From page to screen

Hardened bibliophile Adrian Shaughnessy has succumbed to the delights of reading on an iPad. He still sees a future for well-produced books, but thinks magazines could soon go apps-only

When the iPad, the latest piece of Cupertino wizardry, was launched earlier this year, I took the curmudgeonly view that, for once, I wouldn’t join the rush to acquire yet another Apple product. Firms that exercise too much control over our lives become disliked and mistrusted, and I’ve started to worry that Apple is turning into Microsoft.

Not buying an iPad became my tiny act of Apple rebellion. And besides, I had another reason for not adding to my Apple product mountain/ I have a fanatical love of books, and to my bibliographic-obsessed eyes, the iPad looked like a threat to books.

But I crumbled, and I’m now an iPad owner. And like most converts, I’ve become a proselytising zealot.

The iPad is a slice of Jobsian genius, and just as I feared, its real value is in its ability to offer a viable alternative to printed media. Reading on an iPad is not like reading on a laptop or a monitor. Job’s tablet has all the ergonomic versatility and transportability of, well, a book or a magazine.

Colours, of course, are ravishing, and the ’tap’ and ’swipe’ mechanisms are akin to the actual physical processes we use to hold and turn the pages of books and mags.

There’s none of the restraint of track pad or mouse: the iPad can be read while lying down; you can read it on a train or at a table; and the ability to view in landscape or portrait formats is usability par excellence.

So far, I’ve downloaded a few dozen books and subscribed to a handful of iPad-optimised magazines. Books transfer well to the iPad screen. I find reading easy and pleasurable. In fact, for novels and books with continuous text, the iPad is as good – if not better – than a run-of-the-mill paperback. The type may not be as crisp as on the printed page, and typographic detailing can be dire, but with the other features – scrolling, searching, highlighting, rotating, Web connectivity, and so on – reading on the iPad is a joy.

Magazines are equally well suited to the iPad. But only where publishers – and art directors – have designed specifically for the iPad.

Vanity Fair, for example, has failed to take advantage of the flexibility and navigational fluidity offered by the iPad. Its app looks suspiciously like the print version dumped into the tablet format.

Wired, on the other hand, has created a bespoke iPad version. It shows a brilliant disregard for traditional linearity and by using smart signposting to maintain a sense of place, the reader is encouraged to move through the publication in different directions. Like driving in a foreign country, it takes a while to get used to it, but you soon get the hang of it.

The iPad doesn’t mean the end of books and magazines. But these two ancient and venerable formats now have a genuine competitor. From now on, anyone who produces a book or a printed magazine must ask themselves the question – do I have a compelling reason to produce my publication in a physical format?
For certain sorts of books – art books, books that are works of art and objects of desire, books we want to last – the answer is yes.

For magazines, the response is less clear: we are mostly happy to regard magazines as ephemeral and disposable, therefore the iPad seems to offer the perfect platform. Just don’t be surprised if your favourite magazine suddenly becomes an app.

Adrian Shaughnessy is an independent designer, writer and broadcaster, and co-founder of publishing company Unit Editions

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