Review: Project, Branson’s ‘Revolutionary’ Magazine for the iPad

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Project magazine for iPad

Project is the much-awaited new ‘built for the iPad’ magazine from Richard Branson’s Virgin Publishing. This new iPad and tablet focused title has been much hyped over the last couple of weeks and its publishers are certainly talking the talk in terms of touting it as being a cutting edge publication for the iPad. Here’s a little slice from the press release announcing the launch of the app:

… Proud of what we have achieved and delighted to have played a small part in determining what will become the future of what we as readers expect from the magazines of tomorrow.  Today, PROJECT has set the standard.

Not exactly a bashful intro for this one then. I installed the app late last night and have browsed it and read it just about cover to cover – and of course I have some thoughts on whether Project lives up to its lofty ambitions. Hit the jump for those and lots of screenshots …

Project iPad magazine

Notes

Here’s a little more on the app via its App Store description and launch press release:

NEW! A revolutionary multimedia magazine built specially for your iPad – packed with international culture, entertainment, design, business and travel. And nuclear weapons. Oh, and Jeff Bridges.

PROJECT has four key editorial pillars – design, entertainment, technology, and entrepreneurs. In addition PROJECT’s international team of contributors will be blogging daily about news, design, film, fashion and technology.

The app itself is free, with monthly issues available at $2.99 a pop as an in-app purchase. Right now, there is only the single debut issue available (dated December 1) – with a US and Canadian version of it available for some reason (licensing nonsense maybe?).

There are options to preview the issue or buy it and download it. The preview is just a one-screen graphic showing some of the featured articles; you can’t really try out the app or page through anything. That seems lame, not worth offering a preview if that’s all it is.

Content-wise this first issue feels a bit like a trendy mens magazine – though I’m sure this one is not aimed solely at men. What I mean is that it has a sort of sarcy/snarky angle on a lot of its articles and regular features, and the overall writing style and content mix just have that feel for me. That’s not surprising really, given that the editor in chief is a former editor of a mens magazine (Arena).

Branson

Controls and navigation are pretty basic and standard in the app. Nothing especially revolutionary in this first issue. The only two controls that appear constantly are:

—  A button at the middle of the right hand ‘spine’ of the app screen that flips over to a comments form for the article you’re in when you tap it, so you can share your thoughts via the comments section.

— A button at the bottom right of the spine – a page icon with a plus symbol on it – that throws up a popover with web links relevant to the current article.

A tap anywhere on the screen within any page toggles main navigation and control buttons on and off. When on, you’ll get: Back and Forward buttons to move between articles, a table of contents popover from a top left button, a Share button, and a standard set of nav buttons on the bottom bar – with links to the Contents (via thumbnails as opposed to TOC listing), the cover page, your Library of issues, the Buy section where you purchase more issues, and the Project blog site.

As is now a semi-standard for iPad editions, you swipe up and down to move through pages of multi-page articles, and right and left to move between articles.

Highlights

The content in the first issue is pretty good. There’s not tons of it, but what is there is a good  mix if the core topics are areas that interest you.

Some of the articles in the debut issue cover subjects including: a piece on a futuristic and incredible Jaguar concept car that packs two miniature jet engines, the North Korea leadership succession, a rundown of Christmas beer ads, The iPad 5 – 5 things to do with iPad this month, a piece on small cable networks producing big hits, a profile of Yamauchi Kazanori, Game Creator of Gran Turismo, The Search for Earth 2.0 – the hunt for a new habitable planet, a quiz on some of the craziest politicians in US midterm elections, a great interview with Jeff Bridges, a short piece on a new biometric wallet, Business Lingo – a monthly guide to absurd management speak, a guide on how to commit career suicide, and another first in a series covering the worst ideas ever (and his month’s entry should be tough to beat).

Just as a little side note, if you are or ever were a heavy-metal fan, you may want to make sure you check out the beer ads piece – and in particular the ad for Kronenbourg 1664 (a great lager) featuring Lemmy from Motorhead doing an accoustic version of ‘Ace of Spades’ and puffing away on a harmonica.

JaguarThunderCat

There’s a good amount of multimedia content. From the ‘electrified’ cover with jerky video and animation of Jeff Bridges, to an audio clip of the Jaguar concept car, with its rocket boosters, zooming on up to 205mph. On the main page of the article on Tokyo you get a time-lapse photography sort of animation as the screen loads, with images of the city.

Similarly, there are a decent amount of interactive elements dotted around the debut issue. From an excellent set of audio clips of Bridges talking about many of his best-know films, where you tap to select which you want to hear …

WeebLinks

To the rundown of six great beer ads, where you just tap to choose any of the six to view …

BeerAdsSelector

To a short article on extreme kayaking, where you initially see a relatively close view of the scene and then tap to give it some scary perspective  …

KayakCloseup

KayakPerspective

There are a few nice little ‘this is an iPad edition’ type touches in the app – small things, but appreciated ones, such as: good, relevant web links on articles, easily accessible via an inline browser; a status bar that shows percentage done when downloading an issue, and the use of different photos in landscape and portrait mode in at least some articles.

It’s great that the app allows for comments on articles.

CoomentsPage
The photography is very good.

It is promised to be updated regularly, continually even. Obviously I haven’t had the app long enough to see how often and how well this is done. I hope this feature is as good as promised.

PROJECT is a monthly magazine that will change daily, hourly – minute by minute at times – to give its global audience of early adopters a month of entertainment for less than the price of a decent cup of coffee.

The ads in the app are un-intrusive (very easy to swipe past). I only really noticed one, for Lexus, and it was interesting – I even watched a couple of the in-page videos it offered.

There’s an ‘iPad 5’ page – with 5 interesting things to do with your iPad each month. This page also features a funny, spoof ‘What’s on My iPad’ section, which gives a look at ‘Fave apps of the rich and famous’. This month’s subject is Vladimir Putin and the choices are great – and of course they include Angry Birds.

TheiPad5

Lowlights

There’s a lot of emphasis on typography, and on varying it from article to article, in Project. Some of it works well, particularly on article title pages …

DudeSeriously

A lot of it feels a little too busy to me though, especially with the varied background colors used from one piece to another. I think the execution of this sort of design is done much better by titles like Wired magazine. Project’s execution just doesn’t feel as slick or as together. Your mileage may vary of course, and this design style may be just what you’re looking for in an iPad edition.

Typography

Typography2

The app is definitely a little buggy in this first release. The first time I downloaded the debut issue it showed 100% as the download status then said an unexpected error had occurred and started again at zero. The downloads are relatively slow as well. It has also crashed back out to the home screen on a handful of occasions.

For a ‘built specifically for the iPad’, cutting edge digital title, it is missing some basics like so many others. For instance, there is no way to search within the app. Or select text to copy and paste. Or save an image. The only sharing option I’ve seen thus far is via email – no Twitter, Facebook, or other social service. And the Share button is not in the (constantly shown) spine section of the app’s screen. It should be there, perhaps alongside the web links popover.

The most frustrating thing about using the app so far is that the simplest part of navigation within it – the standard tap anywhere to toggle on and off viewing nav and general controls – just does not work consistently. It works sometimes, but just as often (or more) it doesn’t. I’ve got to where I’m not even sure how the toggle is meant to be invoked – the standard is a single tap and short hold. In Project I often have to tap and hold, tap again, double-tap, and tap some more to get any response from it – so I’m not 100% sure which gesture worked.

The issues I’ve seen are not just with the tap anywhere gesture either. I’ve also seen the lack of response when trying to choose among five author options in the Tokyo article. Choosing any of the first three listed worked OK, trying to select the other two nearly always failed. There are also a couple places where you ‘rub off’ the screen to get to the final image – response on these is very jerky and inconsistent.

I’ve seen these and similar issues a lot in the app. A whole lot – enough to make it look like more of an 0.9 version than a 1.0.

Overall

I like the first issue of Project. The mix of content is good and it’s a fun read – but I don’t believe it’s currently living up to its claims of being ‘revolutionary’  and ‘setting the standard’ for iPad titles.

The debut issue is a somewhat promising start, but it is missing some basics, and doesn’t feel sufficiently new or different in its approach to the iPad to be setting any sort of new standard. If it does updates often and well, and adds more interactive elements and sharing options, it will be more interesting – but I just don’t feel there’s anything revolutionary or standard-setting about it just now.

If I was choosing I’d likely nominate Wired’s iPad edition as the standard for magazine titles.

Details

You can find Project in the App Store now. It’s a free app, but each monthly issue needs to be purchased in-app at $2.99 apiece.

*** This app was independently purchased by the post author in the iPad App Store. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.


Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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