Happy Hour


Outside of animation, I’ve really fallen off the wagon when it comes to watching Japanese films. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t make the effort to find interesting things anymore, or if it’s that there are just less interesting films coming out, but that’s where I found myself. I’m happy though that my friend Hiroko Tabuchi (New York Times reporter extraordinaire) pointed out a film she just watched and enjoyed, in the form of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour. At over 5 hours long, it doesn’t sound like something that’s easy to take in, but reading Richard Brody’s review for the New Yorker really makes it feel like something special. I hope I’ll get to watch it sometime.


PechaKucha Night in Tokyo Vol. 80

Hey, tomorrow night (Wednesday, February 23) not only marks the momentous Vol. 80 for PechaKucha Night, but this week (and February 20 specifically) also marks PechaKucha’s 8th anniversary. The evening’s presenters will also feature a few friends, including the New York Times‘ Hiroko Tabuchi, Tokyo-based artist Rob Judges, and Edward Harrison (Idle Idol, Fuzz & Fur). Come one, come all, it all happens at SuperDeluxe, with presentations start from 20:20.


The Washington Post on iPad

A few days ago, The Washington Post released an iPad app that gives you access to all of the paper’s content. Like the New York Times app, it’s free for now (as long as you register), but while the NYT hasn’t come out and said exactly when it will start charging, the Washington Post free trial ends in early February.

It’s interesting to see how the Washington Post has approached doing a newspaper app. Instead of the NYT‘s pop-up window to access sections — the only way you can do so — and then page flips to browse through articles excerpts within those sections, the Post goes the scrolling route. Each section is laid out like the front page of a newspaper, and you scroll down to see the excerpts — tapping an article also brings you to scrollable text, instead of the NYT‘s pages. I particularly like how you just swipe to the side to go from section to section — it’s a much easier way to quickly move through them.

As with the NYT app, one of the star features is how it deals with multimedia content, and here it again does the NYT one better by combining all photos and videos on one page, all laid out to see (above) — there’s a lot of flipping involved in going through galleries and videos in the NYT app. It’s kinda funny how one of the iPad’s first great apps, The Guardian Eyewitness, now comes off as quite sad these days, with its measly one photo a day content update.

Another feature I like is that it has a “Read Later” button that lets you save articles for reading at a later time — unlike the NYT that keeps articles in sections for a couple of days (even a week sometimes), with the Washington Post you access that day’s paper.


NYT iPad App Still Screwing Up Image Galleries

Why does the New York Times iPad app still do the thing you see pictured above, which is having an article that is supposed to be pretty much just a slideshow that shows up in another section, but with no slideshow or link to it. It always annoyed me with the Editor’s Choice version of the app, and there’s no reason that this should still happen, since I’ve seen articles in various sections that include a link to a proper slideshow.

If I keep bringing up errors in the NYT app it’s because I actually really enjoy the content, and it’s part of my daily routine to read the news on it, and I just want it to be a better app and not do stupid things anymore.


NYT App Image Fail

The dangers of automating layouts and content, as exemplified this morning by this front page in the “World” section of the New York Times app for iPad.

Magazines Photography Technology

LIFE for iPad

If you’re a fan of The Guardian Eyewitness app or event the “Photo” section of the NYT app, then you’ll probably find a lot to like from the new LIFE app for iPad. Available as a free download, it’s basically an interface to LIFE magazine’s amazing photo archives.

There are a few different ways to explore the collections, starting from an “Explorer” page that lets you dig in geographically, and then a few themed sections.

It’s not perfect though, and the biggest annoyance is the ad for LIFE services (pictured above) that pops up every few photos — it’s especially annoying because when it comes it actually moves the regular interface elements away, which makes for a jarring transition. There’s also a slight load time for every single photo you view, so it seems that they should have paid a bit more attention at keeping file sizes manageable.

But hey, it’s a free app, and there’s more to like here than to not like, so well worth a download.


The Times App

After my post the other day about the new NYT app, someone suggested I check out the one for The Times of London, since there’s a 30-day free trial — The Times app has been a very well known early proponent of not offering its content in app form (or web form) for free.

The first thing I encountered on the very first page was confusion caused by a non-linked item. It’s the page pictured above, and if you touch any of the news items you will go directly to the full article inside the issue, but for some reason that great big photo of Keith Richards, and even the headline below, doesn’t lead to anything. Yes, there is plenty of Richards-related content inside, but why not link to it? I spent some time trying to touch, double touch, and swipe away, as I couldn’t believe it was just a static item.

It’s nothing important, but I did like the way the large Times logo on the front page transitions into a smaller version as you swipe the page (I tried to capture the animation, and you can sort of see it in the image above, as it gets smaller). It’s just a nice little touch.

I did have a problem with the tight justified columns though — as you can see below, it makes for very ugly lines of text. I know we’re used to seeing this in a proper newspaper, but it doesn’t really work when you view it on a screen surface.

The biggest difference between The Times app and what the NYT app does is in terms of the way you work your way through the issue. While the NYT app simply adds new articles in each section, and they are then presented in summary form in a grid that usually includes between 5-9 pieces, here you not only download that day’s paper, you also have to swipe through every page, every section one after the other.

Sure, you can jump to different sections by accessing an index (pictured below), but since you are often just limited to a header and photo, it’s hard to tell if you really want to dig in. I do like scanning through a lot of news articles, and so the NYT format suits me best — there’s no way I’d want to have to flip through every article of the NYT. The fact that pretty much every single article in The Times leads with a large half-page (or more) photo does make it less painful, but still.

The other thing is that, with all the fuss that surrounded the launch of the app and the promise that it’s specifically formatted for iPad, I was expecting less of a template design and more creativity in layouts. But no, the vast majority of an issue follows the same look (you’ve seen pretty much all available layouts in the images included in this post). The only exception I found was for a feature at the end of the issue I downloaded that covered “Autumn Walks.” Pictured below, it does look rather nice, and I wish they would do more layouts like this.

Also part of the feature, they had great descriptions of routes to follow, and it’s only by flipping to landscape mode that you could see a beautiful photo from that walk (as seen below).

But in the end, if I don’t stick with The Times it’s not because of what I mentioned above or even the subscription price, but rather that it’s just too UK-centric for me in terms of its coverage.


NYT App Knows Its Photos and Videos

I may have had some complaints about the new NYT app for iPad, but one thing I do love is the new photo section, which apes the video section of the previous app. It’s similar to what you get on the excellent Guardian Eyewitness app, but here you get a ton of new great photos on a daily basis — the Guardian app only adds one photo daily. It’s a joy to flip through the photo selections — sometimes part of a “Pictures of the Day” collection, sometimes themed for an article — and you can go full screen with them if you view in landscape mode (I prefer keeping it in portrait because I like to read the captions).

Sometimes, a photo really does tell the whole story, like the example above. The caption reads: “Members of the European Parliament attended a debate on the working conditions of women in Strasbourg, France.”

And the video section from the old app is back, with no changes, and that’s fine by me. My favorite recurring segments are A.O. Scott’s weekly “Critics’ Picks,” in which he reviews a classic film, and the occasional “Screen Test” segment, in which an actor talks directly to the camera about various topics, in this case (above) the lovely Margareth Made who talks about taking on the role of Sophia Lauren in a recent biopic.

I will say that the app still crashes on me at least once every time I use it, and more often then not it’s when I’m in the photo section.


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).

Magazines Technology

Books Are Not Magazines, and Vice Versa

Craig Mod recently posted a new essay in relation to digital publishing — the throat swallowing titled “The ereader incompetence checklist (for discerning consumers, editors, publishers and designers” — and as with everything else he’s written of late, it’s a must read for anyone with even a passing interest in the topic.

BUT, I do have to say that I’m starting to disagree with some of his stances, and mostly because I feel that he continues to treat the digital treatment of books and magazines in a similar manner, while these are in fact quite different mediums, and the way we interact with them is quite different as well.

The biggest issue I have with his views on magazines is that he prioritizes readability over any thoughts of design, and that’s just not how I experience most of the magazines I love. For me, the beauty of the magazine medium is in its marriage of text and images, and the ways that art directors manage to combine these in an appealing presentation. Text alone or images alone do not make a magazine (although I’ll readily admit that there are some magazines, like The New Yorker, where it’s really just about the text).

While we were out for drinks the other night — in commemoration of his leaving Tokyo for more “digitally charged” pastures — he mentioned how his favorite magazine experience on the iPad is through Instapaper, and I think that says it all. Don’t get me wrong, Instapaper is not only of my favorite apps (on both iPhone and iPad), it’s also one of the apps I access the most, and it’s because of it that I was able to get back into reading long-form journalism (something I’ve never felt comfortable doing over the web). But a great magazine experience? There’s no magazine experience there at all, it’s just a better way of reading an article, independently of any design touch.

For me, same goes for Flipboard, the “Social Magazine.” While yes, it does offer a more pleasing (compared to the web) and magazine-y way to read collections of articles, the fact that it’s automatized means you quickly tire of the layout. I think “Social Newspaper” would be a better way to describe it, since most of the time (and emphasis on the “most,” since there are definite exceptions out there) layouts in newspapers tend to be conservative and relatively standard. It’s why I love the New York Times iPad app, and wouldn’t really want it to change (although I’m quite tired of the inclusion of image heavy/slideshow photo rounds-ups, with the images missing).

So going back to Craig’s piece, I’m of course all for a greater level of accessibility in digital texts, but when it comes to magazines, not at the price of losing any though of layout that doesn’t simply copy a web-like approach (long flows of text).

Update: The discussion continues — with a response from Craig — in this post.