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The New Yorker for iPad: Finally, A Magazine Goes Digital and Stays True to Itself

new yorker on ipadHey Condé Nast! Did someone hear our plaintive cries about your app ventures? Because we're happy to report that 'The New Yorker' iPad app, released today, resoundingly does not suck.

Well, it's got some issues (of which the editors seem to be aware), but we'll save those for last. We were worried when we heard that The New Yorker was coming to iPad, because it's a medium that is simply asking to be exploited in the wrong way. TNY has always been a text-based mag that's sparse on the pics (with the exception of occasional photo essays), and we feared that the iPad would beg developers to go crazy with interactive features, videos, game-engines and other dreck that many readers simply don't want when they're trying to read a story as a story. The New Yorker app shows restraint, and we're glad for it.
new yorker app navigation
The premiere issue is a whopping 173 megabytes (the bulk of which we'll attribute to Jason Schwartzman's inexplicable embedded video demo), so 3G fans may want to get on Wi-Fi. Navigation is clear and natural enough, with up/down strokes taking you through individual article pages, and left/right gestures moving you from story to story. Tapping on photos and cartoons brings up larger versions, and you can swipe through the entire issue's cartoon gallery at once. A drop-down menu gives you access to the table of contents for quick browsing, while another zoomed-out map of the issue lets you visually navigate the whole magazine.

In terms of formatting, about a quarter of each page is lost to white space, perhaps a nod to the print version's multi-column layout. The text is larger than its printed parent, giving you less of the densely populated page than you'd expect -- but we found that this makes for better reading. Interestingly, the poems are given over to single pages (as opposed to insets in the print version), which actually made us read them, something that we almost never do. (Sorry, poets!)

new yorker app articleOne of the things we like (although maybe you won't) is the fact that the articles don't include external links. Links are, after all, a part of content as much as they are structure. As they don't exist in the print version, we don't need them in the digital one. There's a compulsory "Visit Us At" final page for blogs and such, but it curiously doesn't link to the mag's homepage. We imagine that will get fixed.

(That's not to say that future New Yorker writers won't be compelled to link the hell out of their articles. Still, the editors seem aware that their magazine's transition to the iPad doesn't need to change the mission and content of the magazine itself: "The New Yorker will always be foremost about free expression, about the written word, about reading. Technology, the means of delivering this writing, is a very important, but secondary, matter, and we intend to keep providing the magazine in whatever form seems to work.")

Of the problems facing the app, our chief complaint is the price ($4.99, a dollar cheaper than the newsstand), and what you get for it. For the time being, you'll have to download each new issue as it becomes available, paying five bucks each time, instead of purchasing a print subscription, which runs much, much cheaper. (We also don't like the fact that current New Yorker subscribers, like ourselves, can't use their existing accounts to get the iPad versions for free.) But we also realize that this is more of Apple's problem than Condé's, seeing as Jobs & Co. is still struggling to find a way to deliver digital magazine subscriptions in a way that benefits publishers yet doesn't place Apple in the position of being an e-mag monopoly, as it has become for music.

And then there are the ads. So many ads. We've grown so used to them in print magazines that we barely see them, but iPad ads are full-screen, interactive, skull-humping annoyances that break the flow of your reading. Ads will never disappear (that is, until money for media starts pouring from the sky), but we wonder if there's a way to make them less aggressively present.

The New Yorker for iPad

We'd like to see Apple figure out its magazine subscription problem so that we can simply transfer our current accounts over to the iPad, while Condé keeps stand-alone issues available for casual readers. (Who are you people?) The option to access the Web archive and Web content is a must for subscribers, but it can be done without turning the magazine into THE NEW YORKER IMMERSIVE WEB 2.0 TWEETING FACEBOOK FOURSQUARE EXPERIENCE. (Social networking fiends will want the option to share stories, and we'd be fine with a subtle queue of badges at the end of each story, just like the Web version has.) All in all, a subtle magazine was given as subtle a digital treatment as we could have hoped, and, despite its current setbacks, we think it's a standard that should be emulated by other magazines making the transition to the tablet.

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