Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reading on the iPad Part 5: outsourcing to qmags works well!

I belong to a couple professional societies, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).  This section describes the good experience I had with the IEEE's outsourced publication, IEEE Spectrum, and my experience with the ACM publication, and why I advocate it switch to the IEEE's approach of outsourcing to a third party


The IEEE has been exploring a couple different approaches to online viewing. It offers a tremendous number of publications via the web, and has invested heavily in their Xplore digital library. The primary interface for these publications is article search or a table of contents web page containing links to the articles in various formats including PDF and HTML.

For the narrow-cast publications within the various IEEE societies, I think this makes sense. My subscriptions are to Spectrum, the IEEE publication for more general audiences, and Computer the general-audience-directed publication of the IEEE Computer Society. My reading of these two magazines doesn't work with the "dispatch from table of contents" model.

Happily, the IEEE offers selected publications with an iPad app with a "flip all the pages" interface through a third party, Each publication comes as a separate app that offers a bookshelf of the available issues and an interface similar to what I found for The Economist and Wired. By my evaluation criteria, it ranks quite high:
  • It is a "turn all the pages" interface.
  • The table of contents is a sensible refinement of that from the print edition.
  • The pages render quickly and are almost always visible and in focus immediately.
  • The interface is sensible and obvious with a small bar at the top with controls and navigation aids.
The app seems to be a generic viewer that displays a bit-for-bit rendering of the actual magazine page images. This means that sometimes there is a brief delay as the page is scaled and rendered. In practice this doesn't happen too often. It's actually kind of fun getting my fingers and my eyes working together to flip through, zoom in and out, and to read through. I believe this is the way reading on a tablet should be.

The app provides a thumbnail view that allows overview and quick access to distant pages. I think this interface is less clever and actually more intuitive than the scrollbar interface offered by the apps for The Economist and Wired.

One other nice feature of how has the business set up: I get email alerting me to the existence of the new issues. Perhaps that is available for Wired and The Economist, but I haven't figured out how to turn it on.

To my way of thinking, publishers should try out and see if it works for them rather than developing and supporting an application in-house. I'd be interested in trying out The Wall Street Journal with this interface, although I suspect that the page size is too big, and there would be too many zoom in/zoom out operations in the course of reading.

CACM: A candidate for

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), like the IEEE has made a huge investment in their online library. As with the IEEE, the ACM digital library offers article search, and the "dispatch from the table of contents" interface. Additionally, for their general interest publication, Communications of the ACM (CACM), members can log onto the web site, and use the "Digital Edition" link to get to a fast and powerful interface implemented in JavaScript. This interface provides a bit-for-bit rendering of the magazine's page images, enhanced with links, quite similar to the experience of the interface.

For reading CACM on my desktop computer which is always connected at high speed to the Internet, this combination of interfaces works quite well. I can flip pages or I can grab an article at a time. For the iPad, these interfaces are definitely sub-optimal because:
  1. I use the "flip all the pages," not the "dispatch from table of contents" as my primary mode of reading it. (Just as I do with the IEEE's general-audience publications.)
  2. The pages are NEVER on screen and ready to read when I ask for them. Instead, every page turn triggers a page download and time consuming scaling to render. When I go back to a previous page, no cache is kept so the page is again downloaded and rendered.
I have suggested to the ACM Member Services Department that they give serious consideration to adopting for CACM.

This concludes part 5.  On to the next part: Reading on the iPad Part 6: Forbes was a disappointment.

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