Magazine publishers are at great pains these days to please Apple (AAPL), whose fast-selling tablet computer, the iPad, just may be the key to their future survival. But following all the persnickety dictates handed down by Steve Jobs isn't always easy.
Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated was one of the first magazines to rush out with an iPad app that both replicates and enhances the experience of reading the printed product. After three months, SI's editors have decided there's no need to allow readers to view the pages in both landscape (horizontal) and portrait mode (vertical). The newest version of the app offers only the landscape view. "I've come to believe that, for now, and for photo-driven magazines like SI, the horizontal view is the optimal experience," wrote Josh Quittner, who oversees app development for Time Warner's (TWX) Time Inc., wrote by way of explanation.
One problem: Apple sees it differently. In its iPad Human Interface Guidelines, the company specifically warns developers against making applications that only operate in one orientation. "People expect to use your application in whatever orientation they're currently holding their iPad, and it's best if you can fulfill that expectation," state the guidelines. In those rare instances where it's impossible to enable both views, Apple asks users to "avoid displaying a [User Interface] element that tells people to rotate the device" -- another edict Sports Illustrated ignores.
Asked about the failure to comply, Quittner says, "All these recommendations were made before anyone actually used the device. And after having used it for a while we think we're able to provide a really good user experience in horizontal mode." Noting that many video game apps play only in one orientation, he says there's been no negative feedback on the change, either from customers or from Apple.
Indeed, the tweak helps to ameliorate one of the frequent complaints users have about magazine apps -- that they download too slowly -- and it also reduces the burden on SI's design staff. Still, as Time Inc., like other publishers, wrangles with Apple over when and how they'll be allowed to sell subscriptions to their iPad editions, you'd think they'd be taking all precautions to avoid annoying the legendary control freak who controls their destinies.
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