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Mac Planet: Magazine genealogy

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Good digital magazines should have extra content, animations, video and intriguing interface devices all adding to the reading pleasure. Photo / Thinkstock
Good digital magazines should have extra content, animations, video and intriguing interface devices all adding to the reading pleasure. Photo / Thinkstock

Once Apple was the hero of the print world when it was a major player in the so-called Desktop Publishing Revolution. This was due to Apple's launch of the first affordable laser printer in 1985, a year after the launch of the Macintosh personal computer. Teamed with Aldus Corporation's PageMaker software (eventually absorbed by Adobe), the desktop publishing revolution was launched. Small businesses and print shops could produce professional-looking brochures, pamphlets and letters without having to resort to the expensive, established lithographic processes.

I used to work in this industry, and got into desktop publishing as soon as I could. It had been astronomically expensive to get anything produced previously; with DTP, almost anyone could launch a periodical. And very many did. Whole magazine empires were founded.

The graphic arts and publishing industries quickly became the Mac's single most important market, and this graphics and publishing legacy remains strong.

But while Apple was part of a wave of print startups which even impacted the publishing industry as far away as New Zealand, the future of that print industry is now itself under threat partly thanks to another series of Apple innovations: the iPad, first and foremost, plus the competing tablets it gave rise to, some of which are dedicated to reading like the Kindle and Nook. Apple has also been at the forefront of digital delivery - manuals are long gone, and content in many other forms arrives digitally as well - music, movies, podcasts, lectures and, increasingly, newspapers and magazines.

Even text books, one of the most expensive items on school and university budgets, can now be liberated from cumbersome and expensive delivery. iBookstore, one of Apple's delivery services, has been active in this field, too.

Of course, you could argue that a suite of laptops or tablets you have to update every three years is equal in cost. I haven't done the arithmetic.

Further, high-definition screens on PCs make reading ever easier; the MacBook Pro with Retina Display appears to be just the first of a series of new Macs that pack in so many tiny pixels, on-screen text looks crisper and sharper than ever.

I could possibly make a case here for saving resources in paper and road/rail/air delivery and the fuels and resources those require, not to mention warehousing space. But while trees may breathe a sigh of relief, I imagine the resources that tablets require could equal or outweigh this, but I don't have the data to make a call.

People will constantly tell you that nothing beats reading a real magazine, and that's true. I agree. Yet even ten years ago I remember realising I read almost nothing that wasn't on my display. I simply didn't have the time, it was more affordable, I tended to be sat in front of my Mac anyway and I loved the search capabilities, not to mention colour pictures that can be expanded.

Another advantage is geography - or rather, I should say, geography is no longer a disadvantage. Before, we used to have to go and buy our favourite overseas magazines at least a week after they were released in their own countries and pay a premium for the privilege. Now, we (and anyone anywhere, with internet) can either read the content online or, better, subscribe to a digital edition to read on your tablet reader of choice.
Good digital magazines go well beyond electronic versions of traditional flip-books. They may have extra content, animations, video and intriguing interface devices all adding to the reading pleasure.

Hopefully you are already aware of the free NZ Herald app, which does a great job of delivering the newspaper to iPad in a very easy-to-use and rich format. This was created with the Herald by Carnival Labs, one of New Zealand's flagship iOS developers.

Wired, the definitive guide to the high tech industries and society, is an excellent example of innovation used to repackage content for non-paper delivery. With the version for iOS, it starts from the cover, which can change quite dramatically when you simply change the orientation of your iPad. The only complaint might be that it can be a bit data-heavy.

TRVL is a wonderful free travel magazine I've mentioned before - it uses beautifully-shot pictures to convey the nature and character of different places around the world. This is available through iBookstore on iDevices.

Many mainstream magazines have been available for a while, like Cosmopolitan. The confusing aspect is how it's delivered - magazines can be editioned and available via the iBookstore, or as standalone apps in which all the interface features are wrapped with the content, or anyway as an interface shell app into which the latest issue loads should you want it.

A magazine I really like is Inside History. Already wowed by the paper version of the specialist Australia-New Zealand genealogy magazine, I volunteered (yes, I do mean unpaid) a few articles on apps and devices that further the practise of finding personal genealogy and history for Australasians in the modern world.

Last year the Sydney-based magazine released an equally handsome digital version created via Oomph Digital Publishing, which makes it much easier to deliver the two-monthly magazine to its readers in New Zealand (and anywhere else). The iPad mag has extra features that simply can't work in print - for example, a recent issue had a feature on readers' World War II memories. Inside History obtained audio recordings from some of the men who had fought and what their experiences were: iPad subscribers were able to tap the screen to hear these audio files. That kind of thing is magic.

The Inside History app is free; you pay to load each issue into it, and apart from offering a different and inviting experience to the publication, subscribing to the iOS version means a 36 per cent reduction in the normal printed version subscription cost.

Editor Cassie Mercer notes that people are currently engaging with history, their history and their family in ways that haven't been possible before. The digitisation of historical records and images represents a huge amount of data that people can tap into whereas two decades ago it was only available through an often distant and dusty card index. She believes the general interest in history has risen, and mentions popular TV shows like Downton Abbey and Mad Men: "Both are historical. It's all about how you tell it and how you engage the audience."

With an iPad, a genealogy enthusiast has a communications tool that's extremely portable while remaining eminently readable. An iPad can access those online resources, be used to photograph 'finds', take notes and supports apps that manage family trees, like Mobile Family Tree Pro.

Inside History's publisher has made an issue available online for you to check out gratis. It's Issue 8 from January-Februray 2012.

There's a 'how to subscribe' guide for IH for iPad online too, which describes the process.

(I hope you'll excuse my connections to Inside History as an unpaid contributor, but I was impressed with the app despite that, and got good responses to my questions on the transition to digital from Ben and Cassie Mercer that I hope will be informative for you.)

Since so many people now have tablets, I am keen to hear - what do you recommend - and what do you read your digital magazines on?

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