Steve Colbert has a splendid take on the new biography of Steve Jobs: he pulls the book up on to his desk and then starts playing with it as though it were an iPad. He can’t swipe the pages, so he turns it upside down and then the portrait of Steve Jobs on the front cover “doesn’t even reorient”. There is nowhere to put the jack for his headset etc…

In fact, this is pretty much the same joke as was told a few months ago by an 18 month old French baby girl in this YouTube video:

A Magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work

This is all great fun. But its definitely more than fun. Kids who were born after the iPad are going to expect magazines and books to behave in the way that apps on tablets behave, because they are going to be apps. The charming French baby is really more than fed-up with the magazines that do not respond to her pointings and gestures, she coos with delight at the iPad as she plays with it, and an iPad is something that it is very easy for a baby or a toddler to play with. So the magazines and books have to get there fast, they need to be appy.

Tablets (which for the next couple of years means mostly iPads) are going to be play objects and incredible learning systems. And the way apps work on tablets is going to inform the way that we think that magazines and newspapers and similar resources should work, even while they are some of them still print objects.

We have begun to see this already in the way that physical magazines and books frequently now embody design elements and devices that are borrowings from the web — all those url’s we find scattered in text, and the ¬†‘windows’ and ‘thumbnails’ that are used as decorative elements and referential pointers in Tables of Contents. It is as though the world of print knows that it is hurrying towards a digital future and is preparing for it by morphing in ways that will work better digitally. Surely this is one of the reasons why newspapers are going tabloid and magazine formats are gravitating to more standard dimensions. By the time that French baby is a teenager, books and magazines will surely have become primarily digital, but in the next few years it is likely that we will see an increasing tendency for ‘publications’ to duck and dive between their digital and their print states, to borrow for their print form, techniques and features from digital media. In its terminal phase, print design and typography will seize on digital affordances as eagerly as digital media borrows from print.

That baby knows that a print object ought to be able to behave like a digital object, and she is absolutely right. When MarieClaire is a thoroughly digital version on the iPad it will be feasible to do what it looks as though it can already do. Magazines which use collage-style pages in the print version will at some stage allow the digital page to be disaggregated into its individual components. The baby should be able to rotate the manequin. Too often publishers and designers have thought that the challenge of the iPad would be answered if we could make a magazine into something quite different in its digital manifestation. That was a mistake: the challenge is to make it into something which is surprisingly the same, but more touchable, more digital, more graspable and more virtual. Not digital because different, but digital because surprisingly the same and better.