Do you Design for the Device or for a Virtual Page?

We are hearing reports of what may be the first significant competitor for Apple’s iPad: the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Here are some comparative notes from Tim Bray (who is likely to be pre-disposed for an Android tablet and against Apple’s iPad), and here is a brief overview of a Tab being put through its paces at a Trade Show by Noah from PhoneDog.

I do not know whether the Galaxy Tab is good enough to provide significant competition to the iPad, but the signs are that there will soon be a ‘good enough’ Android competitor for the iPad. One interesting point: it looks as though the seven inch form factor may be a significant point in favour of the Tab. Plenty of people find the iPad a bit too hefty, a bit too big. This is an area where Apple will face competition, choosing a different form factor (size and aspect ratios) is a good way of differentiating a rival product. There will be plenty of different form factors: 5″, 7″, 9″, 11″ etc…. From what we know of hardware markets and mobile opportunities such differentiation is inevitable.

What message should this be carrying to magazine and book publishers? The obvious message is simple, physical and ergonomic: your consumers will next year be carrying and unpacking devices with very different form factors and screen sizes. If you want your product/service to be readable and useful you absolutely have to factor this in to the information architecture of your magazine, or book. To redesign your magazine for each and every new form factor….. that way lies madness.

As luck would have it, I have this weekend been playing with another creditable ‘home-produced’ magazine app for the iPad: Esquire’s new app. The result is a pretty decent magazine-like experience on the iPad with a degree of interactivity and playfulness. But it is very much of a one-off solution. It will be interesting to see whether Esquire persists in offering such an issue by issue app; an implementation which has a substantial overhead in terms of design and creative input, over and above the production and design of the print magazine. Furthermore the designers have so clearly tied their app to the iPad platform that they would need to engage in comparable investments to deliver interactive versions for the 5″, 7″, 11″, and 12.5″ platforms that will be hitting the market next year. The Esquire app, although it is designed for the iPad paradoxically shies away from even this target by being implemented purely for the portrait mode of presentation. The app doesnt swing when you swivel! To most iPad users that is going to feel very wrong.

So here is a number one rule for magazine designers: when you are planning digital implementations think about virtual pages, not about actual pages or specific aspect ratios. That way you have a chance that your precious investment in an iPad app will be adaptable to the next screen size that emerges in the Apple range, never mind Samsung, HP-Palm, or Dell. And if Samsung have hit on a good form factor, there will probably be a new format from Apple soon!

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