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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Premier Guitar iPhone App Strikes a Different Chord

Among the torrent of magazine branded mobile apps in recent months it is hard to find new ideas. But just when you are about to yawn at the next me-too mag app, something a bit different actually comes to the fore. Guitar enthusiast book Premier Guitar has worked with digital magazine creator Texterity to make a novel hybrid of magazine facsimile and mobile Web site. The free, ad-supported app shows its two faces at the main menu, which has a carousel of covers for the October 2009 – March 2010 issues sitting atop a scroll of the latest news, reviews and videos from the Web site. The user can browse or search the print archive or dip into the latest content dynamically served from the brand.

In the magazine view, the issues are reproduced page for page, but thumbnails on a bottom rail let you navigate quickly to a page. The reader can use the typical multitouch tap, pinch and spread gestures to zoom and move the page or use the handy pop-up menu that can highlight any hot links on a given page or let you scroll through the issue’s Table of Contents to get a more mobile friendly version of any article. There is also a cross-issue and single issue search function for finding that content you vaguely recall from a previous month.

The more dynamic news, review and video content is piled into a standard scroll that uses tabs to toggle among the major content types. You can also comment on articles directly in the app itself. The articles are nicely formatted for the iPhone screen, with an oversized image introducing the prose and hot links to Web sites mentioned in the review. Some of the reviews have downloadable audio that demonstrate the product. The Premier Guitar app politely keeps you in its own embedded browser to show these landing pages. Alas, it did not perform as politely with the banner ad for music vendor Jammit. That ad kicked us out of the app and into the Safari browser, albeit after asking permission.

The video trove is surprisingly deep and helpful. Many of the video are how-to's and demos of popular products.

Having been developed by digital magazine maker Texterity, Premier Guitar demonstrates a platform approach to mobile apps. Like the digital magazine format that preceded it, the app puts a premium on the archiving value of digitizing the print media. It gives the user access to a library, not just an issue or the latest feed of online content. In full, the app works well as a kind of resource that maps well for an enthusiast book like Premier Guitar. These are the sorts of magazines that hobbyists keep as reference. This app makes that experience portable in a way that could be genuinely useful to the musician in the music store or on the road.

There are glitches to be sure. The app failed several times to download some material, and generally the format depends on downloading magazine issue data as needed, so there can be some lag. Like most platforms that are designed for multiple partners, this mobile digital magazine model does not have some of the branding panache of Esquire or GQ’s custom-built iPhone solutions. Nevertheless, this is a different approach to the art of mobilizing the magazine experience that blends real-time and print in a way that is less dazzling than it is workmanlike, serviceable and usable.

The app also demonstrates how some of the design and digitization disciplines introduced over the years by digital magazine platforms can be put to good use on the emerging smart phone and tablet devices. Texterity uses a platform for portable devices that does not depend on the Flash technology that continues to be incompatible with both the iPhone and iPad environments. It plans to extend this approach to a range of mobile devices.

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