Every year when the calendar makes the big flip end of year lists fill the last two weeks of the month. One trend I'm noticing is that people love their iPads, but not their iPad apps. And people really hate iTunes. I was trying to help my mom sync her new iPad using iChat screen sharing the other day and it was near impossible. Does Apple care about the first time user experience any more? Behind every click is another terms of service and ping and upsell. That's a whole other post. The point of this one is that I remember when people loved iTunes, and I'd like to know what was lost or changed.
Here's the "extended" iTunes commercial Rip. Mix. Burn from 2001:
Hello, TypePad contributor Jake Dobkin suggests that the campaign should have been called "Buy. Rearrange. Listen," and there is something pretty creepy about the way Liz Phair flirts and 'Lil Kim and Ziggy Marley cede the culture of the stage to the lone figure in the audience. But I still think "Rip. Mix. Burn." was a useful, and even inspirational, shorthand for the promise of the internet. Jake observed this morning that the reason iPad users don't like magazine apps is because they have to download whole issues of magazines - not just the articles (and interactions) they want. Some of the sexier iPad apps have undone what blogging did to make the internet more interesting and fun!
My guess is that the producers of these iPad apps are just as frustrated as most iPad users - making an app is still way too hard, whether you are using the Adobe production product, working with the world's best Jquery hacker, or have studied the (really strong, but that's another post!) underpinnings of Objective-C for twelve years.
I do have some favorite iPad apps, and many of them fit with Apple's old rip, mix, burn model.
- Instapaper - Probably the most loved app among my friends. The basic idea has remained unchanged for years, but Marco keeps smoothing out the details and improving the basic interactions, while slowly introducing new features. You select the articles you want to read from the whole of the internet and read them when you want to. I wish it were easier for me to read my friend's Instapapers (or small, curated collections of related content), but for that we have leapf.org
- Leapf - is the best "meta"-dashboard out there right now. Leapf's proprietor Mark wrote (somewhere) that Leapf was about the moon, not the finger, and it really works. Rather than simply aggregate and collapse links and images pulled out of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, TypePad, etc., leapf figures out what people are linking to and collapses the feedback into one stream. It does more too, but it's relevant here because it's the best reading experience if you want to "cross the streams." The Twitter app is related and has some very similar ideas, but it still feels like a little bit of a mess to me.
- Reeder - I've been using my Google Reader subscriptions to power my reblog for years, so I watch movement in the Google Reader client space pretty obsessively. It's easy to read news, easy to share & star news, and easy to email news to myself and others. It's the least sexy of the above apps, but it's probably my most indispensable.
- Gourmet Live - This is basically a blog turned inside-out into an application (or as Anil called it, a massively multiplayer magazine). In addition to great content, Gourmet smartly rewards you for favoriting and sharing articles by letting you keep them for free, where other archives cost money. This is the best iPad app to be born from a magazine brand, and they've got a real business model behind it. They also managed to help Condé Nast think and work like a start-up. Impressive!
Some (perhaps) notable omissions:
- Flipboard, Apple's app of the year, has a lot of the elements I discussed above, but it's not quite there yet. The interface still feels too cluttered to me. I also don't want 5, 10, or more new streams to read. I'd like my sources merging, not splitting, wherever possible. And I like the new Google Reader support, but I still prefer Reeder.
- Zinio, or Wired/New Yorker Adobe-style apps. I feel like these are just versions of the magazine that are harder to read, share, clip, browse and bookmark. You can't tell me anyone in their right mind prefers the iPad version of these books to their print counterparts. Both Wired & The New Yorker have exceptional web sites - but I prefer to read them through Instapaper when I am away from my desk and the print versions. I'd like it if they took a page from the Comixology apps (which power the DC & Marvel apps). Comixology offers a more unique reading experience - I'm not a comics or graphic novels person, but I feel like these apps guide my reading and help me understand the comics better.
- Project Magazine - I have no idea what this is like since every time I start downloading the first issue I give up. It's 388 MB!
- The Big Picture - A beautiful rendering of one of my favorite blogs. But every iPad comes with Safari, and the original version is still the best.
- YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu - Today, these are three different ways to watch Friday Night Lights. But they all allow you to collect your own favorites into a queue or playlist, much more easily than iTunes does on the iPad.
Over email, Jake observed that the apps I like are all readers that let me read what I want and get out of the way. Anil noted that none of these apps are actually taking on the entire "rip, mix, burn" cycle. What I am looking for is really the "iTunes of news, when iTunes was good." Instapaper makes it easy to "rip" articles out of magazines; Gourmet Live, Leapf & Reeder let me "mix" the news I like; and Google lets me "burn" it (in a rudimentary way) to my reblog. Gourmet (which Anil worked on) has it's own cycle, but it's a closed loop. I can't make my own issue of Gourmet Live, which is OK. I am happy to read the one they are putting together, as long as it doesn't keep me from making my own.