Project magazine iPad app review

I know it’s been out for a little while now (in fact, issue 2 is due in the next week or so) but I thought I’d take a look at the debut issue of Richard Branson’s iPad only magazine.

It’s an interesting experiment and well worth a look in you’re in any way interested in the future of publishing, especially as you can currently pick it up for free. Project has been designed from the ground up especially for the iPad rather than, for example, Wired magazine where the digital version closely resembles the real world print version. The publishers claim that the magazine won’t be fixed but will be evolving over the course of the month. A nice idea but I’ve seen little evidence of it other than in the comments on each story being updated. In itself, this is a nice idea – tap on the little icon and the page flips round to reveal readers comments on the article.

I’m not going to be looking at the standard of the articles (which has been criticised by some as being a bit ‘shallow’) but concentrating on the look and feel of the mag/app to see what they’ve done with the interactive element of the content.

As well as a heavy use of video clips, either as full screen or embedded on the page, the designers have tried a few other little graphic tricks that just couldn’t be accomplished on the printed page. In the screen above, for example, the image of space rotates slowly behind the buildings. It’s a nice, subtle effect that you might not even notice if you glanced at the page quickly…

In the sequence below, the camera pulls back very effectively to reveal just how crazy the kayaker actually is… Another simple but effective trick that you wouldn’t get in a real magazine.

In a cute little homage to the iPhone’s iSteam app, you rub the dirt away to reveal the title of this article…

And the same trick is used again for the feature on Jaguar’s new C-X75 as you reveal (with your finger) how the design progressed from drawing board to reality…

The problem with the above example though, is that it’s incredibly difficult to do without accidentally swiping to the next page then having to go back and start again (in fact if I wasn’t trying to capture the sequence for this post, I wouldn’t have bothered).

I suppose that’s one of the problems with a lot of these graphical tricks – they slow down the speed at which you can progress through the magazine. Every time you launch the app you have to sit through the video of the cover animating. It’s very nicely done but, since the app doesn’t remember which page you’re on (pretty unforgivable in a digital magazine) and you can’t skip it, you’ll be seeing an awful lot of it.

So, enough about the graphical tricks – what’s it like to read?

They’ve used the now familiar method of navigating within a digital magazine ie. scroll up and down to page through an article and left and right to jump to a different story, which works well enough. I suppose my biggest issue with it is that it still looks like a magazine. Why design ‘pages’ with a grid when each story could have a totally different design? With no real world print costs and page number limitation, the designers could have gone to town and created something that looked totally unique – as it is, it feels like a lost opportunity.

Perhaps it’s the mindset of the designers, mired in years on print design or perhaps it’s a limitation of the toolset (Adobe InDesign and WoodWing?) but for whatever reason, Project looks like a print magazine that’s been converted to digital which is exactly what it isn’t and shouldn’t!

Project Magazine is available now from the App Store. It’s currently free and well worth a look if your interested in the unfolding collision of print and digital…

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