Since one of the main reasons I own an iPad is for eMagazine reading (see August 1st post), I'm reviewing some titles. Some publishers take the approach of making their content available on as many platforms as possible. National Geographic is one widely available title.
The Print Edition
National Geographic magazine, published by the National Geographic Society, available in the traditional print edition, is found in almost every middle-class home of the last century. It is a "membership" magazine. The 12 monthly issues cost $34.00/year. Single copy price is $7.00.
There is also a Web site NGM.com that has most of the content of the current issue of the magazine as well as some additional content, like extra photos and flash videos (unusable on the iPad) and stories from some prior issues. The free Web site is heavily laden with ads on just about every page, including pop-ups and drop-downs, promoting NG products.
The August, 2011 print edition features the Spirit Bear (a white variant of brown bear from British Columbia and far southeast Alaska) on the cover. Five other stories with page numbers are also called out. Including the covers, there are 170 pages. Page numbering (1-136) begins with the table of contents and does not include the covers, or thirty interspersed, unnumbered pages of advertisements. Of the total 170 pages, 39 are advertisements, including two for NG products (a theatrical movie, and a gift subscription). The ads are clustered at the front of the magazine; none occur after the beginning of the cover story feature article. Some are two-page or multi-page spreads, one is a half page. The inside and back cover are the final ads. The back cover ad is for the Amazon Kindle (featuring the book The Paris Wife)! Text is presented in a two-column format in a clean 10-point sans serif font at 6 lines per inch. Many articles have more photos or graphics (maps or diagrams) and captions than article text. A full page of text is rare.
NGS also publishes an iPad interactive version, available from the Apple iPad App Store; a Zinio interactive edition, available either from Zinio.com or in-app from the iPad Zinio app; an Amazon Kindle edition, available from the Amazon.com Kindle Magazines Store and readable on the iPad Kindle reader app; and a Barnes&Noble Nook edition, available from the BN.com Nook Newsstand and readable on the iPad Nook reader app.
The iPad edition requires the free iPad app, and offers single issues for $4.99, and subscriptions for either $1.99/month or $19.99/year (12 issues), billed on a recurring basis. Like all apps on iPad, there are NO REFUNDS, so don't subscribe for a year until you are sure you want the magazine for all 12 issues. Apple also treats magazines the same as music or software and charges SALES TAX. Michigan law exempts magazine subscriptions from its 6% sales tax, which Apple seems not to acknowledge, based on an e-mail exchange with Apple Customer Service.
The iPad edition is published using the Adobe Digital Publishing platform. The app opens with a library of available issues (going back to February, 2011) and a free sampler issue. You can choose to buy single issues or subscribe by tapping on a button and entering your iTunes password. You are prompted to (optionally) have Apple provide your e-mail address and zip code to the Publisher. Existing purchases can be downloaded or archived. There are both multi-issue and single issue views of the covers and the library can be displayed either in portrait or landscape. The August, 2011 issue shows the print "newsstand" version of the cover, including a flap that calls out three of the main stories.
Once downloaded, an issue can be read (offline or connected) by tapping on the view button. The issues open in landscape only and cannot be rotated. The table of contents, as well as all articles, scroll down to read. When you tap in a neutral spot on any page, the navigation interface appears in bars at the top and bottom. The bottom bar is a scroller, which shows a thumbnail of each page, along with the name of the article in large type. The top navigation bar has many elements, icons for: "home" to return to the library; "back" to return to the previous page viewed; "contents list" which displays a drop down list of thumbnails of the pages with the titles, that scrolls vertically; the title and date of the issue; and at the far upper right corner a "story view", which fills the screen with titles, along with a brief description, at the top, and thumbnails of the first few pages of each article arranged vertically. The list scrolls horizontally, by swipe as well as with the scroll bar at the bottom.
The August, 2011 iPad issue has "Making Robots Human" as the cover story, rather than the Spirit Bear. The title is a hot-link to the story. The cover also has an interactive photo of a robot that can be rotated 360 degrees. No other stories are called out on the cover. This edition contains all of the same articles and photos as the print edition. A few of the advertisements are also included. Curiously, the "masthead" page, which lists staff, publisher, advertising contacts, etc., is omitted. Because of the landscape orientation (as opposed to the portrait format of the print edition), there are subtle layout changes, some different cropping of photos. The iPad has some interactive features, which are called out with icons on the table on contents page, not possible on paper. This issue includes 3 videos, and 2 interactive graphics (tap or swipe to change the view). The editor's note/letters page has a link to e-mail the editor. The page that highlights what is on NationalGeographic.com/News has a swipe slideshow of photos, and a link to the Web site in the caption, as well as a live Twitter feed promoting articles and features. The NG connect page (staff picks of products and events) includes an audio tune that is available free to download as well. Obviously, some of these connected features require an active internet connection. Photos include a small "i" icon to tap to reveal the caption. This means the photo can be viewed with no text overlaid, unlike the print version. On the other hand, the size of the photos is limited to the screen size (10 in. diagonal), while there are many two-page spreads (17 in. diagonal) in print. But, some photos can be tapped or selected to expand in the iPad edition, while they are fixed in a smaller size in print. Articles are laid out as fixed pages that scroll vertically -- the font size cannot be changed. Each includes a "Share" and "Email" link. The Adobe interface does not include bookmarks, but the app remembers and returns to the last article and page viewed when restarted. There is a "return to beginning" link at the bottom of each article text. There are a total of 138 "pages" (screens) in the iPad edition. The are only four pages of advertisements, and three pages of promotions for other NG products, such as a movie, DVDs, or apps. One of the NG items cleverly offers newsletters in return for entering your e-mail address, in case you turned down the option when subscribing. Two of the four "outside" ads have links to further content on the Web, which open up in an in-app Safari browser. Once there you can also exit to full browser mode or return to the magazine app. The back "cover" is a promotion page for "Next Month" and a link to an online survey, rather than the Kindle ad of the print edition.
Overall, the iPad issue is a pretty good reading experience compared to the print edition. It has all the content of text and photos, fewer advertisements, and some extras, such as videos, interactive graphics, and even some bonus content via live links to the Web. Some of the photos are constrained to the smaller screen size compared to a two-page layout in print, but to be fair, some photos on the iPad can be tapped to fill the screen, whereas they are a small fixed size in print. Pros: full color, more content, fewer ads; some photos are larger; more photos than print; some videos, interactive features, Web links, music; photo captions and credits hidden until tapped; month-to-month subscription; cheaper than print version; multiple navigation methods. Cons: some photos are smaller; only has in-app purchase choice; no refund on subscriptions; subscriptions are taxed (in Michigan by Apple policy); no bookmarks; no audio reading feature; multiple navigation can be confusing; no choice of font size, font face, page color, column format; no multi-touch zoom or pan; content locked to Apple iPad account. Rating: 3 of 5 stars.
The Zinio interactive edition, uses the free iPad Zinio reader app. Zinio has been in the digital publishing business since 2001, first via Web browser, now with Adobe Air, and with iOS and Android apps as well, operates internationally, and has many thousands of titles and issues from 23 different countries. Some publications are just facsimile print editions, which was true of an earlier incarnation of NG, and some, like NG presently, are fully interactive. From within the Zinio iPad App, you can "Explore" free articles from featured and catagorized magazines, or you can go to "Shop" and find the title you want, searching by name, or navigating through the categories. The app operates in either portrait or landscape mode. Once you've chosen a title, you are presented with the cover and description of the current issue, buttons to buy a single copy for $4.99 or subscribe (12 issues) for $19.99. Below are covers from back issues for the prior couple of years. Click the "Buy" or "Subscribe" buttons to purchase with your iTunes account. You will be prompted to (optionally) have Apple provide you e-mail and zipcode to the Publisher. Alternatively, you can (and probably should!), navigate instead to Zinio.com, sign up for an account and purchase a subscription direct. That way, you can get direct customer support for the app and also cancel your subscription and get a refund for undelivered issues. You will also not pay Michigan sales tax. Once you've bought an issue or subscription via browser at Zinio, it will appear in your library on your iPad. Though you will be providing Zinio with some personal info, you also will be able to access your content on other platforms.
The Zinio Library is accessed from the app home screen by tapping the "Read" button at the bottom of the screen. "My Library" appears with a choice of "Date" or "Title" groupings via buttons at the top right, and a touch navigator showing year (or all) and month, if in "Date" order, or letters of the alphabet if in "Title" order. In the Date display, the individual issues are shown, with the most recent by cover date at the upper left, and proceeding left to right, top to bottom. Initially for a new issue, the cover is ghosted with an downward pointing arrow in the center. Tap to download the issue. Previously downloaded issues are not ghosted. Once downloaded, issues can be read offline. There is an "Edit" button in the upper right of the screen. When tapped, all issues change to show an "X" in the middle of the cover; issues that have been downloaded show the size is MB at the bottom of the cover. When you tap an "X" you are asked to "cancel" or "remove from this device". In the Title display, the titles are in stacks in alphabetical order with the current issue on top of each title's stack. If there is only one issue, tapping will download and/or open the issue. For magazines with multiple issues, the screen with be filled with issues of that title, similar to the "Date" view, including an "Edit" button and the ability to archive or download back issues owned. In the bottom right corner of the My Library screen, there are icon buttons for settings (account management) and bookmarks (across all titles and issues).
The Zinio iPad reader uses a progressive download method, so the cover soon appears and you can begin swiping pages and reading the issue as long a you don't jump ahead too much while the download completes. A progress percentage appears on the top navigation bar. When the download is complete, the issue can be read offline, although some features require an internet connection. In testing, the percentage never exceeded 96%, and the issue remained in the library as ready for download. This is a bug in this issue, according to the Zinio Web site), to be fixed in next version of the app. Even so, all articles seemed to be present and accessible. But, annoyingly, the issue is still ghosted and marked with "download arrow" in the Library, and a new issue badge notification is still on the Zinio app on the iPad home screen.
The navigation controls will also appear whenever you tap on a neutral space on any page. There is only a bar at the top, with icons and the title. At the top left is an "X" icon to exit and close the issue and return to the library. Next is the magazine title and issue date. In the upper right are 3 icons. The first, an array of nine dots, displays the contents in "story view", as a horizontally scrollable list of 4 labeled thumbnails extending vertically down the screen, just like the iPad app. The second icon, a four line bullet list, displays a drop down table of contents with thumbnails, titles, and descriptions, that scrolls vertically as an overlay to the current page. The final icon is a bookmark, which allows you to mark a page and to see the list of bookmarks for the issue, which opens as a panel over the current page. In addition to marking the current page, this is how to jump to other previously marked pages. Each bookmark has a thumbnail view of the page, a large title, a smaller subtitle with magazine title and issue date and the date created. There are also two icons at the right edge, an "X" to delete the bookmark (after a confirming prompt) and a pencil to initiate editing of the title of the bookmark. Tapping an "X" in the upper left corner exits the bookmarks panel.
The August, 2011 Zinio issue of National Geographic is similar to the iPad edition, in that it is displayed in landscape only. The content seems to be almost identical to the iPad edition, with the same number of screens, the same ads (except the NG newsletter ad), and the same extra features. The differences are in the Zinio interface, which includes the bookmarks. When a page is bookmarked, the mark appears in the upper right corner even when the navigation bar is not visible. Bookmarks show up in the "story view", too, but not in the "contents list". It is important to note that bookmarks only mark the top of the text of a multi-screen article -- not somewhere in the middle vertically. The individual horizontal (picture) pages of an article can be separately bookmarked, though. There is no way to change font face, font size, paper color, or to multi-touch zoom or pan. Some of the extra content (videos) are in slightly different places, indicating that each edition is laid out on its own.
Overall, the Zinio iPad edition, also compares favorable with the print edition, and edges out the iPad app because of the cleaner navigation, bookmarks, unified library, and tax and refund policy (if purchased from the Zinio Web site). Pros: full color, more content, fewer ads; some photos are larger; more photos than print; some videos, interactive features, Web links, music; photo captions and credits hidden until tapped; cheaper than print version; multiple navigation methods; progressive download; has in-app purchase choice (if you accept Apple's sales tax and no refund policies); for Web purchase, no sales tax in Michigan, and can cancel or refund subscription; content available on multiple platforms with single subscription (Web, iOS, Android). Cons: some photos are smaller; no audio reading feature; no choice of font size, font face, page color, or column format; no multi-touch zoom or pan; bug causing apparent incomplete download; content locked to Zinio account. Rating: 4 of 5 stars.
The Kindle edition uses the free Kindle reader app for iPad. Purchases can no longer (per Apple policy) be made in-app, but must be done from the Kindle Store at Amazon's Web site. Single issues are $3.99, a month-to-month recurring subscription is $1.99, but annual subscriptions are not available. A 14-day free trial subscription is available. Amazon does not charge sales tax in Michigan. The subscription can be cancelled at any time. Once purchased, the current issue will appear in the iPad Kindle app. Tap to download, then tap again to open and read. Not all Kindle magazines are available on the iPad, as some are still restricted to the Kindle device only by the publishers; the New Yorker is one example.
Magazines in Kindle editions can be displayed either in portrait or landscape on the iPad. When the issue opens the first time, the cover is shown; subsequently, it begins at a contents page, or wherever you left off. The top navigation bar has a "Home" button with icon, at the top left, to return to the Library, the title and date in the center top, and two icons at the top right. The first icon is "Aa", which opens the "View Options" drop down to change font size (6 choices), paper color, and brightness (these options are the same as for books in the Kindle reader). The final icon is a magnifying glass to open a drop down panel for "Search", either within the document, or via buttons at the bottom, Google or Wikipedia. Results are listed in the panel, with the search term highlighted in the list and also in the text when tapped.
In the August, 2011 Kindle issue, the Contents has two panes with a left pane of sections and a right pane of articles and other items. The contents are in order within section, each headed by the section title. Contents items include the title of the article, byline, description, and a thumbnail photo or graphic. Three of the featured articles have large photos in the listing. The sections in the left navigation panel are "All Sections", "Departments", "Features", and "Flashback" (a regular feature on the last page of each issue). Once tapped to select, the sections reduces the number of articles listed in the right hand pane.
When viewing an article, the limitation of the Kindle edition for photo-intensive magazines is immediately apparent. Only ONE photo per article is provided, at the beginning of the article. The photo is followed by credits and caption inline. Initially photos are only column width size. A two-finger pinch will zoom to full screen. The picture can be adjusted to zoom or pan in full screen. Tap the "X" in upper left to close. All the text of the article is present. Swipe forward to page through the article; swipe back to turn back a page or to prior articles. Curiously, the only way to see the cover is to select the first article (Editor's Note) and swipe backward from there; the Cover was not listed in the Contents! The cover is the same as the original print edition, with the Spirit Bear featured, and 5 other articles called out, though without page numbers.
Each article includes a small print header listing the magazine title and issue centered and the Department and Article title above the top left column. If you tap anywhere on the page, navigation icons appear at top and bottom. The top left is labeled "Contents" within an arrow and returns to the table of contents page; top right is a "Home" icon and label, which returns to the Kindle library; at the bottom left are two arrows to jump to the previous or next article; bottom center right is the magnifying glass to access the search panel, which pops up with the keyboard; and bottom right is the "Aa" icon, which pops a panel to adjust text size (6 choices), paper color, brightness, and columns (1- or 2- column format in portrait and 1-, 2-, or 3- column in landscape). There are no pages numbers, location counts, or percent completed as in Kindle books. Also, there are no bookmarks or choice of typeface. The number of screens depends on the font size and column format selected. With a medium font size (3 of 6), and two-column format in portrait orientation, there are 90 screens in the August, 2011 issue. There are no advertisements at all. The "masthead" page is also omitted.
The minimal inclusion of photos is especially egregious for the regular NG department "Visions", which in print includes 9 photos, including 3 two-page spreads; The Kindle edition includes only 2 of the photos, both reader-submitted -- an Editor's Choice and a Reader's Choice. The feature articles get short shrift by being represented by a single photo, rather than, for example, the 9 photos (6 two-page) and 2 graphics in the Spirit Bear cover story, or the 9 photos (3 two-page) in the Robots article. Without the images and maps, most of the meaning of NG articles is lost, especially as text is typically meager.
Overall, the Kindle iPad edition, falls far short of the print edition and the other iPad versions because of the lack of photos, graphics, or extra features (videos, audio clip, interactive graphics). It does have a clean, customizable layout and navigation, and a unified library that includes Kindle books. Pros: view in portrait or landscape; no ads; a few color photos; photos can expand to fill the screen, zoom, and pan; choice of font size (6), page color (3), column layout; cheaper than print version; simple navigation methods, consistent with book readers; can jump from article to article without resorting to contents; no sales tax in Michigan; can cancel subscription; content available on multiple platforms with single subscription (Kindles, PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Blackberry, WebOS); synchronize across platforms. Cons: no cover link in table of contents; very few photos; no graphics; no audio reading feature; no choice of font face; no bookmarks; automatic page layout can be awkward on some pages; lacks in-app purchase choice; content locked to Amazon account. Rating: 2 of 5 stars.
The Nook edition uses the free Nook for iPad app. Purchases are done from the Nook Newsstand at Barnes & Noble's Web site. Single issues are $4.99, a month-to-month recurring subscription is $1.99 starting with a 14-day free trial; there are no annual subscriptions. BN does not charge sales tax on subscriptions in Michigan. The subscription can be cancelled at any time. Once purchased, the current issue will appear in the Nook for iPad app. Tap to download, then tap again to open and read. There are 141 titles listed at the Web site but not all Nook magazines are available on the iPad, as some are still restricted to the Nook device only by the publishers.
The Nook reader operates in either portrait or landscape on the iPad. When opened, the Nook app shows your Nook Library with cover thumbnails for "All Items" including books. A drop down choice can restrict to "Magazines", "Newspapers", "Books" or "Archived". A second drop down determines the order listed by "Most Recent", "Title", or "Author". The most recently opened item is flagged with a large blue nook bookmark. When a magazine is opened, it begins with the cover, or wherever you last left off.
There are no immediate navigation bars or icons. Swipe to turn a page. The cover and pages are facsimiles of the print edition -- the cover includes the page references on the five featured articles that are called out. In landscape mode, a double page spread is shown, so the experience of paging through is very similar to flipping through a paper magazine. Tapping anywhere on any page brings up the navigation.
For navigation, there is a small bar at top with an arrow icon labeled "library" that returns to the home library screen. At the bottom a set of thumbnails pops up taking up about 1/3 of the screen; each is numbered with a page number, beginning with "0" for the cover. There is a scroll button and line just below the thumbnails for rapid scrolling, or you can swipe the thumbnails for slow to medium scrolling. At the very bottom are two icons: at left center is a bullet list icon labeled "content", which pops up a "Contents" tab with the list of articles that scrolls vertically, and positioned at the article being viewed, along with a second tab labelled "Bookmarks" (to be discussed later); and at right center is a sun icon labeled "brightness", that pops up a slider for adjustment.
When a page is selected, the screen can be double tapped or pinched to zoom, dragged to pan, and double tapped again to return to full screen zoom. In this fashion, one could read the entire magazine (in portrait mode primarily), with the occasional flip to landscape to view a photo on a double page spread.
The bookmarking feature of Nook is subtle and clever. Each page in the facsimile view has its lower corner faintly marked with a "+". When you tap the corner, it folds in to "dog ear" the page! Tap again to remove the "bookmark". The Bookmarks tab within the "content" navigator shows bookmarked pages with a thumbnail; a large, bold type page number; and in a smaller, fainter type, the article title. The bookmarks take you to the specific page, not just the start of the article. You can even bookmark ad pages (in case you want to "ask your doctor about" that new drug?!?).
But wait, there's more! Pages that contain the content of the magazine (text, photos, maps, or graphics, but not including the cover, ads, table of contents, or masthead), show a button in the upper right of the screen labeled "ArticleView (TM)".
The ArticleView feature is designed for the Nook Color reader which has a smaller 7-inch screen, but is included in the iPad reader app to good advantage. A tap on the button pops up an overlay panel that begins with the article title and thumbnail of any photo or graphic and includes the text of the article in a vertically scrollable display. There is an "X" in the upper right corner to close the panel and return to the facsimile view. If you tap the ArticleView pane, a control bar appears at the bottom with 3 labeled icons for "content", "text", and "brightness". The outer two are the same as described above. The "Aa" in the center, though, pops up a panel that allows detailed customization of the reading experience: 6 font sizes, 7 type faces, 5 paper colors, 3 line spacing choices, and 3 margin (or column width, depending on your focus) choices. About all that is missing is choice of 2- or 3-column formats. Tapping anywhere within the text of an article shows the entire text of the article. Pages that have only a photo show the caption and credits. The ArticleView panels can be swiped to move from article to article, providing another form of navigation when reading. This combination of facsimile and enhanced text is brilliant. I have tried it out on a 7-inch Nook Color and it makes that smaller device much more compelling than a Kindle of the same size (which, of course, also lacks a color display).
The August, 2011 Nook issue of National Geographic contains 164 pages total, numbered from 0 to 163. In portrait this occupies 164 screens; in landscape, 83 screens, as the front and back covers each appear alone. The total number of pages differs from the print edition by lacking four, unnumbered, advertisement pages. The content differs by slyly changing the back cover from a Kindle ad to a Nook Color ad. The additional print ad pages are prescription drug ads; two other ad pages feature different sponsors in the print and Nook versions: these differences may be regional or demographic editions of the magazine. The Nook edition represents the most faithful representation of the paper magazine on the iPad. On the other hand, it lacks any features, such as video, interactivity, live content, or links to Web content, that the iPad and Zinio editions provide.
Overall, the Nook iPad edition, is most faithful to the print edition, has the advantage of clean, simple navigation, clever bookmarks, a unified library, and a refund policy as purchased from the BN Nook Newsstand Web site. Pros: full color; all of the content of the print edition; photos, graphics, and text can be zoomed larger; cheaper than print version; multiple navigation methods; bookmarks; "ArticleView" provides choice of font size, font face, page color, line spacing, and column size; smooth, elegant, customizable reading experience; no sales tax in Michigan; can cancel or refund subscription; content available on multiple platforms with single subscription (Nook readers, PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Blackberry). Cons: some photos are smaller, even with zoom; no multi-column format in ArticleView; no audio reading feature; no extra content; no video; no interactivity; no links to Web; lacks in-app purchase choice; content locked to Nook account. Rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Final Thoughts: Some diehards will want to stick with the print edition until larger display (17-inch or side-by-side 12-inch) tablets exist. For a photo-intensive publication like NG, that may be valid. The Kindle version is not suitable for NG. If you value interactivity and a bit of extra content, the iPad app or the Zinio version are suitable, but iPad locks you down to Apple and its policies. Therefore, Zinio is the better choice. However, this issue on Zinio is suffering from a bug in the new 2.0 version of it's reader. If you are satisfied with the print content and want the best reading experience, choose the Nook version. Either of these two (Zinio or Nook) allow you some freedom in porting your content to another platform now or in the future.
Pat's Choice for National Geographic on the iPad: Nook