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iBooks 2 and the Apple Textbooks

iBooks 2 and the Apple Textbooks
I haven’t posted to iPadWatcher for a while, but the temptation was too much when two of my favorite subjects, the iPad and Books were so much in evidence as they were this week.  When Apple introduced version 2.0 of its iBooks application for for the iPad with new enhanced support for interactive textbooks, a lot of people had a lot to say about it. I was one of them, but I decided to hold out a bit and better digest the news, before I started to write about it. Lets’s start with what was announced, regarding books.  Apple introduced both a new version of its eBook reading application for the iPad and a specialized eBook creation application for the Mac. The combination of these applications produces some impressive results as can be seen in a seven minute video published by Apple. On the original iPad the new iBooks 2 application has a great tendency to crash when you are interacting with the “interactive parts” of the textbooks.  This happens so frequently as to almost render the new books unusable at all.  Hopefully this will get sorted out in a minor update released within the next couple of weeks.  As it stands iBooks 2 is most disappointing to a large part of the potential readers due to instability issues. I have had less opportunity to play around with the iBooks Author application on the Mac, it seems like a very interesting piece of software.  iBooks Author borrows heavily from the interface of Apple’s iWork applications and seems very intuitive to use.  Getting started with the process of creating a new eBook is very straight forward with the help of the supplied templates. iBooks Author has specific support for embedding Keynote presentations as a multimedia element embedded into the textbook as if it where a picture.  That is where the interactive part starts to come into play with the new textbooks proposed by Apple. While the application seems like a great way to create great looking eBooks, Apple has left some strings attached which diminish the general appeal to content creators in general: books created with iBooks Author can only be sold through Apple and for reading on Apple devices.   There is a technical limitation as Apple took some liberties in extending the proposed EPUB3 standard in order to achieve the desired results and because the software’s end-user license agreement specifically limit you in this fashion. While I can understand Apple not wanting to make free applications for consuming its content on competing devices, I feel that explicitly trying to block content creators from selling their content for consumption by users of other devices is a very backward way of doing business. One thing which is not clear to me, but Apple may already have made known is whether or not the file format specification used by these new enhanced books will be freely available so that third-party authoring tools can generate compatible content. I’m sure that there will be a lot of interest in this area. Some publisher interest as shown in the form of a handful of titles which are being made immediately available.  Interactive textbooks is an area which publishers might embrace more enthusiastically as producing one of them is a much more complex and multifaceted endeavor than write a regular book.  Most authors are not experienced or have the means to create sophisticated eye-catching 3D animations or great looking video clips.  This is a space where large corporations certainly enjoy the advantage against the self-publishing author. I have always been a huge believer in eBooks, having worked on creating reading and authoring tools for them...
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Zite: Flipboard’s new competitor

It seems that Flipboard has a new competitor. The social magazine which got the awarded the App of the Year title by Apple has a direct challenger in an app called Zite. The interesting thing is that Zite seems to be having exactly the same kind of capacity problems that plagued Flipboard in it’s first weeks. After watching the demo video on Mashable I downloaded the App to check it out but was unable to create my personalized magazine as it kept giving me connection error messages. In the end, I could not get past the welcome screens and just got a screenshot of it. 🙂 I’ll continue to try to use the App to see how it compares to Flipboard which has become one of the Apps I use just about everyday, once they got over their initial capacity problems. – Posted using my...
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After an update, The Daily app is working better

After an update, The Daily app is working better
After an update, released last night, the app for “The Daily” is working much better.  It is in fact “working” on my iPad, which is a nice change.  Before the update, attempting to open the app resulted in a long wait on a black screen, followed by a long wait on a screen which indicated that a new issue was being downloaded, followed by a crash. After deleting the old app (as recommended on the App Store) and downloading the update I was able to open the app and download current issue, without any trouble.  The start up of the application was much faster also, without the prolonged wait in a black screen. During a quick read of a couple of articles I didn’t notice any major changes in the application’s functionality, but the fact that it isn’t crashing anymore will allow me to judge the publication based on its content over the next couple of days to decide if I’ll become a subscriber.  With the app working I’m inclined to subscribe if just to see how it evolves over the next several months. The fact that the newspaper app had such serious issues when it came out and that they seem to have been fixed within a week suggests that the release was rushed to meet a particular...
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“The Daily” seems to be going from bad to worse

My recent comments on News Corp.’s recently launched The Daily weren’t the most flattering I’ve written about an iPad App, but they mainly concerned how the usability could be improved.  Now, after trying to read a couple more issues of The Daily, it seems to me that the only way to really improve the experience is not to attempt to open the app. It doesn’t open anyway, while leaving you forever with a black screen and the a loading message which precedes a crash which dumps you back to the iOS home screen. In essence, it just doesn’t work.  I’ve seen others complaining about crashes and waits and I believe John Gruber describes the situation quite well in his post: The Daily Wait.  Common users are not really going to wait around starring at a blank, black screen waiting to see “if” the newspaper is going to appear.  After a couple of seconds they’ll just suppose that the app has crashed and press the home button to choose something else.  That is what I did the first time the problem occurred. Considering the content I’ve seen so far, I’m not even going to try to read The Daily again, before an app update has come out and if that happens after the free trial period is over, I’ll probably never try it again as I’m surely not going to subscribe to a newspaper that I can’t read because it...
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News Corp.’s The Daily is a bit disappointing

News Corp.’s The Daily is a bit disappointing
This week saw the debut of News Corporation’s iPad-specific newspaper.  As just about everyone else that uses an iPad or that has an interest in publication I was eager to get a look at what they had come up with and was quick to download the App. At first I was quite impressed with the App, as its graphical presentation is quite stunning.  The Daily starts out with a brief splash animation and drops you into a carousel of beautiful pages which spins by itself every few seconds. A deeper look into the publication, however, revealed that most articles are actually quite shallow, ending just as I was starting to get interested in the subject.  This perception might be related to the fact that The Daily looks a lot more like one of the several iPad magazines that a newspaper.  The Daily doesn’t even have a “first page”, it has a magazine style cover with a large picture and the logo.  Regardless, I expected more content, specially given the great image content you get. The way information is organized within the application got some criticism from an early review on Wired, as having several articles on the same page seems inconsistent with having a single comment stream on them.  A similar issue arises when you want to save an article for later reading as the App saves pages and not articles. Saving articles for later reading becomes a lot more important as soon as you find out that once the App downloads the day’s paper you’ve lost the previous one.  While that might be interesting from the perspective of not eating up space on the reader’s device, it is quite the let down when you pick up your iPad to read that article you just noticed last night when you were going to sleep and it isn’t there anymore. Other publications, including newspapers, which are already available on the iPad allow the readers to decide if an when they will remove past issues. This is useful when you are saving information as reference or simply if you don’t have the time to read an article right now, but you know you’ll want to read it later. Brazilian newspaper “O Globo” on the iPad – Issue library. After going through a couple of issues of The Daily I felt quite disappointed.  Perhaps I was just expecting too much from what is after all the first attempt at a daily publication on the iPad, but somehow having been reading the news on the Web for the past 15 years, I feel the designers of the The Daily have missed the mark.  Considering all the effort that has gone into creating this publication, I’m confident some of these issues will be addressed and the experience will improve over time. The designers for The Daily, to forget that there ever was such a thing as a paper printed newspaper or magazine and design for the iPad.  Flipboard, the social magazine application, does a much better job of organizing content and comments while still providing a graphically rich view of it all.  While The Daily certainly has stunning pages which are probably individually designed, Flipboard treats content as articles instead of as pages.  This small difference has a huge impact in usability. I’ll probably become a subscriber of The Daily when the free trial period is over, in a bit over a week, if only to see how it evolves over...
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How Flipboard is changing what I read and how I interact with people

How Flipboard is changing what I read and how I interact with people
Recently I published a post commenting on the fact that Flipboard was an interesting App to check out, if you were able to.  As the application was released there was such an influx of people downloading it and wanting to use it that their servers were overwhelmed.  At that point I had watched their demo video, but had not yet been able to try out the App. Now, they seem to have gotten things under control, even though you need to go through a registration process that lets them have better control on the number of people putting demand on their  back-end services. A couple of days ago I finally managed to test Flipboard, as I was able to put in my request and got their response email telling me that I was now allowed to configure the application to access my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  That is a simple process and once you’re done with it Flipboard will start to pull in content from your accounts and to present it as you’ve never seen it before. When you have configured your social network accounts and chosen a couple of other information sources (or infosource for short) you’d like to access through the application you can move will be presented with a checkerboard of small items, showing an item from each infosource you have selected.  The way this is presented reminds me a lot of how printed magazines organize their content index, showing you a picture and some call out text about the main articles in their different sections.  Well, that is hardly unexpected as Flipboard defines itself as a Social Magazine. That is in fact a very good definition as Flipboard does a great job at presenting information that is gathered from your social networks in a manner that strongly resembles my conception of what a good magazine for the iPad should look like. I’ll freely admit that I hate Facebook’s interface.  Although I do go into Facebook every couple of days to post something and read up on what my friends and colleagues are doing it is only very sporadically that I spend more than few minutes at a time on the website. Well, Flipboard changed my entire appreciation of Facebook.  I still don’t like Facebook’s interface, in fact I think that I like it even less now, but Flipboard grabs links to blog posts, news articles photos and comments from my Facebook friends and presents them to me in a way that is enticing and engaging.  I believe that I’ve placed more comments on Facebook items in the past 2 days that in the previous 2 months.  Why?  Because the interface draws me in to actually take a closer look at content I would not have clicked through to see in Facebook and then offers me the chance to comment on it. The picture shown above is a perfect example of a very interesting bit of information that would probably have escaped me entirely, were it not for how Flipboard displays the information.  The photo that is shown in this screenshot is from a post where Collis Ta’eed comments on the fact that he and his company had made the cover  of Australia’s NETT# magazine.  Collis, CEO of Envato, is great guy with some very interesting activities which I follow with great interest since he started his company.  As another text line in Facebook, I would probably have missed it, had I bothered to access the site at all on the afternoon when this was posted.  As a large picture showing the magazine’s  cover it was very hard to miss on Flipboard. Thought I use Twitter a lot...
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The iPad as a great PDF book reader

The iPad as a great PDF book reader
Approximately at the same time that the iPhone 4 was being released, Apple released a new version of iBooks for the iPad with PDF support.  This was not the first application for reading PDFs on the iPad, but it brought PDF support to what is almost a built-in application for the iPad, despite the fact that you need to download it. I don’t imagine that many iPad owners skip on downloading Apple’s free ebook reader application. While  PDF support in iBooks doesn’t still have all the features that you can use on EPUB books, it is certainly a welcome addition and makes the iPad still more useful for consuming reading material. PDFs look great on the iPad, making them a much more attractive alternative to ebook formats for many situations.  As an example I have included below a picture of  a page of Collis Ta’eed’s recently released “How to build a successful blog business”. You can see that the text is very clear and that the formatting comes across  great as you would expect from a PDF document.  Being able to get the full formatting you would have with Acrobat Reader on a desktop or notebook or even in a printed book makes PDF a good choice for business books such as this. Like everybody I have a ton of PDF documents I have download from many sources, but I’ve also acquired some ebooks PDF format in recent months.  While these do provide a good visual experience when read on a computer, they weren’t an immediate fit for the iPad.  I tried a couple of the PDF readers available on the App Store but didn’t really think that any of them really provided me with the experience I wanted. I’ll admit that I didn’t exhaust all the possibilities available on the App Store, just my patience for trying them out, regardless of how inexpensive they are. When I found out that an update to iBooks would be coming out with PDF support in a couple of weeks I decided I would wait to see what mileage I could get out of Apples ebook reader app in this area. I was not disappointed with iBooks as a PDF reader on the iPad, while I found it to be totally useless as such on the iPod Touch or iPhone, which have too small a screen for this. The iPad with its 9.7 inch screen can render a fully formatted PDF beautifully.  iBooks provides good support navigating the document, keeping tabs of where you left off the last time you were reading.  This means you don’t have to use it just o read short documents, but can use it to fully enjoy longer titles such as the one show above which is over 330 pages long. iBooks also has a nice implementation of bookmarks which can be seen as small red ribbons placed on the top right edges of the bookmarked pages.  A small button on the control bar that is shown on the top portion of the screen when you tap a page lets you select a sort of a pages overview mode in which you get a high level view of all pages as thumbnails and in which the bookmarked pages are shown as such with red ribbons showing on their right upper corners.  The red arrows indicate two such bookmarks in picture aligned on the right side of the article. You can easily use iBooks to read PDFs which have been formatted with a different page size or orientation.  The following screenshot shows a picture of a novel I purchased over 10 years ago in PDF format through a company called Mighty Words and which...
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Kindle for iPad and iPhone now supports audio and video

Kindle for iPad and iPhone now supports audio and video
Amazon has introduced a new version of its Kindle application for both the iPad and the iPhone (and iPod) that supports embedded audio and video clips.  This move gives Amazon an interesting advantage with publishers wishing to bring to market multimedia enriched books without having to develop their own iOS applications. It is probably just a question of time before Apple matches this move by adding equivalent features to its own ebook reading application: iBooks. As Amazon and Apple both use different formats for the eBooks they sell through their stores, this means that we will have competing book formats which might be evolving quickly along different, but perhaps parallel tracks. One aspect which seems clear is that neither of these companies are going to stand around and wait for publishers to get their act together around a publishing format standard.  These companies will push forward competing with one another pushing the limits what is an...
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iPad brings the dead (magazine) back to life

In a press release Condé Nast, publisher of several magazines including Wired and several Web properties announced that it would be launching a Gourmet application for the iPad, bringing back the brand of the Gourmet magazine that was discontinued last year. The brand has a lot of recognition and some comments made by people with past relation to the magazine suggests that a good deal of content for the iPad application may come from the archives of the original printed magazine, instead of being newly created. With the huge sales success of the first issue of Wired for iPad I imagine that Condé Nast may be interested in doing a lot more experimenting with content for this...
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iBooks on iPhone/iPod Touch – a bit disappointing

iBooks on iPhone/iPod Touch – a bit disappointing
Apple released yesterday iOS 4, the new version of its iPhone operating system and in its wake iBooks, its eBook reading application.  Being a compulsive reader I set out to try the application just as soon as I could and was a bit disappointed. I did my testing on an iPod Touch upgraded to iOS 4, which is a requirement of the iBooks application.  Upgrading to iOS 4 will take a while, so if you are interested in trying out iBooks for your self, set a side at least an hour and a half for the upgrade, up setup and customization. It took me pretty much that time to go through the process with roughly 12 GB of content on my iPod. iBooks is a nice addition to the iPhone/iPod Touch family of devices, but its adaptation to the form factor could have been much better.  How so?  Well, for starters the application retains the book-like interface it has on the iPad, which might really good but isn’t very practical on the much smaller screen of the iPhone or iPod. To illustrate what I mean I’ve added the picture below which shows the same book being viewed on the new iBooks and on the latest version of Stanza, a much more mature eReader for the iOS platform, that has been around for a couple of years. Both applications are in reading mode in the screenshots above.  You should have no trouble noticing that you can see a lot more text on screen in the application on the right.  While iBooks might look good at a first glance, it wastes a lot of display area with things such as the title of the book your are reading and the page number, not to mention the strip at the top showing you that you are using an iPod connected to a Wi-Fi network and what time of day it is.  These are things I can really do without as I am pretty sure that I while I’m reading the book I know what I’m reading and that I’m holding an iPod.  The battery indicator is potentially much more useful as is the clock.  These, however, should only be displayed if I tap to bring in the navigation and configuration controls. Wasting space on a screen which is already very small is criminal.  When I’m reading an eBook on my iPod I’d like to be able to do so as comfortably as possible, which among other things means that I want to see as much text as I can on screen at one time, without having to make the font too small. iBooks did not recognize the cover for any of the commercial eBooks I had available in the system I used to synch content to the iPod, which might be the fault of the books themselves, but they all show covers perfectly on eReader from Barnes & Noble and on Stanza, so I would say that a little more effort could have been made there to make sure that the end user didn’t end up with a book case filled with books that all look the same. Getting the books into the application requires adding them through iTunes.  While doing so can be nice when you have a large library of books on a single computer, it can be very annoying when you have the books spread out over several computers as I do.  As I mostly use Stanza to read eBooks I’ve grown accustomed to just sharing the books from the Windows or OS X application over the wireless network.  This works very well and you don’t need a cable...
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Wired iPad edition close to outselling printed magazine, digital is coming…

Wired iPad edition close to outselling printed magazine, digital is coming…
In the first nine days of sales Wired Magazine’s iPad edition has sold over 73,000 units, while its printed monthly sales are of about 80,000 units.  If Wired is capable of maintaining such incredible sales numbers after the novelty wares off, it might signal other publications that they should put more effort into their digital editions. Gone through Wired’s first iPad issue I have to say that despite the underlying technology not being that great, it looks pretty good.  They better do something about the half gigabyte size issues before people start to run out of storage in the iPads, but other than that the experience was quite good and didn’t have all the unnecessary videos that we were seeing all around in proof-of-concept work before the iPad was actually released. It would be interesting to know how many of those sales come from overseas readers that are able to get the magazine much cheaper and much quicker through a digital download, instead of getting it off of the newsstands. It seems pretty clear that this month Wired is going to sell more digital issues than printed ones.  Everyone that has been hanging on to the belief that the transition to digital publications and books would be slow might want to reconsider that.   After all, so far there are between 2 and 3 million iPad users in the world.  Imagine how many issues Wired might sell in one year’s time, when more than 10 million users should have...
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Baen Free Library – a great source of ebooks for your iPad

If you like science-fiction or fantasy books and haven’t checked out the Baen Free Library, do so right now.  For a long time Baen has been making many of their books available for free download.  These are the same books you would otherwise purchase in paper or ebook form and they are available in multiple formats, including ePub which makes them ideally suited for reading on the iPad in any of various reader applications. I’ve been using Stanza on the iPod Touch to read ebooks for quite some time and now that Stanza for iPad is out I just loaded it up with several titles I purchased from Baen over the past year or to test it.  In looking for which books to load on Stanza I remembered that I hadn’t covered this topic here before and decided to remedy it. Baen publishes many accomplished writers with a focus on sci-fi and fantasy and they use the free availability of some of their titles in digital form to introduce readers to their authors.  One of my favorites is David Weber, author of the Honor Harington and SafeHold series.  The Honor Harington series is published by Baen and has several books included in the Free Library.  In fact it was through this sampling of free books that I had my first contact with David Weber’s books, so Baen’s marketing strategy seems to be...
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Will Wired for iPad still be a success after a couple of issues?

Will Wired for iPad still be a success after a couple of issues?
Wired Magazine made its debut on the iPad recently and seems to have done well for itself.  With 24,000 units sold and downloaded in the first 24 hours, things are looking good for Wired.  But, are they really? There is another number about the magazine that is quite troubling: 527.  The first issue of Wired for the iPad has a wopping 527 MBs of size.   So what?  Well, that is a lot of megabytes for a single magazine issue, specially when you consider it relative to the storage space of a base model iPad: 16 GB. If all magazines were to have similar size a base model iPad would only be able to store 32 magazine issues in all, and that would only be if the owner decided that he didn’t need any applications, videos, music, etc. Somehow I don’t think that people that want to read Wired digitally, on a recurring basis, i.e. become subscribers are likely to find this issue size okay. The size of the first issue is not necessarily of concern to readers, however.  A recent post on AppleInsider describes what a curious developer was able to find out about the Wired App, when digging around in a Jailbroken device and it is really surprising. The entire content for the magazine is included in the form of large images.  Essentially there are two very large images for each page of the magazine.  One image for viewing in landscape and another for viewing in portrait. What this means is that the Wired App has almost no functionality built-in, limiting itself to displaying the right images depending on which page you are reading and in which orientation mode and playing videos or sounds when certain points are touched by the user.  One reviewer on the iTunes store that gave it a bad review described it as being a PDF with videos, but from a technological  point of view it is way worse than that as PDF files are actually script files an thus smaller and more flexible than mere images. It is interesting to note that this does not detract from the quality of the content offered by the magazine, which appears to be identical to that contained in the printed paper version. With over 800 reviews the Wired App currently enjoys a full five stars rating. Hopefully the current low-tech, high-download-size situation of the Wired App will be resolved in the near future as Adobe further develops is digital magazine publishing product, which right now seems to be something that was put together in great haste in order to allow customers such as Wired to go proceed with their digital publishing strategy, after Apple cut the legs out from under Adobe’s original plan of having a Flash cross-compiler to transform Flash based applications into native iPhone OS applications. Right now Adobe’s solution to the situation helped Wired get to market with the  first iPad issue which has seen good sales, but if Adobe doesn’t work on this solution it will end up being a real problem for their customers, as people start to realized that the publications are eating up all the space in their...
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As Apple invites authors to self-publish, publishers become a bit less relevant

As Apple invites authors to self-publish, publishers become a bit less relevant
Last week Apple started offering book authors the option of submitting their books directly to the iBookstore.   Why is this different than what could already be done with Amazon?  For one thing, the iPad is a hot new device that is igniting a revolution in how people interact with computers and all kinds of media.  While this should not be relevant, in a round about sort of way it really is. Anyone that is following what goes on around and about the iPad must have heard or read something about Apple’s App Store.  Since Apple introduced the iPhone SDK, almost two years ago, a large number of developers flocked to the platform.  One of the most attractive points for developers was the ability to have your application available for immediate download, direct from the user’s phone.  The users could browse the catalog of applications, choose those that they liked and have them downloaded almost instantaneously to their devices. Apple also offered a deal in which it would take a 30% cut of all sales, leaving the developer with 70% of the price asked for the application.   Not a bad deal overall. Now, why shouldn’t book authors have the same possibilities open to them?   While both groups work in very different fields, they share many similarities and commonalities.   Both book authors and software developers work in creative fields in which one can either work alone or in groups.  There are software applications for every need and want, just as there books for every need and an want. Being both a traditionally published author and a software developer I submit that these fields have much more in common than one might immediately consider and that without meaning to Apple has taken, not the first, but one more step in bringing these groups closer to self sufficiency. The App Store allows a single developer to get world wide distribution of his application, almost instantly, without the need for a large support staff.  Now the iBookstore does the same for book authors.  As Mike Cane would recommend, any author wanting to take that route should make sure to thoroughly read the agreement they’ll be asked to sign with Apple, to ensure that they are not signing over any rights they might come to regret in the future.   This is a very important point to have in mind  as this is a new program from Apple and details of how all aspects will work are still to be widely discussed. I know that the first reaction of publishers will be what it has always been:  authors need editors.  Original manuscripts need review and revision.  Books many times need illustrators and designers.  Only publishers can provide an author with all those necessary services that help turn the author’s work into the final printed book.  Well… surprise, surprise… Software developers need testers and quality assurance.  They need designers and their code more often than not, needs revision.  Still… Many developers manage to bring products to market all by themselves.  Others, engage the services of the professionals they need to complement their abilities. Before the Internet made digital downloads the best way to sell software to the whole world, developers used to need distributors and sometimes publishers, when they couldn’t afford the cost of printing manuals, recording media and packaging.  Those days are long gone now.  How long will it take for authors to reach the same independence? *Images:...
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Wired magazine finally available on the iPad

Wired magazine finally available on the iPad
Wired magazine has finally become available on the iPad.  Users can already download the application from the App Store for $4.99.  This is going to be the per issue cost of the magazine but he user won’t have to download a separate applications for each issue.  Future issues of Wired will be available for purchase from a library within the application itself. Wired had been working with Adobe on a tablet version of the magazine for quite some time. That work received a jolt when Apple changed the terms of use for its online application store limiting the tools which could be used to create applications for publication through the only official distribution channel for iPhone OS applications. This prevented the original application which was being built with Flash for conversion to a native application through a new Adobe product from being publishable. Seeming unfazed by this Wired assured readers that the magazine would be available as a native application on the iPad soon. This has not finally come to pass, with the first issue available for download. Wired made the following flash-encoded video available as a preview of the magazine. Encoding the video in Flash and making it unplayable on the iPad seems like a particularly dumb and cheap shot at Apple, considering that the people who won’t be able to watch the movie are exactly all the potential magazine buyers. It would seem that the folks at Wired weren’t as unfazed as they appeared to be. As a result of the the work done with Adobe for the creation of this digital edition, Wired’s staff is able to work on both the printed and digital editions of each issue at the same time. UPDATE: The size of the application had slipped my notice previously. 527 MBs to read a single issue!? These people better rethink what goes into a magazine or else they will be taking up the space for a ton of books, musics and videos. * Video: Wired Magazine (via AppleInsider) * Image: Created from elements of the Wired home...
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