Nike+ GPS

A while back you probably noticed me tweeting and raving about Adidas’ miCoach app, which I’d started using for running (replacing Runkeeper). I was recently brought in to consult with the team behind rival program Nike+ about all things technology and Tokyo (and gaming too), and one of the things I promised before leaving was that I would try their Nike+ GPS app — hey, this coming from a guy who walked in wearing a pair of Adidas sneakers, and professed how much he loved the miCoach app.

Nike+ GPS is the follow-up to Nike’s previous running program, which required an extra tracking unit that you placed in your sneakers. The new app works more like miCoach in that it sticks to using the GPS capabilities of your iPhone (although you can buy an extra tracking unit to use with miCoach, to get better readings). Also, unlike the free miCoach, Nike+ GPS is $2.

So I bought it last night and went for a run, and so far I’m pretty happy with how it works. One of the things I really liked about miCoach is how it actually coaches you, telling you what “zone” to run in. The Nike app doesn’t do that, which I don’t mind at all. I’d started feeling like following the miCoach program was actually slowing my progression down. With Nike, it’s more about giving yourself goals, and also following group goals. As I said, I’ve only gone for one run so far, but I’m finding the website pretty slick, and prefer how it displays your runs on Google Maps.

I think I’m going to at least try it for a couple of weeks, to give it a good shake and see how I feel about it, and then decide if I want to stick with it, or go back to miCoach, or even Runkeeper.

Coasting on 30,000

The sort of big news today in the digital publishing world — although not entirely surprising — is that Wired creative director Scott Dadich has left the magazine to focus entirely on his other gig, that of leading parent company Condé Nast’s digital publishing development.

But the most interesting thing to come out of the announcement (via MagCulture) is that we find out how well Wired has been selling on iPad after that initial blockbuster release — to recap, on its first month it sold 100,000 copies, which is well over the magazine’s average 76,000 in print. Since then, it has settled at around 30,000 copies per month, which is not bad at all.

I do hope we start getting digital circulation numbers for other magazines, because right now it’s hard to say what is working and what isn’t when you don’t really know the level of mainstream acceptance (i.e. sales) titles are getting.

New NYT App Stumbles Out

As I’ve written before, one my most-used apps on my iPad is the New York Times’ Editor’s Choice, despite its flaws. One of the biggest annoyances has been that it would include articles that were nothing more than slideshows (like “The Week in Culture Pictures”), but without the photos — how did something like this happen, considering it’s supposed to be a selection of articles, and not an automatic update of everything from the website?

So a few days ago the app morphed into a more complete version of the newspaper, including all sections, articles, videos, and photos. This is great, and I’m happy to have access to everything now, but why are we still getting articles like the one pictured above? To be fair, the slideshow is in fact in the app, but you have to access it separately from the “Photos” section.

The new app’s release also comes with a warning that it will remain free only until early 2011 — whether this means that the app will be sold or that a subscription for content will be required is unclear.

In terms of interface, it’s still similar to what we had before, except that accessing sections is now done from a pop-up window, and some articles now lead with a photo that takes up the entire width of the page — there’s also a “Section” navigation box that pops up at the bottom when you touch the screen once within an article (see above). The’ve also taken a cue from the web, and when you read an article, it then appears in a lighter color on the section’s page, to indicate it was read.

The biggest annoyance though is that it has been crashing a lot for me, and this even after a restart of my iPad. And when it crashes, re-opening it brings you to the “Top News” section, so you have to navigate back to where you were. It also feels like there’s a bit of a delay when you swipe through pages (within sections).

Tron Light Cyle in Ikebukuro West Gate Park

Patrick Macias — editor-in-chief of Otaku USA magazine, among MANY other things — has been in town for the past couple weeks, and he dropped by my neck of the woods the other day for a bit of Ikebukuro flavor. I wanted to start with some tonkatsu spaghetti at Nobu but it was unfortunately closed, so we ended up getting tonkotsu ramen at Ippudo. That done, it was time for a few beers out on the street, and since Patrick requested a good place for people watching, we of course had to go and hang out at Ikebukuro West Gate Park.

If you’re not familiar with Ikebukuro — which you shouldn’t really be — in past decades it has had a reputation as one of the “rougher” parts of town, and although that has changed a lot in the past decade, the west side of the station remains the more, ahem, raw part of town. So hanging out at the park — a park with barely any trees mind you — we were treated to a lively show, including the Tron light cycle dude you can barely see in this video, shot with my iPhone 4.

As I was tweeting that night, the guy was amazing, making rounds around the park, occasionally stopping to “service” his blue-lit bike, walking around with quite the swagger. Also, he was wearing a full-body workman’s uniform, and his facial expressions as he rode close to us were priceless. Oh, an the lights, they automatically light up as he starts going, powered by motion. Here’s hoping he’s there again the next time I’m in the area.

Interview on J-WAVE

I was interviewed the other day for a short program on the Tokyo radio station J-WAVE about some of the things I love about Tokyo. Since it will be edited I’m not sure what will come through, but I did get to mention my meal of choice, tonkatsu spaghetti (that you can get at Nobu, a cozy little pasta joint in Ikebukuro).

It will air this coming Thursday (October 21) from 15:35 to 15:45 Tokyo time, and you’ll be able to listen to it online from the J-WAVE website (or at 81.3 on the FM dial).

Update: The date has been changed, and it will instead air tomorrow (Monday, October 18), but at the same time (15:35-15:45). The show is called RENDEZVOUS, and the segment is called “Foreigner’s Perspectives on Tokyo.”

Another Portrait/Landscape Mistake

Wired isn’t the only magazine that needs to be more careful about text that refers to images in a dual mode reading environment. I rather like Entertainment Weekly‘s The Must List app for iPad, and check out their 10 picks every week — I like how you can watch trailers and sample tracks from within the app. But today I spotted another lazy mistake, as the text above refers to a photo on the left, which only works when reading in landscape. Unlike Wired, this is not a case of using text destined for print, so it’s really a matter of having designed for one orientation, and forgetting about the other.

Portrait Is Winning Over Landscape

At least according to a survey done by Condé Nast on what the preferred reading position is on iPad. From Folio (via Magtastic Blogsplosion):

Condé Nast also noted that users preferred to read the magazines in portrait mode, but to watch video in landscape.

Not that this is particularly surprising — when interacting with a digital magazine, it’s natural to read it like you would in print — but this just gives more publishers an excuse to forego support for dual modes. And something else to come out of the survey (and something I keep harping about):

Not surprising, the publisher said there also was an expectation among users for flexibility in buying options, including a single copy purchase, a digital subscription or supplement to their print subscription.

I know that the lack of progression on this point is really due to Apple, but let’s hope that something happens sooner than later, because now’s the time to hook a lot of readers — from an already generous pool of 8 million iPad owners — who are excited about all these new digital publications, but are maybe turned off by the high prices.

Esquire on iPad

The latest big title launch on iPad is Esquire, with its October issue getting an iTunes App Store release just a few days ago. Although Esquire has had an iPhone version for a while now with fluctuating prices (older issues are currently being sold for $2), the first iPad version is priced at $5, although it appears that nothing is set in stone yet.

It’s currently a single app download with no in-app store, but we’ve already seen a lot of first issues come out this way, and so there’s a very good chance that from next month the app will be updated to include a store component.

The first thing you should do is go here and watch the video the publisher has put together, which showcases what to expect from the magazine. Overall, I’ll say that it’s not a bad first foray in the world of digital magazines on iPad, but it’s far from perfect. Let me also start by noting that this is one of the first major titles to stick with one layout mode only, in this case portrait — switching your iPad to landscape mode will not rotate the page. Leslie over at MagCulture had been suggesting that this would happen soon, but I didn’t think it would happen this fast. Let’s see how long it takes for others to follow suit.

One of the magazine’s strengths is the way it deals with video, especially how it gets incorporated within the pages. Opening the app, you are first greeted by the screen-filling head of actor Javier Bardem (above, in color), the feature for the issue. It may sound hokey, but it comes off looking rather nice, and it’s one of the first times — as far as I remember — that I see the use of full-screen video in portrait mode. The same technique is also used within the feature itself, this time with a black & white Bardem reciting a poem in Spanish (above) — it’s a great addition to the article, and manages to bring me closer to the subject.

Another great example of video use is pictured below, for the issue’s “2010 Esquire Car Awards” feature. Unlike most times I experience video in a magazine on iPad — where you are clearly greeted by a video box — the intro video in the article is framed as if it was just another image, but gives a nice bit of motion to the intro page, especially fitting since we’re dealing with cars.

In terms of layout, the opening section of the magazine — the “Man at His Best” bits — follows a very blog-like structure (a constant sidebar on the left lets you navigate to the different sections), but the designers have managed to dress it up in a way that doesn’t feel too web-like, with an aesthetic similar to what you get in the print edition. When it comes to the “articles” though, some issues crop up.

The first thing to note is that all of the text in the magazine is in fact selectable, but that’s all you can do. No matter how many times I tried, I was unable to get the “copy” option to pop up, and so I don’t understand what the point of HTML-ing the text is, if there’s absolutely nothing you can do with it. Even stranger, the app includes a survey — I filled it out because you run a chance of getting a 6-issue subscription — and it mentions sharing features, but there are none to be found. Something that is planned but wasn’t ready in time for the launch of this issue?

But the biggest issue I have with the text is that although it uses vertical page flipping instead of scrolling — something I generally prefer, as it’s done in Wired — the page cuts have not been clearly indicated, and so you end up with a lot of unreadable sentences that are cut in half (see below). Sure, you can hold your finger on the screen to gently move the page up or down to read it, but this is not very elegant, and these awkward cuts are found throughout — and as you see in the example below, they cut images as well.

Other than that, you get a lot of interactive features like we’re used to seeing in Wired, like the fashion page below that lets you rotate the model, with his jacket (and accompanying description) changing on the fly. One problem I encountered a few times on these pages was lag when you started touching — other pages also took some time to load, so this is not limited to the interactive features.

But the most annoying part of the magazine is how they’ve decided to handle ads. Unlike other magazines that include regular ad pages throughout, this issue of Esquire is entirely sponsored by Lexus. Now there’s nothing wrong with a magazine having just one sponsor, but it’s the execution that is annoying. Instead of being placed at regular intervals, it randomly pops up while you’re reading. And not only is it the same ad every time, but it’s an interactive ad (you’re supposed to zoom in with your fingers to see a video of a car in action) and it often takes a bit of time to load (or rather, to exit the page).

Another thing that I found slightly annoying was that I never had a good sense of where I was inside the magazine. The only table of contents that you can access opens up at the bottom of the screen, and there’s absolutely no indication of where you are in relation to the rest of the magazine.

Despite all these criticisms, it’s still an interesting first try, and from the editor’s intro, it does seem like they are looking to take in feedback and improve things for upcoming issues. Pricing is also a big problem — I’m certainly never going to buy another issue at $5 — but it does sound like they are going to be experimenting with that, just as they have with their iPhone app.

So Flipboard is a Magazine After All

The following video shows off a proof of concept for an upcoming web-based digital hip-hop magazine formatted for iPad called Hoodgrown Digital — notice anything familiar? It’s rather shocking how clearly they have ripped off Flipboard for the main interface, right down to the exact placement of selections. Even worse, this is being sold as a new platform, called Tablazines. Via @twitsplosion