Macworld, and a Broken User Experience

Macworld broke their digital magazine app. They had a good thing, and then, for no obvious reason, they changed it and now it is a lot worse. Why do people always have to mess with the user experience?

Prior to this change, reading Macworld on the iPad was a pleasure. They followed a model that many magazines use, a model which works very well for the medium: swipe left/right to move between articles, swipe up/down to scroll through a single article. In its latest incarnation, the app behaves much more like a traditional magazine. You swipe left/right to turn the page. There is no up/down swiping.

This doesn’t sound that bad, but I’d gotten used to the old model, it worked well for me, and there was no obvious reason to change it. Also, it seemed to me that the font sizes were larger, making a page easier to read for my aging eyes. I suspect the new experience is designed to make the magazine feel more like a print magazine… but why? The font is smaller and harder to read, and there is no obvious way of enlarging it, other than zooming in on the page, which is an annoying extra step.

The Scientific American app works the way Macworld used to work. You swipe left/right to move between articles, and up/down to scroll through the article. In that app, you can set the size of the font, so that scrolling through the article is easier to read. This is also the way the New York Times app works.

I’ve noticed that electronic version of magazines divide their user experience into one of two categories:

  1. Swipe-and-scroll, like Scientific American and New York Times.
  2. Magazine emulation, where the app is essentially a PDF of the print magazine. Down East magazine, and Smithsonian magazine behave like this. And now, so does Macworld.

There are UI/UX advantages that the iPad, iPhone, and other tablets present over traditional magazine formats. If I wanted to read the print version of the magazine, I’d subscribe to the print version. Macworld doesn’t have a print version, and for some reason, they’ve gone from the good experience of the swipe-and-scroll model, to the weaker, awkward experience of magazine emulation.

If I had to guess, I’d say that it was a move to save money. Good user experience comes at a cost, and it is probably easier to produce a PDF-like experience than it is the swipe-and-scroll model. I imagine the size of the issue is smaller in the new-and-improved format. Still, Macworld is produced by IDG, which also produces PC World. And PC World uses the better format that Macworld used to use.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The new format is a big step backward in user experience. The cover story of the January 2017 issue of Macworld is a review of the MacBook Pro. The tag line for the cover is: “The touch bar makes the Mac fun again.” The opposite could be said of the new Macworld format. It was fun, but the change back to traditional magazine format has sapped that fun.