view a webpage they want to imbibe its content and move on quickly, as they’re likely doing a few other things simultaneously. When an iPad user opens a reading app, they’re resigned to that activity as their solitary focus until they close the app and open another.
    This mandatory full-screen, full-attention experience creates different user desires and, I believe, a greater appreciation for a richer experience of the content in a way that can be compared to the distinction between newspapers and scientific or lifestyle periodicals and magazines.
    Newspapers must be informative first, offering concise information on topics of interest as succinctly as possible, permitting the reader to consume and move on — as we do on the web.
    Magazine-style periodicals must also present compelling content, but unlike newspapers they benefit from graphical embellishments. The old story of the January 1905 National Geographic issue which transformed it from a popular science and culture periodical to a pre-eminent vestibule of modern photojournalism is a good example: without photos, without eloquent and graceful page design (all of which interrupts and interferes with the straight-up reading experience) National Geographic would not be what it is.
    This particular demo of high-production content embellishment may be over the top, and it certainly doesn’t seem like the content is really worth-while enough to justify such a spectacle, but the argument could be made that the time, technology, expert manpower and money required to produce it aren’t necessarily higher than the investments magazines made in photography and design in previous decades.
    Just as Gilbert Grosvenor couldn’t have foreseen that his desperate decision to supplement the Jan 1905 NatGeo’s shortage of articles with several full pages of photography would send sales skyrocketing, we may be surprised that under the conditions provided and defined by the iPad, readers value and even crave a rich experience of the content they’re reading.
    [Interesting perspective, Alex–thanks. –J.]

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