December 5, 2014 Last Updated 9:30 am

Publishers continue to make it hard on those who use a mobile device for magazine reading

Despite the desire to reach readers on smartphones, few publishers actual design their digital editions for the device itself

The Apple Newsstand has seen more than 170 new magazine (and a few newspaper) apps for the iPhone released into the digital newsstand in the past month. But of those, less than 5 percent appear to have actually taken the iPhone into account when designed – and none were iPhone-only apps.

CoFounder-iPad-iPhoneWith smartphones getting larger thanks to the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, as well as those popular Samsung models, publishers have begun to wonder if their digital editions are being read on a tablet or smartphone. As a result, most of the major U.S. consumer magazine publishers, such as Time Inc, Condé Nast and others have updated their Newsstand apps to add in iPhone support.

But the vast majority of apps were not actually redesigned. In general, publishers took their tablet editions, most often hybrid editions* and simply shrunk them down for the iPhone. The result is a digital edition designed for tablet reading (and thus easier to read than a straight PDF replica conversion) that is also available for the iPhone, where reading becomes a challenge.

The best of the new iPhone Newsstand apps come from publishers designing for digital-only delivery. Co-Founder Magazine, a new release that uses the FlexyPress platform, is a good example of a digital edition that translates well to the iPhone with few changes. (see original TNM post on the magazine app here). Using simple, one column layouts, the digital edition can move between tablet and smartphone rather easily, while still offering landscape reading, if desired.

NYO_iPhone5-W-lgDigital-only magazines designed for PDF-based digital publishing platforms such as PressPad also tend to work OK on the iPhone as the specs used for the digital edition are those of the iPad, not print. Unfortunately for the reader, the iPad and the iPhone do not share the same dimensions, so the iPhone version ends up appearing short on iPhone display.

Straight replica editions are the least readable on the iPhone, and one wonders if the only reason the publisher releases these types of digital editions is out of pure laziness. New York Observer is a typical Apple Newsstand replica app. Released in mid-November, the digital edition is very hard to read on the iPad, but ridiculous on the iPhone (see original TNM post on the magazine app here).

One understands the desire to release replica apps, in general: they are easy to produce, take no new staffing, and are generally cheap. Many readers have come to understand that this is what a digital magazine is going to look like on their digital devices. Of the more than 170 new Apple Newsstand apps released for the iPhone in the past month, around 80 percent were straight replicas from print (the rest were digital-only releases).

All the major digital publishing platforms have long since introduced iPhone (smartphone) building capabilities, though few publishers bother to utilize them.

One of the very first apps released specifically for the iPhone used (and still does) the Mag+ platform. The British Journal of Photography, when it was still owned by Incisive Media launched BJPhoto: iPhone Edition, a stand-alone iPhone Newsstand app that presented the reader with a digital edition specifically designed for iPhone reading. Later, the management of the magazine created a new company, Apptitude Media, and the apps needed to be relaunched under their name. Today, the BJP app is universal, containing designs that work well for both the iPad and iPhone, but with a single app named British Journal of Photography+ (the name of the original iPad app).

Other platforms, such as TypeEngine, 29th Street Publishing or Glide, offer publishing platforms that severely limit the kinds of layouts a magazine can create for the iPad. But, ironically, these layouts are perfect for the iPhone (one might say that the platforms are really iPhone-first). The Magazine and The Loop, two magazines that Apple have promoted heavily over the past year, use TypeEngine and Glide respectively, though The Magazine will be shuttered at the end of this month after seeing its paid subscriptions fall (see this TNM post on the fate of the title).

  • Ed Coburn 3 years ago

    This is an understandable dilemma for publishers. Creating many different app versions is time consuming and costs money. Our current recommendation is to create a tablet app edition (Apple if you only create one. Apple, Amazon, and Google if you’re game to do three) and then have a web edition that is fully responsive so that it works well on a desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone platform. See my recent post for more on web editions — http://www.mequoda.com/articles/digital-magazine-publishing/clarification-web-magazine/

  • Christian Price 3 years ago

    Responsive apps allow publishers to design for iPad (which offers the largest canvas) and without any redesign content reduces to a single column view on all smartphones whilst also providing a letterboxed desktop version. The result is an optimised reading experience across all devices all from a single layout with a simple workflow.
    For publishers with limited resource looking for a cost effective solution to distribute content as widely as possible responsive hybrid apps hold the key.

  • Mark Hall 3 years ago

    We are a very small company that produces a digital magazine about electronic music. Our last issue was designed natively for Ipads (both old and retina), a popular sized android tablet, Iphone 4, Iphone 5, and a popular sized Android phone… These are all fully interactive editions, not just a pdf being rejigged. This was also done with just one in-house designer.