iPad serves all-you-can-eat magazine banquet

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Movie fans have Netflix. For music lovers, there's Spotify. So why not an all-you-can-eat service for magazine readers?

Now there is one: Next Issue, a new iPad app offering unlimited access to a growing number of well-known titles for a single monthly fee. Despite its cost, and some significant limitations, many avid readers will find it a godsend.

With their size and vivid graphics, magazines are arguably the print medium that should be most easily adaptable to the world of tablets. And there are already several ways to acquire them, including Zinio, which allows you to subscribe to thousands of titles worldwide, and Apple's own Newsstand.

Those services, though, generally require that you subscribe to each title individually, either on the tablet or a print version that also provides digital access.

By contrast, Next Issue -- which launched an early version on Android tablets last spring while it prepped for its debut on the big iPad stage -- gives you everything it's got for a flat fee. A plan that includes monthlies and bi-weeklies costs $10 a month, while $15 gets you weeklies too.

One catch is that "everything it's got" isn't yet all that much: only 39 titles so far, with archives only going back to the start of 2012. But those 39 include a lot of the biggies: Time, Vanity Fair, People, The New Yorker and Vogue, just to name a few.

And Next Issue -- whose backers include Conde Nast, Meredith, Hearst, News Corp. and Time Warner -- promises to have at least 70 titles by the fall.

Regular reading

I certainly found more than enough to keep me occupied with the likes of Sports Illustrated, Wired and others on my regular- read list.

It was also easy to dip into titles I don't usually look at -- Car & Driver, Esquire -- and I ended up spending considerably more time reading magazines than I normally do, a thought that surely warms the hearts of publishers and their advertisers.

The Next Issue app superimposes a consistent navigation scheme on top of all its magazines, including a table of contents and a carousel view that lets you rapidly flip through the pages. That consistency is useful because each magazine has its own individual navigation as well, and they're all over the place.

Just one example: In some titles, like Entertainment Weekly, you page through an article by swiping side to side, while in Vanity Fair, you swipe up and down. Similarly, the presence or absence of multimedia extras is entirely a function of the individual title.

Personal library

When you log into Next Issue, you'll see thumbnail covers of all the available titles. Pressing and holding one adds it to your personal library, giving you a view of only those titles you want to follow.

When a new issue is published, it appears in your library with a "New" banner. You can also arrange to get an e-mail alert, though surprisingly there's no integration with the iPad's Notification Center, which would seem to be made for this kind of thing.

Next Issue doesn't download the actual contents of a magazine until you select it. I could usually start reading a story within about a minute, while the rest of the contents continued to load in the background over Wi-Fi.

But only over Wi-Fi, which is an annoyance. Even if your iPad is equipped with wireless data service from Verizon or AT&T, the app won't let you download magazines over it.

By contrast, using the Apple Newsstand app, I was able to access some of the same titles included in Next Issue over an LTE connection without any problem.

Wherever, whenever

The lack of wireless-service support detracts from the wherever-whenever experience of feeling as if you're carrying your newsstand with you.

You can tell the app to automatically download the latest issue of a magazine, but that only works when Wi-Fi is present and the app is open. Next Issue says 3G/4G support will be added in a future version of the software.

There are other issues to be addressed as well. Text doesn't take advantage of the newest iPad's Retina Display, and you can't pinch and zoom to resize it for easier reading.

Nor is there personalization of the app, nor ability to search across titles. (Next Issue says it's working on those.) And the app's controls sometimes appear at inappropriate moments, as when I was scrolling through a New Yorker "Talk of the Town piece."

Sure, you can get a lot of print subscriptions for $180 a year. On the other hand, you can put the app on up to five devices, meaning that a family can share a single account.

And just think of how many trees you'd be saving, to say nothing of the convenience of always having something handy to browse through. Next Issue is like having a doctor's waiting room on your iPad -- without having to worry about an injection at the end.

Rich Jaroslovsky
Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

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