I Dream of Tablet, Part Three: Print Design Done Apple

by Josh Rubenoff Dec 10, 2009

For the past decade, Apple's been in the business of revolutionizing the way media is sold—first with music, then with movies and TV shows, then software. So it makes complete sense that the company would be trying to do the same with print, and maybe even building a device to accommodate the new medium. If this rumor is indeed true, it's just the latest in the many, many attempts by print media to make a profit migrating their content to the screen before they collapse under the dead weight of an industry many analysts dismiss as having lost to the Web. (Remember the CueCat?)

Time, Condé Nast, The New York Times. These are all major companies whose main business involves printing things on paper, and they're also companies rumored to have been approached by Apple with an offer to place their content on Apple's mythical tablet.


I think a big selling point of any conventional print publications for this device is going to be design—through interactivity, shareability or other innovations, these tablet-formatted publications transcend the limitations of both anything printed on dead trees and the plain justified text of what you see in your browser window on the magazine's web site, or on the copy of the New York Times delivered to your Kindle. Having said that, how has this approach been attempted on the Web in the past, and what strategy is Apple looking to take?

Apple doesn't have to aim high to top the current quality of experience available to online readers. On one hand, many magazines offer digital copies of their publications in a DRM-protected format offered by Zinio, compatible with the company's Zinio Reader—it's identical to the print version to a fault, advertisements and all. Sure, the URLs listed in articles (as well as all of the advertisements) are hyperlinked, but otherwise it's a pretty minimal and rigid interpretation of a digital magazine. (Some free and alternative magazines/publications offer their product for free in PDF format, which gives off pretty much the same effect as a Zinio file, design-wise.)

On the other hand, you have experiments in interactivity in the form of all-Flash publications, often utilized by the alternative press and sometimes released as odd experiments from the New York Times' web team. The issue here is that as creative as these publications can sometimes be, Flash is a usability nightmare: it's difficult to copy and paste, you can't provide permalinks for sub-pages within a Flash document, and Adobe's never worked very hard to make Flash less resource-intensive and buggy on Macs.

But some recent mockups created by both Time Inc. and Wired of a platform-agnostic digital magazine format (mocked up on a nondescript, oddly iPhone-like device) give an idea of what print design may look like on an Apple tablet, if it were to be released. Here, see both of them for yourself:


These two mockups get me pretty excited for Apple's inevitable implementation (whether on the Mac or on a tablet device) of this format. Though sticking to the grid of a print magazine, the opportunities provided by a fully digital touchscreen interface will allow conventional print designers to be more dynamic and flexible with things like layout and positioning. (For example, check out the way the text automatically repositions itself, while still staying within the complex grid of the magazine's design, when the device switches orientations from portrait to landscape.) Whether the Apple tablet exists or not, these mockups make me feel optimistic for the future of print design: on a screen.


[NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles that constitute baseless speculation on a hypothetical Apple tablet computer. Everything below assumes that Apple is, in fact, working on a touchscreen device with a larger form factor than the iPhone, to be used as a platform for digital books/magazines/newspapers, as well as, perhaps, a better way to view HD video.]


  • The S.I. version looks really good and makes sense.  Print editions can never have moving pictures.

    Apple could very well start an iMedia store.  Link to Google News.  Automatic crowdsourcing of news.  Link to publishers (cutting out booksellers).  iTV and who knows, to quote Frank Zappa “will cure your asthma too!”

    I think the tablet will be aimed at the macbook crowd and change the use of computers by the non-technical people for ever.  This is where M$ will have a problem.

    WetcoastBob had this to say on Dec 14, 2009 Posts: 29
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