Port and The Guardian: new takes on iPad apps

Port magazine and The Guardian have provided two very different but thoughtful approaches to the complex challenges of publishing for the iPad

Port magazine and The Guardian have provided us with two very different but thoughtful approaches to the challenges of publishing for the iPad

As a small circulation, high-quality quarterly, Port offers a luxury experience in print. It’s tactile and it’s sumptuous, from the paper to the typography. How then to transpose these qualities to the iPad?

Port’s new app, its second go at iPad publishing, succeeds admirably. Unlike many early magazine iPad apps, Port resisted the temptation to throw the design equivalent of the kitchen sink at things: this is a calm, measured experience. Where there are interactions, such as the annotated photograph below, they are appropriate and useful.


The contents page in particular is lovely, feature titles subtly change to short standfirsts as they are touched.

Images take advantage of the iPad’s fantastic resolution – the majority run full-screen with text that pops over if selected.

One other particularly nice innovation comes in the fiction section where writers read out their contributions.

Overall, the Port team, which included developer Tim Moore and magCulture‘s Jeremy Leslie working with Port’s Matt Willey, have created an appropriate, beautifully crafted app that chimes absolutely with the values of the print magazine.

The Guardian is a response to a different challenge entirely. Publishers saw the iPad and thought ‘at last, after years of giving it away for free online, people will once again pay for our content’. But how to persuade them when they could just as easily go to your website for free?

The Guardian app is an attempt to re-imagine the functions of a daily paper for a new medium. Unlike other newspaper apps which closely mimic their printed other-selves, the Guardian app takes a a fresh approach. The Front page is in the form of a grid, giving hierarchy but also plenty of choice. Sections are colour-coded. It’s bright and inviting. Usability issues (so many early iPad apps were labrynthine) are neatly addressed with a horizontally-scrolling list of sections at the top of the page.


Each section has a ‘hero’ lead story that is presented with a full-screen image overlayed by headline and standfirst. You scroll down to read the copy, across to go to the next story in that section. Again, navigation is aided by a right-hand column detailing the previous and next stories in that section. Full-page ads appear after every sixth story (incorporating ads into iPad apps is a particularly thorny issue).

The layout of the stories themselves combines stylistic elements from the Guardian online and in print – no bad thing. In fact, as creative director Mark Porter explains in this blog post about the app’s development, it “actually recycles the already-formatted newspaper pages. A script analyses the InDesign files from the printed paper and uses various parameters (page number, physical area and position that a story occupies, headline size, image size etc) to assign a value to the story. The content is then automatically rebuilt according to those values in a new InDesign template for the app.”

Porter’s post is well worth a read for the detail it goes into regarding the development process (in conjunction with interactive studio Berg) and the sheer scale of back end work needed. Also, The Guardian itself has a good slide show on the various itereations of the design here and this video explains more:

Overall, it’s the kind of thoughtful, innovative approach we have come to expect from The Guardian. Quibbles? There’s a distinct lack of video, perhaps in a bid to keep file sizes low. And the mechanism for sharing content is problematic. Sharing is a tricky one for iPad apps – what exactly are your readers going to share that will have any meaning to the person they send it to? The Guardian attempts to get round this by sending an email with a URL, but the URL takes you to the content on the paper’s website, thereby almost undermining the need for the app instead of promoting it. And there are no comments, another difficult issue for app publishers. Readers have become used to being able to comment on stories. It is possible with the iPad but means constantly having to update the app. Not everyone enjoys reading comments, however, so perhaps some readers will enjoy the relative quiet of a commentless publication.

All this is extremely relevant to CR as we are currently developing our own iPad app – yes, we have been saying that for ages but it’s coming we promise. When The Guardian app launched many readers, via the website, queried the point of the app when the website worked so well. That seems to us to be key. CR’s app will not simply be the magazine on screen with a few interactive bells and whistles added. Nor will it be the website in another form. We’re aiming for an experience that makes the most of the medium and provides a different, complementary experience with plenty of unique content – lots of hi-res images and video, longer articles than you’ll find here on the blog, beautiful slideshows and so on. Watch this space.



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