Why iPad Adaptation is an Uphill Battle for Incumbent Publishers

I heard quite a bit of buzz the past few days about the Popular Science+ iPad app, a “reimagining” of the magazine for the iPad (for the low-low price of $4.99 per issue), so I took a look at it last night.

And while it’s slick, the problem is that it’s … a “reimagining” of the magazine. When someone is using your application/game/content/website on their iPad (and mobile device in general) they expect it to behave like everything else they’re using on the device.

For example, if you’re going to put in a “full-page ad” (what the heck does that mean on an iPad?) with a URL in it make the URL an actual hyperlink! I poked and poked at the url, and nothing would take me to google.com/chrome (see, that wasn’t so hard).

popsci ad


This happened over and over again throughout the “magazine” — I saw something I expected to be able to click (often URLs) and nothing happened. Here’s some typical PopSci gadget porn, where not only can I not click the gadgets to get more info (or maybe comparison shop), but even the company URLs aren’t clickbable:

popsci gadgets

This app is chock full of the exact same copy and images from the magazine, presented through a 7×9 window and without any of the affordances of a print magazine to help readers understand their place in the overall picture.

Working hyperlinks are the very least we should expect from content like this on a device like the iPad, and they’re the bare minimum form of something notably absent in Popular Science+ — opportunity for engagement. No comment links, no way to see what the most popular content is, no way to email a picture or an article to someone else, no place to submit my own recommendations for better tools or to tweet about what I just read.

My favorite example of the disconnect between what Popular Science intended and what they delivered is summarized succinctly in the introduction from the editor: “… everything in the issue and reimagines it to make the most of the iPad’s screen and capabilities.” Judge for yourself if this is really making the most of that screen:


Yes it’s fun (if a bit exhausting — very low return on effort) to swipe and pinch to play find-the-content-in-the-high-res-labyrinth, but this was clearly intended as a better/new/different version of the magazine, and so it suffers the fatal flaw of having to carry a ton of the baggage of the old medium into the new one.

I would bet that most of the executives around the table at Popular Science were absolutely thrilled with this app. And that’s the problem. I have an informal filter on how interesting and innovative a new content-related development or device is — if a large number of people from incumbent companies (especially big ones) are excited about it, then it’s not actually interesting or innovative enough to matter much, because that means it’s too similar to the current way of doing things. That’s why the industry loves “enhanced ebooks” at the same time they’re totally missing opportunities to re-imagine the “job” their product does for the customer. (In all fairness, we struggle with this a lot at O’Reilly too!)