August 3rd, 2009


Catch a falling mag and put it in your pocket

It's amazing how quickly iPhone / iPod Touch apps are evolving. It reminds me of the early days of Macintosh, when everyone was coming up with new extensions and control panels (they'd load across your screen with app-like icons, or billboards popping up on a highway), or the early days of the web, when there seemed to be a new gimmick for loading a webpage every week (for a while we were all making our pages flash like lightning as they loaded up). Apps, though, have the potential to be much more useful than either.

Already, musician friends are thinking in terms of iPod apps the way they once might have thought of releasing albums on labels. Who needs a label when an app could be a worldwide delivery system for people interested in your music? Or how about keeping up with Japanese magazines? I've already mentioned Nakatree Viewer, a free app that lets you look at the paper ads for magazines that hang in Japanese subway cars.

Nakatree Viewer began as the ad sheets themselves (typically showing a modified version of the mag's latest cover), then added pop-up QR codes allowing you to access some of the content of the magazines. Now there's talk of the Viewer actually taking you to online versions of the magazines, either reduced versions (like Courrier Lite, a standalone application for one mag) or full ones.

At a time when magazines are dropping like flies, giving them a new distribution platform is giving them the chance of new life. Whether the iPhone is the ideal reading environment for magazines is another matter. I have a digital subscription to The Wire, but prefer to read it on my big computer, or on paper. But when Apple releases its iPhone-OS tablet computer -- rumoured either for next month or early next year, depending on who you believe -- who knows?

Now Nakatree Viewer is joined by a similar app, Pick-Up Museum Cafe, which allows you to see posters for the art, design and museum shows currently on in Japan. The shows themselves, of course, will never be shrunk down to pocket-size. Or will they?