The I-Zine Edition: Nation Geographic, NASA, Discover, and More

Well, it’s been about 5 months since the iPad was released, and while I enjoy this svelte electronic wonder, I find that I still feel as though I’m waiting for something else, something more than what Apple is currently including in the iPad world. Last week’s announcement that iOS 4.2 was indeed on slate for a November 2010 release, and includes the much anticipated updates that will bring the iPad on par with iPhones and iPod Touches, was welcomed. Thursday’s surprise announcement from Apple that they will relax their app development rules was another bright spot because it would allow developers more freedom to create content for iOS devices.

I use my iPad daily, and constantly find new and better ways to get information through it. Writing on the iPad, using either the virtual keyboard or my aging, but handy Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard has been nothing but pure enjoyment. I fire up Pages, unfold my keyboard and tap a key and 2 seconds later I can start typing. Bluetooth goodness that makes me smile.

Yet, I still feel that there something distinctly missing from my iPad environment. While deciding on what to write about this week, I discovered what that something is; magazines.

The iPad was suppose to herald a new age of information consumption, but so far periodicals have appeared in fits and starts, and have not met with wide consumer acceptance. Why that is so seems to be complicated. It’s tough to recreate an entire medium that takes advantage of new technologies while retaining the familiarity consumers need to identify with it.

We’ve seen offerings from Popular Science, Time, Life, and other popular magazines and each offer an experience as unique as the content they deliver, but few have excited customers enough to make them want to ditch paper.

Maybe that’s about to change now that Apple has loosened its rules about how apps and associated content is created. With the added leeway, content creator may finally be able to use the tools they need to create the “Wow” that seems to be missing from many e-zine publications. (Maybe that should be “iZine”)

There are some examples of content that’s available now on the iPad that really looks great, and should serve as examples of how to do an e-zine right. Luckily, some of those examples are free.

Take National Geographic, for instance. They have a free iPad app that you really should take a look at. The app is called National Geographic Magazine, of course, and it provides a look inside current and the five past issues, offering a full article, including photos, and synopsis of other articles in each issue. You can get the current issue for free, and it chock full of everything you’d expect from National Geographic.

National Geographic Cover

I’ve always been a fan of National Geographic, the photography is always spectacular and the stories are always insightful. None of that is lost on the e-zine version. What’s more National Geographic offers a subscription service for their electronic periodical, a very palatable US$15 a year, and something the I, for one, am happy to see.

The app is a simple, but effective reader. The library stores and catalogs your magazines. There are several different ways to view the entire magazine; you can go to any page or article just by touching the content icons in the upper right corner of the screen. You can orient the screen however you like, pinch and spread gestures lets you shrink or zoom in on any part of the page, and double-tapping zooms you in and out of any part of the screen.

Article in National Geographic

The article text can be presented without graphics by touching the ever-present “Text” at the bottom of the screen.

Video content is highlighted and you can watch at just a touch.

You can call up the navigation overlay with a screen tap and go where ever you wish in the magazine, or go back to the library to view other magazines. From the library you can view featured articles from other issues.

Visual Index, National Geographic

If you just want to browse around some of the free articles, don’t pay a dime and download the National Geographic Magazine app. It’s well worth it

NASA has produced an app that’s more like a coffee table book than a magazine, but it bears mentioning because it is so freaking cool.

Nasa App Cover

NASA App opens to a familiar graphic of our Solar System. Tap any one of the planets of the Sun and you’ll be delivered to a page that gives a general description as well as statistical data of the item tapped. The icons in the upper right corner of the screen are drop-down menus that offer news, event schedules, NASA site locations, and more. What’s really cool is the odd looking icon with the alert numbers next to it, the number is the currently active mission count for that particular planet. What’s even cooler is if you touch one of the missions more info about that mission appears, including relevant maps.

Nasa App main page

The NASA App is a living application, and its content is gathered from, or directly connected to sources around the Internet. That means that you must have an active Internet connection to make the best use of the NASA App, but it also means you get the most recent news and event coverage. You can even watch launches and mission status from within the app.

Features in Nasa App

There’s so much included in the NASA App that there no way to cover everything here. Photos, history, articles, videos and much more await you. If you have an iDevice then you MUST have the NASA App.

I mentioned this final app before, but there’s been a substantial update to it that addresses all of the shortfalls in the app’s earlier version while adding new features. The result is an amazing e-zine app I believe should be the very definition of what periodical on tablet devices is about.

Discover cover page

Discover is an app from Cooliris that features a new Wikipedia topic each day, and present that topic in a magazine-like format. The idea is a good one because there is tons of information available in Wikipedia, and Discover presents that information in a completely accessible way.

Fire up Discover and you are greeted with the day’s “cover story,” an extensive article picked at random that’s been formatted for the magazine. Flip through the article and read facts, view photos and maps, and even videos if there any associated with the article.

Discover Article of the Day

If the iPad is in landscape mode you can select from two other topics or articles related to current events. If none of that interests you then flick your finger from right to left across the screen and view the Photo of the Day. Touch it and view the related article.

If that doesn’t float your boat then you can flick the screen down and type in a subject and Discover will present links every article related to that subject in Wikipedia. Touch a link and the article appears.

Search Results in Discover

Flick the screen up from anywhere and Discover provides the history of your browsing, with the cover page highlighted so you can always return to it.

Like the NASA App, Discover is a living magazine, its contents changes daily and can easily be adjusted to your interests.

This version is a big improvement over the previous. You no longer have to shake the iPad to get to the cover page, and navigation is far more intuitive. Also, Discover can now download articles for offline reading. I like that.

If Discover isn’t in your stable of keeper apps then it should be. Grab it now and see if you don’t agree.

Well, that’s a wrap for this week.

More free stuff below with direct links.