September 19, 2013 Last Updated 8:54 am

iOS 7 brings mostly superficial changes to the Newsstand

The introduction of iOS 7 no doubt has many iPhone and iPad users wondering where their old devices have gone. The old comfortable design, some would say stale, has been replaced with something far more cold and minimal. Many will love it, others will not. But Apple, I’m sure has no intention of doing a “Coke” and bringing back its “classic” design (though we shall see).

NewNewsstand-iPad-lgFor publishers, there are many issues to consider when dealing with iOS 7, the most important of which is whether their apps will still work. But the major digital publishing platform companies have done a great job of keeping their solutions up-to-date and so I have not encountered any magazines or newspapers that have crashed due to iOS 7 (though I, of course, could only look at a small number of them since updating my iPad).

The biggest thing that a publisher that has updated their own device will see is that most of the old skeuomorphs are gone. No more wood and leather.

But that doesn’t mean that there are not artificial elements in the new design. The Newsstand, for instance, may look very minimal when you first open it, but one can see the hands of the designer there, nonetheless. Why, for instance, is the second shelf of the “bookshelf” so dark, with such a heavy shadowing? Why are the fonts so light and so condensed? These are design decisions that scream, at least to me, of design for its own sake rather than considering the user experience.

(My wife, who owns an iPhone, has decided not to update her OS out of fear of not being able to use email because of the small, thin font used.)

Newspaper, magazine and book publishers generally can avoid many of the design issues of iOS 7 – they will continue to design their covers and publications based on their own design rules, not Apple’s.

But some things should be considered such as icons. When an app first loads into the Newsstand and an issue has not yet been downloaded the app will display a generic icon. Most are very plain, but work.

Some, like TIME magazine’s are low resolution messes. It may be a minor thing, but developers should be aware of how their apps look throughout the user experience.

Some publishers have made changes to their app’s design in reaction to the introduction of iOS 7. For me, that is a head scratcher. Maybe it is a reaction brought on by the desire to show that they are up-to-date, but in at least one case it has led to a very bad app.

NewNYT-iPad-lgYesterday The New York Times Company issued updated for both their iPhone and iPad apps. Users who downloaded the apps yesterday afternoon, but who had not yet updated their device’s OS received error messages stating that the apps would not load. I’m not sure this kind of app fragmentation is a good idea.

But once one had upgraded to iOS 7 one was aghast to see the new NYT iPad app – at least I was, as were many readers who are writing reviews inside the App Store.

The use of italics for headlines seems an odd choice, but it is the enormous amount of white space that is upsetting readers the most.

The problem lies in the fact that the way stories fill the space is uniform – a headline followed by a summary. But the summaries are the same size throughout the home page, even when the story is given more space. The result is odd white space.

I’ve never like the NYT iPad app for many reasons: it is too expensive, and it is a fill-in-the-blanks design that is not as good as print, not as good as a digital magazine design (think The Daily), it simply is not native to the tablet platform.

The NYT team is stuck with this app and its early 2010 mindset. The launch of iOS 7 was an opportunity to throw out the old thinking, but instead we got this tweak of the old design – there is a box, fill it.

One imagines that the team was trying really hard to make their app mimic the new elements of iOS 7 such as the translucent flag. But like many elements of iOS 7 what I see are mistakes. The house ad that promotes e-singles, for instance, is not retina quality. I noticed that one row of headlines on the home page were grayed out a bit rather than a sharp black.

That is not to say that there are not good things to say about the app. The scrolling between sections is new and quite native to the platform and may encourage readers to explore of the “paper” as they do not need to use pulldown section navigation. (One reader reviews says “scrolling was a mistake. It seems cheap and amateurish.” I disagree, but there you have it.)

Generally I feel it is a mistake to try and react too quickly to design changes brought on by the change in OS. Instead, it is better to concentrate on features first. When Apple added AirPlay, for instance, it was smart of many media developers to jump at the opportunity to have their video content displayed on the HD TVs.

  • bamaguy 4 years ago

    This otherwise accurate review misses a serious problem with the Newsstand in iOS7. The designers forgot that users need to know which issues of there (often many) subscriptions awe updated. The numbered badge on the front of Newsstand App does not clear it’s count until new issues are physically opened. This is problematic as we are forced to guess (or remember changes in covers) which individual subscriptions are new. Apple needs to bring back the useful “NEW” banner on updated covers.