Early days

Apps are proliferating at breakneck speed at the moment, but there’s still a long way to go before we see the full potential of this emerging field. We ask a selection of digital industry insiders what their current favourites are

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Joe Baskerville
Head of new technology
Cogapp

Somebody once told me a key to happiness was always carrying a book. Today that’s never easier and with my iPhone I have all the books I could ever read. The iPhone 4 Retina Display is easy on the eye. It is not e-ink, but that is a compromise I am willing to make for it fitting in my pocket. I read a lot of Project Gutenberg books, and the ancient language can be somewhat challenging, so having a dictionary one touch away is a fantastic feature and one that continually frustrates when returning to paper books. I love the fact I can read in the dark while trying to persuade my baby daughter to get to sleep; a Kindle has a better screen for books, but I need a backlight.

Amazon reported this week that e-book sales have overtaken paperback sales. It is just a pity you can’t read them in the bath.

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Simon Waterfall
Founder
Fray

The only way this field moves forwards is by new and experimental approaches to content interrogation and interaction. For many existing titles, I already have fully-formed relationships with the printed form, so how GQ’s brand extends into navigation, or what level moving image Wired UK can place, can be either a good or a bad fit. The New has an easier job, astounding me with its arresting inserts and the way it mashes the worlds of gaming and websites.

Virgin’s Project is another such app. A hefty download gives you plenty to play with, and advertisers have been told to step up their creative, giving me more than I had expected. Although only on its second edition, the app has me playing with the images as well as giving props to the copy. The navigation is novel and never dead-ends me. I gasp at the production values and love the fact I can have Burma’s story read to me or just wade into the links and extras. Reading it in portrait or landscape re-animated the layup, and each orientation works well. It’s a great step towards a brighter magazine.

Also, there are many fantastic rumours flying around about The Daily by News Corp.

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Orlando Mathias
Co-founder and director of research
and development
All of Us

Book apps offer us a library in our hands, instant purchase, portability, reviews and no more tossing from side to side trying to get comfortable in bed.

What readers really don’t need are 100 different ways of turning a page, multiple typefaces and colour choices, automatic page turns, page curls and, above all else, 20 different publishing formats, which is the equivalent of having to wear a different set of glasses for each book.

I love reading and have used e-books since their first inception on Windows mobile phones. I’ve tried virtually every book app there is and can see the appeal of a video interview with the author, or music to accompany my experience, but when I choose to read, all I really want to do is read.

For me, the simplest reading experience is found on the Kindle. It has the largest library, instant purchase and some clever features such as shared hi-light and automatic sync for devices – it is simply ’pick up and read’.

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Ryan Shelton
Creative director
The Noble Union

When the iPad launched there was a lot of talk about the revolutionary future of publishing. Our imaginations conjured up expectations about what this would look like, but the reality so far has been underwhelming, with most magazines feeling more like touch-enabled PDFs than rich interactive experiences.

Project Magazine by Virgin Group and Seven Squared is a good attempt at creating a digital-only magazine. The motion on the front cover is a nice touch. Rubbing over images in a scratch card-like way to reveal hidden content underneath an article is also neat, and the interactive features are very nicely done. On the down side, not all the articles work in both portrait and landscape orientations, so if you want to view them you have to rotate your iPad, which seems like lazy design.

Wired and Popular Science are also good, featuring video, interactive diagrams and 3D images. But the problem with iPad magazines in general is that I find myself getting frustrated by them. I feel lost and unsure about whether to swipe left or right. Where exactly am I in the magazine? How much have I read? While the interactive elements delight, the navigation isn’t quite there and I don’t think anyone has cracked this problem yet. It’s an exciting time for us as designers as we endeavour to nail this issue.

DEAN

Dean Johnson
Executive creative director
Brandwidth

Faced with selecting great book and magazine apps, I could make an obvious choice such as The Elements or Flipboard, but these apps feel too well-rounded, as if there’s no room for evolution.

The publishing industry is on a journey of self-discovery, and the test of a successful app lies in its ability to both savour the present and look forward. It should moderate feedback through social media, creating meaningful updates and delivering them to a loyal user group via the App Store.

Moving Tales is a small, highly creative Canadian app developer. Its first two illustrated storybooks, The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross and ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, both provide intuitive user experiences, with page-swiping and cover-flow navigation, adding multi-language audio narrative and a record-your-own option for a personal touch.

Both books also distance themselves from other app titles by providing stunning original animated artwork on every page, bringing these traditional tales to life. This artwork raises my expectations and leaves me wanting more. Although the books allow the user to tilt the page and watch the text tumble from side to side, I’d love to see even more interaction with the characters and environments.

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Stephen Barber
Strategy director
Conran Singh

I’m pretty ambivalent about iPad magazines. They’re nice enough: big images, easy page-by-page interaction and the occasional shot of video to make me feel like I’m getting something extra for my money. I don’t think we’ve seen anything close to what we should be seeing on this device yet – and it’s likely to come from someone reinventing the magazine format and creating something from the ground up. Perhaps the forthcoming News International offer The Daily will give us a glimpse of how things might work, but I’m not holding my breath.

My current favourite app is the Guardian Eyewitness, mainly because it’s fiendishly addictive, super-simple and plays to the strengths of the device. But I’m also eagerly awaiting whatever’s coming from the guys behind Qwiki: a more media-rich content aggregator that pulls together audio-visual stories based on your search terms. When that gets mashed up with editorial opinion, it’s going to change how we get our magazine fix.

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Geoff Linsell
Managing director
Moving Brands

Although I am in our London studio a lot less these days, I am still a Londoner at heart. I put the Time Out app on my iPhone and suddenly this brand was back in my life. I used to buy the weekly magazine religiously, then somehow my thirst for knowledge was quenched by Google. It just happened.

The app is GPS-driven, so my search results always radiate out from wherever I happen to be. This is handy because I am pretty spontaneous and invariably five minutes late, so having it aggregate options and drop pins on a map for whatever I am after – a cinema, restaurant or bar (or all three if it’s Friday) – makes life much easier for me.

You can tap into editorial, either by critics or user-generated opinion and it also has an ’Inspire me’ button, built around the accelerometer feature, where you shake the phone and it serves up a random selection of activities, something like a fruit machine. I like this app because it blends the features of the device with insightful information in an intuitive way. Now Time Out, please do apps for Zurich, Tokyo and San Francisco – where I have to spend the rest of my evenings.

Out digital publishing experts answer your questions about app design

Can I be self-taught or do I need to take a course? Shirley Gibson, Glasgow-based freelance designer

Ryan Shelton: Good graphic design knowledge goes a long way. Read books about user experience and user interface design to help make your apps as intuitive as possible. You can learn a lot from looking at what others have done with their apps. Download apps and figure out what you think makes them either good, bad or brilliant. If something frustrates you, make sure that you don’t make the same mistake with your app.

Dean Johnson: Creative concepts for a mobile platform require a working knowledge of design for a digital environment and experience of user interaction. A short course or experience with app usage will help, but a designer doesn’t need to know how it all works, just make sure that you have a good developer.

Which applications do you use, and how do you upload the app? How much do you charge?Andy Cooper, Creative manager, Gravity Matrix

Ryan Shelton: Designing an app is much the same as designing anything else. Start off in your favourite drawing program and lay out the app in wireframe format to ensure that you have all your bases covered when it comes to the user experience and number of screens you need to design. Once you are happy that you have the flow nailed, fire up Photoshop to design your pixel perfect screens.
With charging clients, you’ll need to work out how long each stage will take in days or hours, and then multiply that by your daily or hourly rate. Don’t forget to add time for inevitable amends.

What is the entry price for a decent app?
Simon Manchipp, Someone

Dean Johnson: The average price across all categories is currently £2.99. Paid-for apps can range from 59p to $1000 (£620) (for an app that contains all a US law student needs to pass their bar exam).

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