May 26 2010

WIRED iPad App: Back to the Drawing Board, Fellas

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Well, I’ve been waiting eagerly to see how the Wired app would perform. After all, if there was ever a magazine set to lead the tablet-mag revolution, Wired should be it.

So it was released this morning, I shelled out my five bucks, and started playing with it. Until I got so annoyed I gave up on it.

The problem isn’t the content — that’s the same standard as you’d expect from Wired, plus a few random movie clips. The problems are all in the interface. In short, it doesn’t do what I want or expect it to do, and worse, does stuff I don’t want or expect it to do.

Start with the most basic function of a magazine: reading. I’ve only been using ebook readers for a few months now, but they’ve already trained me that “tap on the right” = “next page,” while “tap on the left” = “previous page.” Not so, with the Wired app. This app expects you to swipe up and swipe down. Tapping on the right moves you to the next advertisement. (Did I mention that there are LOTS of advertisements? I haven’t counted, so I can’t say for sure that there are more ads than articles, but it sure felt like it.) Tapping on the right seems to be the equivalent of a “next track” button in a music player, because the app uses a model where every item is a column, and you’re moving from column to column when you tap right or left.

If you want to browse through the magazine, you can tap the screen to pull up a slider at the bottom, which just slides you along the columns. Or you can tap a little mystery-meat icon in the upper right corner that looks a little like WiFi signal strength bars to call up a broader layout bar where theoretically you can slide from column to column and pick what you want. Except that the slider always skips the one you’re trying to land on and jumps to the next one unless you get it lined up juuuuuust right — and tapping on the column when it’s not in the center just slides it around. This rapidly goes from irksome to annoying, from annoying to irritating, and from irritating to infuriating. I shouldn’t be fighting against the interface in order to see the column I want to see!

Oh, and forget about zooming. You know how in the iPad web browser and most applications you can pinch or stretch to zoom in or out? Not so in Wired, unless a given article happens to specifically enable it, which you have to tap first to “turn on.”

But those aren’t the only interface fights. There’s a small Quicktime video that lists the various missions to Mars, which has a little icon that reads, “Swipe to see a history of Mars missions.” All well and good, except that if you do swipe it, it thinks you’re doing the “next track/previous track” thing and moves you to an advertisement instead. The only way to see the Mars video is to ever-so-gently tap where it says “swipe” and hope you don’t move your finger a millimeter in either direction when you do so. “Tap” and “Swipe” are not the same thing, guys.

Seriously, a major disappointment. C’mon, guys, you’re frickin’ Wired magazine! Do better.

-The Gneech

EDIT: Followup! Mover and shaker that I am (/sarcasm) I happen to be lucky enough have a friend who works at Wired. And while he’s not on the creative team directly, he did have some interesting things to say about my rant. With his permission, I’ve posted that conversation here, with identifiers removed. Note that he’s speaking only from his own perspective here, and not as an official voice of the magazine.

My Friend: Hey there.
The Gneech: Hiyas. Sorry to be a bummer on release day.
My Friend: *snickers* You are the first negative I’ve heard, and since I’ve been playing with it for months…
My Friend: (Ads BTW, are EXACTLY equal to what’s in the print magazine, that’s required by ABC (Magazine biz) standards)
The Gneech: That’s as may be; but the ads were a minor irritant at best. They aren’t the problem.
My Friend: The Slider you are right.
My Friend: It seems too sensitive in this issue.
My Friend: BTW: Your feedback IS welcome and wanted.
My Friend: I chatted with the designers and senior editors.
The Gneech: Thanks. I was trying to keep my annoyance with the interface separate from things like the content or even conceptually about an electronic magazine.
The Gneech: ‘cos really, I did want to be blown away, not infuriated. ^.^’
My Friend: Part of the UI was intentionally trying to redefine how to interface with a magazine.
My Friend: So SOME of the things you complained about are intentional. (Articles being vertical while everything else is horizontal)
The Gneech: Yeah, but I think there are certain expectations that need to be dealt with, not the least of which is the page-turning one. Trying to get people used to steering wheels to start using inverted joysticks is a plan for disaster.
The Gneech: I think it would be better to rotate the axis — right-left = turn page, up-down = previous/next article.
The Gneech: That way you’d still get the two-axis interface, without randomly irritating people already used to e-readers.
The Gneech: Or a preference setting to change it.
My Friend: Yup, most people are getting the hang of it, once they play a little. But I can understand the confusion. They tried to get it to work like a webpage for each article, and then swipe for the next bit like an ebook. The reverse would be like ebooks for the articles, but the down swipe would be unlike anything else.
The Gneech: Yeah, but webpages are all one scroll, not bracketed columns. It’s FORMATTED like an e-book, but then tells you to read it like a webpage. Type mismatch.
My Friend: Hmm… You know, I think if you send an email to me I’ll forward it to them, I don’t know if THAT can be fixed at this point, but other things can be.
The Gneech: An e-mail of which? A link to the blog? Transcript of the chat?
My Friend: Hmm, or feedback like the blog but directed specifically to the tablet team.
The Gneech: Well, w/ your permission, I’ll post this in a followup (stripping your name out) and then e-mail a link to the whole thing.
My Friend: Sounds cool. Yeah forward and point to the first post as well.
The Gneech: Okeydoke. Will do.
The Gneech: Thanks.

At this point, I suspect a preferences setting would be the best bet, but without being privy to their code, I’m just making my best guess.

-The Gneech

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