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Vanity Fail: Why We Hated Condé Nast's New iPad Edition

vanity fair ipad appReaders, we should've been prepared for disappointment. After expectations for the iPad had run so high that there was veritable anger from the tech world when the limitations of the device were announced, we should've known that we ought to lower the bar for Condé Nast's digital editions. The iPad version of Vanity Fair just debuted, and we spent a little hands-on time with the app, trying to figure out its esoteric formatting and inscrutable interface. We can say, at this minute, if this is the future of magazines, we'll stick to printed books.

Let us dig a little deeper into what exactly we hated about digital Vanity Fair. But first, some things that we liked:
  • Ragged right text: We can't tell you how much it irks us to read everything on the Kindle and iBooks apps in justified alignment. Our eyes are screaming! But, with Vanity Fair, we're at least treated to some standard print conventions that boost legibility.
  • Photo quality: Okay, the magazine is pretty. And considering that VF's premier digital issue features the man-meat-heavy cover with World Cup studs (read: obvious bid for sales -- but some of us aren't complaining), we wouldn't expect the mag to skimp on some high-res pics. Zooming works pretty well (samples in the below gallery), but don't expect to pinpoint the pores of Cristiano Ronaldo's godly abs.
  • TOC drop-down: The Table of Contents drop-down menu, which should be standard with any digital book or magazine, saved us from the labyrinths of VF's interface. More on that below.
And now, what wildly irritated us:
  • Orientation: In portrait view, each article is squashed into a single, long column that's further compressed by the lead image, which takes up nearly half of your screen. Sure, you can minimize the pic (although you can't get rid of it altogether), but that doesn't change the fact that very little screen real estate is devoted to the words themselves. And, from a design standpoint, we can't figure out why. In landscape view, you get the full spreads as they would appear in the print version of the magazine. Problem is, it's small. The VF programmers obviously just threw their InDesign files straight into the iPad app. You can read it, but it's just like the other infuriating Condé digital endeavor -- the New Yorker Digital Edition, whose necessity for constant panning and zooming makes reading a long-form article a chore instead of a pleasure.
  • Navigation: Readers, we kept getting lost. We touched the wrong part of the screen and ended up at the User Agreement. Then we got stuck at the masthead for a full minute. And the articles! Each one is only given a single page, which you must then touch to access.
  • Video quality: We only glanced at the Annie Leibowitz photo-shoot video, but it was low-res and pixelated like the worst of YouTube. You would think that, for its debut digital issue, VF might spring for a high-def cam.
We could go on, but we won't. Tuesday, editor Graydon Carter told the New York Times, "Magazines are actually pretty brilliant concepts the way they are." We agree, so why mess with a tried-and-true format? We like that VF and other Condé properties are branching out into the digital world, and we understand that these initial forays are bound to serve as learning tools for future endeavors. But, for $4.99 -- the same cost as the print version -- we'd like to see a magazine that doesn't make the user work to figure out how to read the damn thing. (Admittedly, future issues will only be $3.99, but you have no current access to back issues.) Scantily clad footballers are always a bonus, but they didn't sell us on this one.

Vanity Fair - iPad Edition

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