I have to admit that I have been a long time fan and reader of Businessweek1 . When I saw that they had an iPad app out, well, I shuddered to think what it would be like. There are just no good apps where a publisher takes a popular periodical and ports it to the iPad — they are either overpriced, or just don’t have some of the more obvious features (like selecting text). Imagine my surprise then when I downloaded this app and found out that it really is not that bad.
This is no great app, this is not the model that all other publishers should follow on the iPad. What it is, is a very good app and one that lays good framework for apps to build off of. More importantly it is probably the best magazine app on the iPad right now.
The key it would seem is to not think about how you would port a magazine to the iPad, but how you would view the same type of content on the iPad. It is an important difference and one that I think Businessweek at least thought about, though this approach feels more like a hybrid — porting and re-thinking. There are some good bits and some head scratchers.
One thing that immediately caught my attention about this app is the text is not an image. So often you get PDF images of actual magazine pages, with this app you get real text. Real text that you can select, and copy and paste elsewhere. One of those things that you would think would be an obvious addition to such an app, so it is nice to see that it as actually available in the app.
Even better, you can increase and decrease the size of the text — again seems novel, but not standard issue in many of these apps. Nice to see that in there for people who actually want to read and use the app.
Download & Price
Like most magazine apps the app is actually free to download — once you get in the app you will have to cough up some money before you get any content. Where Businessweek differs for everyone though is on the pricing model: just $2.99 a month for weekly editions of the publication (I actually believe you get 54 issues in a full year). That’s a killer price, but not better than a paper subscription — for an iOS magazine it is a steal. It is $4 an issue for back issues, which isn’t great, but given the news nature of the articles there will hardly be a time when you want back issues. Unless you want to read about potential out-dated and often very wrong opinions.2
The downloads are also significantly faster than most apps — I hear they weigh in around 100 MB — not great, but not the 500-600mb that Wired has. This is going to be a major concern for apps like this as users are not likely to want to try and download this over their 3G connections. Therefore I probably wouldn’t be able to use this app on an airplane unless I thought about downloading the current issue in advance. In all likelyhood these magazines could shave a lot of space off if they streamed the videos instead of embedded them. This would be a negative when you are on WiFi, but I would guess that most users would be fine with that as it would allow for smaller downloads.
The navigation isn’t at first obvious and at times it is hard to know if you skipped over an article. If you start by swiping right to left to advance the view, you feel as though you are thumbing through the articles. Once you get out of the “opening remarks” section though you stop moving between articles and start jumping through sections. This I still find rather confusing and often forget that I need to click and article to enter into that viewport.
What is neat though is that the navigation isn’t linear. You can skip to different sections which are conveniently listed along the top as tabs. Once in a section you can view the articles, and skip between them. Of course you can also just move through the entire issue page by page if you want (works best in portrait view), but as I said above you need to make an extra click at the start of each new section. Again the navigation isn’t always obvious, but they added nice arrows everywhere to help direct you around the app — these arrows are both obvious to see and not distracting, rather well done.
One thing that I really do like is that the app shows you how many pages an article is and what page you are on — the app also shows how many articles are in a section and which article you are on (1/9 or 3/5 articles). Things like that show that the developers looked at how people like to read things, and showing these status updates is very nice when you are trying to figure out if you actually have time to read an article.
The body copy isn’t set in Helvetica, which means that overall the text is pretty readable3 . It isn’t perfect, there isn’t a font that has been designed for iPad use — but it does a great job at keeping the text from being cluttered and unreadable.
One thing that I wish the app did is change the column width when you increase and decrease the font size. The column widths are very comfortable on the smallest font size — go any larger and things start to look a bit comical. On the largest font size the average line (in landscape) holds between 5-6 words. If you need larger text you would be better suited to the portrait reading orientation as it looks better in the single column view.
A note about using the app in portrait: articles are no longer paginated and instead scroll.
To my eye the line-height could be a bit larger, but it is not uncomfortable to read. I do like the mix of Helvetica and (what seems to be) Georgia, it is nice to see the two classics paired with each other. It is also nice that they are both reserved for special roles (where Helvetica seems to be more informational and navigational and Georgia is set where you need to stop and read things).
You can share snippets and stories by email, Twitter, or Facebook — nothing special here, but again very nice to see these options in the app from day one. Having said that, the Twitter integration has yet to work for me.
My biggest complaint here is the layout of the email text. You send an email and it looks like this by default:
The problem here is that the biggest and most obvious link will cause you to download the app, instead of taking you to the story being shared. The small link almost forgotten at the bottom will pop the story open in the browser. What if I have the app installed on my iPad already, and I open the email on the iPad — you mean to tell me I can’t just open that link in the app, instead I have to read it in Safari? That’s kind of lame.
Luckily you can edit this text and help delete the irrelevant crap they add in — still that should be the default, putting that obligation on the user. Is the goal to get more readers, or more downloads of your app in iTunes?
One thing that still kills me is that app supports swiping gestures, but not pinch-to-zoom gestures. I would love to be able to zoom in and out of text with multi-touch instead of having to select from three different font sizes. This is a minor annoyance, but I find it silly that it is not in there given the multi-touch nature of the iPad itself.
Overall I really do like this app — in part I think that has to do with my long term readership of the publication. It is also just a great little app to sit down with and peruse through. All the content is available on the web, so it’s not that special, but there are some nice things about the app. Not the least of which is a nice forward thinking pricing model. Here’s hoping they start a trend of periodicals for $2.99 a month on the iPad.
I refuse to add that Bloomberg bit, I didn’t add McGraw-Hill when they owned the publication. ↩
I saw often wrong because it is more likely that people can’t predict the future, then it is that people can see the future. ↩
I find small Helvetica print on the iPad to be less that desirable from a readability standpoint. ↩