Friday, December 3, 2010

Review: IDW's iPad App

Unless you've been spending a lot of time lately vegging out in the Fortress of Solitude you've no doubt heard a lot of opinions about the iPad and the role it will play/is playing in the comic book industry. Opinions range from: "The iPad will save the comic book industry!" to "The iPad will destroy the comic book industry!"

I tend to frown on absolutes and/or hysteria. It gets the blood all worked up and that's no good for anybody. The reality is that comic book iPad apps will be just another way to read comics. Some people will like them and some people will hate them and that's that.

But I didn't come here today to debate the merits of a $700 piece of plastic. There are plenty of other denizens of the interwebs that would be happy to do that all day long. Personally, I'd like to narrow the focus a little and take one of these apps for a test drive.

Today's lucky contestant? The IDW iPad app (dun dun duuuuhhh)!

IDW is quickly becoming a favorite publisher of mine. Like Dark Horse Comics did in the past, they built up their line of titles by acquiring licenses to popular properties (Transformers, Star Trek, Angel, True Blood, etc.). I've loved Star Trek for years and IDW has been making some smart decisions with the property. By making the titles project oriented (by releasing mini-series and themed one-shots) instead of locking themselves into an ongoing series, they are keeping the content fresh and avoiding the franchise fatigue that has happened so often in the past.

They've also cultivated talent and published original material. Locke & Key has been one of the best new series (again, a series of mini-series) to come along in years. But this is not meant to be a IDW lovefest. On to the app!

You'll find a lot of similarities with the majority of comic book apps out there. Like many others, this one has three main categories: new, popular and free. They've got a diverse lineup of titles which leads us to our first "pro."

PRO: Browsing List

One tap produces a list of all their titles grouped by property. If you only want to check out their 30 Days of Night titles then 2 taps will get you there (one tap for the list and then a tap on the property). You can also search by typing in the name of the title but I'm lazy with the iPad and I like to keep my taps to a minimum.

But once you're you get there though, I feel IDW stumbles a bit.

CON: Comic grouping (or lack thereof)

Once you get to your franchise of choice you'll find that they have every issue listed alphabetically. So if you search through the issues of Locke & Key you have to scroll to the bottom to find the first mini-series "Welcome to Lovecraft." If you didn't know anything about the series then you might just assume that the first issue listed (at the top) would be the first issue of the story. Each issue contains a summary if you tap it but I think it would still be confusing to new readers. Also I see no reason to list each individual issue. Why not group the issues for each mini-series together?

PRO: Price

The average digital comic (from all publishers) is usually priced at $1.99 and I know a lot of people think that's too much for something that doesn't have that "Wednesday Comic Book Store Smell" but I grudgingly accept it. And IDW seems to use this model as well. However I found several IDW titles for sale in the app store for .99 cents. And I think that's a very good price for a digital comic.

CON: I want more free stuff, dammit!

As I said before, just about every comic book app has a freebies section. IDW's free section is smaller than DC and Marvel's free section (although to be fair, IDW is a smaller company). Also, the other companies update their free section frequently with new issues, back-up stories and previews while IDW's free section has remained relatively unchanged since I first got it.

PRO: Organizing my purchases

The IDW app has a virtual bookshelf (similar to other e-readers) which is searchable and easy to navigate. I also like that you have the option of deleting your purchases and then re-downloading them later for free.

CON: Zooming

When reading a comic you can zoom in on the panel you are reading by giving it the ol' double tap (you can also pinch to zoom like in other apps). Now, in other apps a second double tap will zoom the panel out back to the regular page view. This is a quick and efficient way to zoom in and out while reading. But a second double tap in IDW's app will only zoom in further. And another will take you in even further still. You have zoom back out with your fingers, which isn't a big deal but I prefer the double tap zoom out.

Any other criticisms are minimal and are the same nitpicks I have with every comic app: I wish they'd add new issues quicker, I wish they more titles to choose from, etc.

Although one thing that bugs me is the lack of Doctor Who titles in the app store. I've been interested in checking out their take on the nearly 50 year old franchise but they don't seem to be offered here. But I would imagine that there is some type of freaky rights issue that's preventing it and that if IDW could offer them, they would.

All in all it's a great app and I'm enjoying it. As with all iPad comic book apps, I like the ability to check out new titles for a cheaper price and the ability to carry around a ton of reading material in a very compact space. If you've been interested in trying out some of IDW's titles and have an iPad, I definitely recommend this app.

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