The usability of magazine applications for tablets is being analysed
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT Magazines are no longer found only at the kiosk. In common with the remainder of the press, this sector has adapted to new technologies and has sought formulae to reach the reader on mobile devices such as digital tablets. There is however no single solution for achieving this and each editor still continues to search for the most appropriate formula through research and innovation.
“Versions for tablets are not PDF readers or even enriched PDF readers with links, videos, and interactivity like some newspapers; they are applications specifically designed to access the magazine contents, which may be the same as those of the edition on paper or may be different”, DiCYT was told by Juan Ramón Martín, a design expert from the Faculty of Communication of the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca (UPSA) and the director of the Master's Degree in Graphic Design and Interface for new devices.
In this adaptation one of the aspects causing most concern is usability, i.e. how easy it is to use the product, in this case an application that aims to show contents that the reader is used to seeing physically on paper. “When you buy a magazine or a newspaper you know the volume of what you are buying, but this cannot be appreciated in a digital product and this is a problem for readers”, the researchers have found in the various years that they have been studying this line of research in depth.
The Territorio e-book project, which was developed by the Faculty of Communication together with the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation, revealed the unease of elderly users when they are unsure of the volume of the book they are reading. Since then “the various e-book brands have developed certain strategies such as indicating the number of hours that remain to finish a book depending on each person's reading speed or percentage bars of what he/she has read”, comments Juan Ramón Martín, but “it is never the same as seeing a book's volume, its pages, and its print to decide if I will have time to read it during the holidays”.
In magazines for tablets the same problem arises: “you are paying for leisure time and need to have an idea of how much it will be”. From the point of view of contents the product is not very different from what it was traditionally. It is not a case of a dynamic website as the user downloads each number of the magazine and the latter is no longer modified. The reader should have the right to get an idea of what he/she is buying in the same way as when he/she goes to the kiosk and glances through a magazine.
Perception of contents
With this idea the researchers decided to study readers' perceptions of magazines on tablets. In order to carry out their experiments they chose Telva, a fashion magazine that publishes the same contents in the digital device as on paper and develops its own application. The participants were able to read the two versions for an hour before answering a series of questions that gave very significant results: “More than half of them thought that the tablet and the magazine on paper did not contain the same information”, the researcher emphasises.
The study was carried out with the collaboration of Pilar García Battaglia, a former student of journalism, and included a sample of 39 people, an apparently small number that however was much larger than usual samples in research on usability. For this reason, the results are sufficient to analyse this aspect, and indeed strengthen the hypothesis that it is problematical to adapt the magazine concept to a digital medium.
Challenges yet to be resolved
“From the point of view of the interface the matter has yet to be resolved”, Juan Ramón Martín points out. “In the future we want to find out what is the best strategy, and so we want to analyse the differences between the standards that are being applied and see whether any of them have advantages from a user viewpoint, as sometimes the design corresponds more to the needs of the editor and the writing is more orientated towards the product on paper”, he adds.
These problems are related to the lack of definition of a business model for the media, especially in its adaptation to the digital world. “Perhaps they would have fewer problems if they had inverted more in R+D+I”, the UPSA lecturer points out: “there is not really a research culture in this sector except in market matters”.