The iPad’s Retina Display Spells The End For Bloated Magazine Apps


The iPad's new Retina Display could spell doom for already-bloated magazine apps
The iPad's new Retina Display could spell doom for already-bloated magazine apps

The iPad’s new Retina display is going to look fantastic. Reading text, for instance, is going to be like reading text in a real magazine, only brighter. This is great news for us, the readers, but not so good for the designers and publishers. Why not? Because many iPad magazines use bitmap images to make their pages. At normal resolution, this works out to perhaps 150-300kB per page, according to David Sleight of Stuntbox. When resized for the Retina display, that goes up to 2MB. Per page.

Because these magazine apps use PDFs and JPGs to essentially show you pictures of their pages, they’re already huge. Wired’s iPad app weighs in at up to 500MB per copy. If we apply Sleight’s numbers to this, even assuming that Wired’s pages are already at the top end, it could bloat up to around six or seven times its current size. That puts us squarely into multiple Gigabyte territory: That’s a lot to store on a 64GB device, and don’t even think about the downloads.

Obviously something will have to be done. Sleight suggests either building custom rendering and layout tools, or just using web technologies. HTML5 is perfectly capable of rendering a fancy layout, and while you’ll still have to download the images inside the magazine, at least the whole page isn’t a picture.

This would be great for users, too. Right now it’s impossible to copy or share any text from these digital magazines. Proper text would make this easy. And there are already apps out there doing it. The fantastic Guardian iPad Edition lets you copy, Tweet and even send whole articles to Instapaper. You can probably guess which is the one and only paid subscription in my Newsstand.

  • Tim Lanfair

    Im thinking that apple really needs to get developers some magazine templates in Xcode, I think doing that would help tremendous in the industry, it seems to be that this part of the app store is fragmented.

  • Len Williams

    Wouldn’t this be where iBooks Author would come in handy? The app allows the creation of publications with real layout tools, text and image areas that would significantly reduce the size of magazines that are simply large JPGs of each page of the printed mag. I’ve explored iBooks Author and it looks quite workable as an authoring tool for magazines as well as textbooks. It would be nice to have Adobe add iBooks features to InDesign so that ebooks aren’t a terrible pain to create.

  • jpv41193

     HML5 and CSS3 together would allow for more beautiful and functional apps than what’s currently available. Not to mention it would easily allow excellent applications available on desktops through a web browser. As a publisher, it would be plain stupid to do otherwise.

  • Joram Oudenaarde

    I don’t think websites or ebooks are necessarily going to quadruple in size. Of course they’d look a lot better that way, but downloading a magazine up to 2GB per edition is quite unrealistic. Not so much because of storage issues on the iPad, but downloading 2GB for a magazine will take too much time for what it’s worth (unlike a 2GB movie via iTunes) :)

  • Evan Moore

    Forcing the publishers out of their comfortable PDF box might actually push the magazines closer to their full potential. Count me in.

  • CharliK

    Or how about about something like iBooks Author, but for magazines. 

  • Matt Ankerich

    I have been a subscriber to wired for over a decade. Even though I can download the magazine for free in-app, I still pefer the 70 mb pdf scan.

  • CharliK

    The way that the magazines are currently doing it, they will. Because as Charlie points out  many of the magazines are just stitched together images. Not text etc. Basically they went the quick route and not the right one. So they will either have crazy bloat or have to start over and do it right. 

  • Joram Oudenaarde

    Absolutely true :)

    So their lazyness is going to bite them in the back real hard if they do decide to increase the file size 4-fold. I do think that some will keep their current resolution (and therefore file size), but some will try to do it the right way this time around. I believe not many will actually take the easy route again and simply let the user download ridiculous amounts of data to read a magazine… the ones that do will probably get a second round of “getting bitten in the back” :)

  • DrM47145

    I hate those magazines that claim to be on iPad and the only thing they’ve done is to release a lame PDF viewer.

    It’s the easy way for the mediocre to check that box and claim to be in the game. It degrades user experience, and it makes a gorgeous device totally dumb.

  • DrM47145

    Apple should release an iMagazine Author using the same technology they developed in iBooks Author.

    BTW, I’ve just patented both the idea and the name, so be ready to throw in some cash, Apple… ;-P

  • macgizmo

    They’re simply trying to hold on to old mentality. Images of the text is nothing more than them trying to prevent piracy/sharing. Since most of these print mags use an app like Adobe InDesign to create the print pages, we know they can create nice, clean, easily readable PDFs rather than the stupid images. They can also export these ID pages to be formatted in HTML. They’re just being stubborn.

  • brooklynwry

    Many developers and startups are working very hard to create tools like what’s being described in these comments. This isn’t a new idea. Remember that established print magazines are typically not going to embrace, every month, effectively doubling their production load: First, we make the original magazine (e.g., in InDesign). Then we make the entire magazine, again, in another layout tool (e.g., iBooks). A handful of heavy weights could afford that, because they have in-house software teams, but most could not. Current momentum favors ePub, which, imo, does combine the best of both worlds.

  • Dilbert A

    Insightful Charlie.

  • venasque

    This.  This.  Apple do this. 

    I agree with everyone saying an iBooks Author for magazines seems like a no-brainer.  While I was watching their demo of the new textbooks all I kept thinking was “wow this looks like, but think about the same tools for magazine publishers”. 

  • Stephen Minton

    Charlie, I like the Guardian iPad app too, except that it crashes about 20 times a day and never downloads automatically in the background (and always crashes at least once when I manually initiate the download). I take it you don’t have these problems? Pretty sure I’m not alone, judging by the reviews on iTunes. I decided to cancel my subscription until they update the app (although I might be tempted to try it on the new iPad – maybe it just doesn’t play nice with the iPad 1). 

  • chrisphin

    I completely agree with Charlie that this is a problem.

    Happily, it’s one that Tap! The iPhone and iPad magazine – the magazine I’m the editor of – solved before we released an app edition. I’ve written about it here:

  • pushpender

    ?????? EZiPublishing provide support for IPad magazines, IPad catalogues, Ebook Publishing,Stack Magazine iPad, a complete shop for all sort of publications. ??????