It’s the Little Things

So Vanity Fair launch an iPad app this weekend, (more details here). Given the whole sky-is-falling, death-of-print rally of 2009, I felt compelled to try it out. There were a lot of apps that launched with the iPad that felt like they were made custom to take advantage of the launch, but this one feels like a platform for all VF mags. I guess the app’s nice enough, it has all the content and advertising you’d expect. It’s got all of the promises of rich media; embedded video, high res photos, etc. Here’s the one thing you might not expect, the thing crashes like every 5 minutes.

It’s quite a funny experience because they’ve designed every little detail of the experience, yet the app just freezes and you have to hard-restart your device. From a readers standpoint, you would appreciate less flourish and more stability. It’s obvious that a team of interaction designers sweated every last thing, but you can also tell they outsourced the development portion. The app wasn’t developed and run through QA, it was built on spec.

This experience led me to think about capability and depth. There are people at VF that know the most arcane things about magazines; how layouts read, which fonts communicate subtle meaning, how something will look on paper vs. screen – they are extremely deep in the craft of print media. They don’t know anything about software; magazines don’t have bugs, they have errata.

The death of print conversation that drug on and on last year was a business case conversation – the cost of magazines would be too high, digital distribution would blow it to bits. No one really thought too much the capability of an organization, and how it helped delivery. We just sort of assume that you can build a capability if the business is big enough. This experience made me realize there a difference between capability and expertise, the difference between those to is how good you are at the details.

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