5 Questions for The Wonderfactory on the Apple Tablet

5 Questions for The Wonderfactory on the Apple Tablet

Next week it is almost certain that Apple will announce the iTablet (or iPad, product name TK). This Kindle size device could be a game-changer for the magazine industry by enabling and launching new and innovative paid digital content products. Sports Illustrated has worked with The Wonderfactory (TWF) to prototype their magazine's look and feel for the new platform. Late last year, TWF posted a video of the prototype on YouTube that has been viewed over 580,000 times. I sat down with David Link, co-founder of TWF, and had five questions for him about the experience and his thoughts for what's coming next.
1. The Wonderfactory really made a splash with the SI prototype video - it introduced TWF to a lot of new people. Where did TWF come from and what is The Wonderfactory really good at?
TWF was created about 5 years ago by myself and my creative partner, Joe McCambley. The two of us had worked together at Modem Media and then at AOL. The Wonderfactory has built its reputation on creating experiences for large-scale content sites like Marthastewart.com, webmd.com, newsweek.com, foodnetwork.com, nationalgeographic.com and life.com, to name a few. These sites are designed to entice the audience back habitually - daily, weekly, and monthly for years. At the end of the day we are an ideas company that has a talented, seasoned staff that execute wonderfully at strategy, UI, visual design, and project management for developing online, mobile, and tablet-based consumer experiences.

The TOC could include the magazine content alongside real-time news and stats.

2. Assuming you have not held one in your hands (dramatic pause here), and the fact that you guys have spent considerable time thinking about what the iTablet might be, what are some of the key assumptions you made about the capabilities of the iTablet? And what do you eventually hope it will become?
We have not held the mysterious iTablet in our hands; like most, we can only speculate what Apple might announce on January 27. We have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what kind of functionality these new color tablets might have when they come to market. The assumptions we made for the SI demo was that the Apple tablet would use a more advanced and evolved version of the iPhone SDK. So we developed the SI prototype based on the iPhone SDK on steroids.

As we continue to explore what type of capabilities these tablets might have, we have broken the experience down into 3 flavors so far:

1. Browser only based tablets: Publishers could use some Adobe products, HTML 5 or develop an Android app to deliver a magazine experience

2. Full Windows 7 tablet: Publishers could use some Adobe products, HTML 5 or develop an Android app to deliver a magazine experience

3. The Apple tablet: Publishers would have to use the Apple tablet SDK to create the best experience

I hope that the tablets released over the next year have the capability to deliver new experiences and products that are more personal, tactile, and emotional, and that encourage brands to develop a much more premium design aesthetic than the typical website out there.


In the "flip view" Users flip through the magazine's story openers.

3. In developing the SI prototype, tell us a little about the approach to brainstorming you went through to define a different and unique user experience for a new form of publishing?
We have been working on a few approaches. The SI prototype was based on our most literal magazine experience approach. Our philosophy was that this new SI product would be 100% of the print magazine and about 30-40% of the website content, and that about 25% of the content would be completely unique to the tablet.

I believe that most tablets will not be taken everywhere like a smartphone. I think tablets will be used primarily at home in a living room or bedroom and that the experiences will be more intimate in that users might spend hours with them, being entertained and educated, and spending longer periods of time reading, playing, watching, and interacting. Perhaps publishers will develop experiences that blend seamlessly across a tablet, a smartphone, and a desktop so that a user can interact with a single brand wherever they might be.

With the SI prototype we wanted to keep the visual aesthetic of the SI magazine but highly design it for a tablet's size and resolution. It was important to be able to stream live news, scores, and stats so the user would have the most up-to-date experience, encouraging them to engage with the product multiple times during a week. It was also very important that this new experience be highly curated like the magazine (unlike the web, which generally is a huge firehouse of content).

Interest in a photo could pull up a "contextual menu"  where a User could go deeper into a subject, share it, favorite it and more.

4. Unlike websites, the presentation for the tablet seems very similar to the "magazine experience." What would you say is an ideal skill set needed in designing an iTablet magazine?
Using the SI prototype as the example, we think that a blended team from the print magazine and the website team made up the best possible skill sets. For SI, the magazine creative team developed all of the page layouts while The Wonderfactory worked closely with them in developing the navigation, the finger gestures, and all of the ways of making each section interactive - as Terry McDonell (Editor of the Sports Illustrated Group) calls it, "the ride" - a reading and visual experience that is deep and at some points, thrilling. The SI prototype is truly a wonderful blend of print design and interactive design talent.

Users could manage their Fantasy Football league here, just one of several game-like ideas that could enhance the experience beyond the "printed" word.

5. This device + magazine publishing is being called a game changer. How do you think the business model of how magazines are purchased and consumed will change?  And, related to that, do you think publications will be able to publish digital editions on the same schedule as the print editions or, more importantly, will they need to anymore?
There are a bunch of smart people working on all types of business models for the magazine tablet products. Personally I think there will be models that are similar to what is out there in the industry today - like single issue and subscription models - but I also can imagine that there will be models that are new and blended with more traditional approaches. I am not sure if there would be a per-article model; perhaps this could be a potential model if there are a bunch of articles and experiences aggregated from multiple magazines around a topic that is interesting to a consumer.

For many magazine types, like food/recipes, fashion, shopping, house and home, etc., the archive of years' worth of issues becomes more important than a single issue because of the depth of content that might be relevant to a user when they are engaging with their favorite brands around a situation, project, or topic that is relevant to them at that time.

I believe that these new digital editions will be updated daily or hourly with new content, and that once a month or once a week (depending on the publishing schedule of an individual magazine) a robust push of new content will be delivered from the entire issue of the print magazine and potentially new, original tablet-only content.

I think that the more literal approach to developing a magazine experience on a tablet is one of the smart directions to go, especially since it might be a smoother transition from print to digital with a much better visual experience than the web. But as creative companies and individuals experiment with new interfaces over time I can see a tablet magazine experience evolving into a completely original form that has no constraints of the printed page.

The tablet world is much like the wild wild west at this moment in time. The Wonderfactory is excited to be one of the pioneers collaborating with publishers and media companies to help re-invent magazine and content experiences.

See related stories: 



Special thanks to SPD member Eric Goeres for his keen input on this piece. 


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If you have a content Web site redesign, feature, applet or new product that is noteworthy or has recently launched, email me at schrynemakers@gmail.com.

Paul Schrynemakers is a longtime SPD member and has been an product developer and creative director of interactive media for 17 years at Voyager, Time Inc, iVillage, and currently Rodale's digital media group.

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  • Grant Glas

    Jeremy, thank you for the link. Very interesting article from Time. I just started using Chrome at the office and at home... I wish all browsers were created equal.

    As a team we concluded Blackberry users would not be using their device the same way an iPhone user interacts with theirs... right or wrong we were able to get the mobile site to work to a certain degree on the Blackberry but eventually said "enough."

    Apple announced financial results for its fiscal 2010 first quarter ended December 26, 2009. "iPhone sales increased 100 percent increase from last year with 8.7 million units" and "To date, iPhone and iPod Touch owners from 77 countries have downloaded 3 billion apps from the App Store."

    Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO confirmed, “The new products we are planning to release this year are very strong, starting this week with a major new product that we're really excited about.”

    iSlate + app store + SI magazine = $$$$

    Gentlemen, start you engines.

  • Jeremy LaCroix


    Totally hear you regarding drawing a line in the sand, it seems we have to pick and choose our battles more than ever on the web in general and even more so with mobile.

    Your pretty lucky if your able to ditch blackberry in your mobile strategy. As much as I love my iPhone and just about everyone here in San Francisco has one, they represent only a small fragment of mobile market share.

    I'm a big Firefox fan also however keep in mind, Firefox is loosing ground to Chrome who is performing faster and innovating fiercely right now. Here is a link to a recent TIME story on the Browser wars.


  • Grant Glas

    I forgot to thank Paul for getting The Wonder Factory point-of-view, great insight.

    Josh addressing your post, our team is putting together a mobile site and we've decided to ditch Blackberry users... as you said "a MESS." Just like your can't reverse design a site for IE6 - eventually your have to draw a line in the sand.

    The problem with that is there is always one person on senior staff, the board, or the approval committee that has a Blackberry and thinks IE is the internet.

    If the tablet catches on I'm sure we will see this kind of problem. My motto is stick with what works for Apple and Firefox then adjust it accordingly... hopefully without going mad.

  • Josh Klenert

    Designing our app, iheartradio, for three platforms—Apple, BlackBerry, and Android was illustrative to what you're talking about Grant.

    Apple: 2 devices, one OS, one carrier... manageable

    Android: 2 devices, one OS, one carrier... easy

    BlackBerry: 5 devices, 2 screen sizes, several OS versions, and dozens on firmware options... a MESS!

  • Matthew Bates

    Interesting interview. I, like many of us, saw the video, but having the thoughts behind its creation really helps. I agree that it would be great to have one platform to learn. It really is a fascinating world we are in right now. We are all in a learning mode which is pretty exciting.

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